Recreating an 1887 Dress From the FHM Collection

About a year ago I was contacted by Constanze Möller from the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts regarding a dress she had seen online that was attributed to the Fashion History Museum’s collection. It’s a wool dress with paisley pattern and velvet trim I acquired about thirty years ago from an American dealer in Boston. Constanze wanted to recreate the dress and asked if I could send her close-up photographs and some measurements.

This morning she sent me pictures (taken by Laura Döring Instagram:@cocoloconz) of the resulting dress. Her work is remarkable, especially as she never actually held the dress or could look at it closely. Fantastic job Constanze!

Dressing Toronto – November 1-30

We just opened Dressing Toronto in conjunction with Myseum at the Toronto Media Arts Centre (location and opening times below). The show surveys some of the sources from where Torontonians acquired their clothing over the past 150 years.

The selection of garments was the result of picking examples from the collection that had Toronto labels, were not by designers currently working, and fit the available contemporary and original store mannequins. Two of the Victorian dresses didn’t have labels, but they did have known provenances with names of the original wearers, including the sister of Major MacKenzie, after whom Major MacKenzie Drive is named.

The oldest piece, a man’s tailcoat from about 1870 has the label ‘D. Stevenson, Toronto’ – a mystery tailor I have yet to track down any info about. The most elaborate garment is a 1914 wedding dress by the high-end ladies’ dressmaker and tailor ‘O’Brien’s Ltd.’ A couple of 1940s dresses from Simpson’s and the T. Eaton Company represent the two big department stores, and imported garments from the 1950s and 1960s made expressly for Holt Renfrew and Creeds, represent those two luxury retailers. The balance of the exhibition is a selection from some of the best known Toronto designers, labels and shops from the 1950s to the 1990s: Rae Hildebrand, Rodolphe, Tip Top Tailors, Pat McDonaugh, Poupee Rouge, Claire Haddad, Maggie Reeves, Marilyn Brooks, Winston Kong, Loucas Kleanthous, Linda Lundstrom, D’Arcy Moses, Peach Berserk, Siren…

Dressing Toronto is on display November 2 – 30 at the Toronto Media Arts Centre, 32 Lisgar street: Wed/Thurs/Fri 11-7; Sat 11-6; Sun 12-5. I will be conducting guided tours of the exhibition, with more discussion about the Toronto fashion industry, on November 9 and November 23, at 6 p.m. Tickets are free, but have to be reserved through

FHM’s Tango Tea

Richard Powers and Kimber Rudo demonstrate the Tango

Tango Teas were a popular pastime in polite society from the early 1910s well into the early 1930s. Dressed for the afternoon in hats and gloves, ladies and gentlemen took tea in palm-filled hotel courts while viewing a fashion parade and demonstrations of the latest dances. It was a safe environment, free of vice and scandal.

This was the inspiration for the Fashion History Museum’s Fall event this year. Last year the FHM held a Regency Ball in honour of the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, but this year the festivities skipped a century to honour the centennial of the end of the Great War, and of Canadian women winning the vote.

Emmeline Pankhurst, played by Diane Gallinger, convinces guests to support women’s rights to vote.

The event began with the tea, for those wanting something cold, coca-cola was offered in the classic curvy glass bottles, first marketed in 1916. A selection of finger sandwiches, including a period favourite of olive, walnut, and cream cheese for vegetarians (a growing trend in the 1910s), and sweets, which included chocolate squares (dubbed ‘brownies’ in 1906) and doughnuts – a popular treat offered servicemen by the Red Cross and other aid societies. U.S. soldiers liked doughtnuts so much, they became known as ‘doughboys’.

Next on the menu were a series of games: Name That Tune, a couple of product pricing games courtesy of The Price is Right, and a round of What’s My Line, with a special guest appearance by English suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst – quickly identified by our panel after only two questions! Mrs. Pankhurst then gave a rousing speech for the women’s vote before we started into the featured event of the day.

Alys Mak-Pilsworth wearing her blue striped peg-top dress with pink sash – a dress she finished just hours before the event!

Richard Powers and Kimber Rudo were flown in from San Francisco to demonstrate and teach the popular dances of the decade. Two classes earlier in the day were offered for keeners, but we were assured that as long as you can walk and count, you can dance most of the 1910s dances. The afternoon included a mix of tangos, Castle Walks, and the Maxixe, as well as a zoo of novelty animal dances: The Grizzly Bear, Turkey Trot, and the more familiar Foxtrot.

For those wanting to take a break from dancing, there were silent films in an adjacent room including the first film in which Charlie Chaplin appears as his Little Tramp character, as well as a couple of Suffragetto board games.

It was a fabulous bit of fun, and unknown to the guests, there were only a few backstage dramas, like a broken hot water urn, and forgotten teacups. The event would not have been possible without the help of the staff (Alys Mak-Pilsworth, Emily Jackson, Shany Engelhardt, and Bria Dietrich), and volunteers (Nikita Byrne-Mamahit, Fiona Thistle, Susan Walford, Diane Gallinger, and especially Rose Mak!)

I know there is a lot of interest in a 1920s event, and we will do one eventually, but I think for next year we are looking at either a WWII Victory dance, or maybe a Victorian cotillion… we are already working on the details.

Everyone gets into the One-step

Archival Fonds – You Never Know What You Are Going to Get…

Fonds is a word borrowed from the French to describe an archival collection from a single source. It is the same in both singular and plural which is awkward because ‘a fonds’ doesn’t flow off the tongue as easily as ‘many fonds’, but you get used to it in the same way you got used to ‘moose’.

The FHM has acquired several fonds to date. The largest have come from: Estonian-born Canadian designer and fashion school founder Ellen Peterson; English-born Canadian boutique owner and fashion designer Pat McDonagh; and most recently, Canadian journalist David Livingstone. Each fonds is a collection of files, notebooks, photos and scrapbooks, but what is in each collection speaks volumes about the source.

Ellen Peterson was disciplined – she obviously ran a tight ship at her fashion school. Her scrapbooks were well trimmed and in chronological order. The student records were meticulously kept with grades and receipts for payments for courses filed alphabetically for each year. We retained the roster of students attending her school throughout the years, but it was heartbreaking to destroy the grade and payment records (for privacy reasons) because so much care had gone into their creation.

Pat McDonagh’s career was a forty-five year mix of feasts and famines and her archives reflected the up and down chaos that came from being either too busy scrambling to pay bills, or too busy filling high volume orders. Undated and unidentified sketches, fabric swatches, bank statements, tear sheets, business proposals, duplicate copies of articles, bills, videos and private correspondence were piled into boxes in no particular order. After an initial tidy up, the McDonagh fonds awaits a thorough archival shake-down.

The most recent addition is the David Livingstone fonds. Livingstone passed away a year ago at the age of 69 and his archives came to us via his daughter Alexandra Gair. Throughout his career, Livingstone freelanced articles about fashion, film, photography, literature and music to magazines like Saturday Night, MacLeans, and the Toronto Star. He also held down long-term writing and editorial positions, starting with TVONtario in the 1970s. In 1983 he joined the Globe and Mail as a fashion writer but left in 1996 to help launch Elm Street (he called it the thinking woman’s magazine). In 2002 he became the editor-in-chief of ‘ The Look’ a spinoff from Elm Street which, as the name implies, focussed on fashion. In 2011 he became the editor-in-chief of Men’s Fashion – a Canadian spinoff from Fashion (formerly Toronto Life Fashion). He left Men’s Fashion in 2016.

His fonds consists of huge research files that show Livingstone’s thorough journalistic approach to writing. The files are impressively thick, filled with tear sheets, barely legible hand written notes and quotes, and numerous printouts including dot matrix and faded thermal photocopies. The subjects of his research are varied, influenced largely, I think, by his personal interest in the person, style, or story: Tilda Swinton, William Klein, Linda Evangelista, A Space Gallery, Joseph Mimran, Raymond Chandler, Martha Wainwright, sunglasses, Vivienne Westwood, Comrags, Nan Goldin, Norma Kamali, Toronto punk bands, Buster Poindexter, Yves St. Laurent… Every file either became, or was intended to become, an article.

It will take some time to wade through the cartons of files, but amongst them are some real treasures – thank-you notes from designers and models, invitations to Paris fashion shows, snapshots of friends and colleagues like Isabella Blow and Polly Mellen, even a eulogy he must have read at a memorial for Alexander McQueen… A whole career that will be forever preserved at the FHM archives.

Invitations to Paris and New York fashion shows, 1980s – 2000s, including shows cancelled on September 11, 2001. From the David Livingstone fonds

For more information about David Livingstone see:

Remembering Canadian Fashion Legend David Livingstone

Donations 2017

We had some wonderful donations come into the museum this past year – so many that we have been working right through the holidays to catch up on thank-you letters and tax receipts, so they are on their way!

We will be thanking donors by name in our next journal, but in the meantime, here are some close-up shots of some interesting pieces:

Jane Austen’s Country Ball

This past Saturday we held our first, of what we hope will become an annual, costume ball. In honour of our exhibition The World of Jane Austen 1792 – 1817, the theme was a Regency ball. 85 guests, not everyone in period  costume, gathered at the museum for a drink of bubbly and viewing of our exhibition before heading across the street to St. Andrew’s Presbyterian church hall. With the exception of some air ducts and fluorescent lighting, the high ceilinged hall, held up by Ionic columns could readily pass for a real Regency Assembly room. To further set the mood, the room was lined with period advertisements and news stories of the day, written in a tabloid style for a bit of fun.

A program outlined the history of the food being served for the repast. The supper buffet included popular dishes of the period as well as items introduced during Jane Austen’s lifetime: Cheeses, beef, roast potatoes, and cole slaw were served with curried ketchup and, pear and lime chutney. Dessert included ginger ice cream and apple pie alongside shaddock jelly and a towering croquembouche. To drink, there was plenty of Mr. Schweppes’ carbonated sodas, first sold in London in 1792. In Regency tradition, all courses were served at once, so sweet and savoury could be enjoyed by guests at will.

Frivolities varied about the room. The highlight for many were the reels, quadrilles and even an early waltz – each danced with great enthusiasm. For others, a night of rowdy Dominoes, or taking part in several hands of the fashionable card games Loo and Speculation entertained. As the setting was the hall of a church, no betting was allowed – so everyone went home with their fortunes, jewels, estates, and race horses intact. In a snug room adjacent to the main hall we were delighted by charming renditions of Regency songs, sung by Holly Brenneman and Stephanie Vaillant, who also entertained us with tunes from her harp. (See photo above of Holly and Stephanie, flanking museum employee Sarah Coates, who did the lion’s share of organizing for this event.)

Three hours passed quickly and then it was done…

We want to repeat a period evening next year but although we considered repeating a Regency theme, there is strong interest in a Downton Abbey era theme…

Exhibition: Mode Canada 150 September 13 – October 27

The FHM Pops Up in Toronto with an exhibition for Mode Canada 150 – Then, Now, Next.

Fifty garments from the FHM are currently on display in the new Yorkville Village in downtown Toronto (second floor overlooking Whole Foods). We are part of an exhibition honouring Canada’s contribution to the world of fashion (design, journalism, modelling, beauty…) along with the Fashion Incubator, and Ryerson University (who are handling the Now and Next part of the show). The exhibition is open to the public from September 13 until November 10. The hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, admission is free. If you haven’t come to the FHM because we are in Cambridge – now is your chance!

Banners Banned

Fashion History Museum’s Kenn Norman, left, and Jonathan Walford with the promotional banner at the Fashion History Museum. – Peter Lee,Record staff

CAMBRIDGE — The sculptured lower torso of Michelangelo’s David is sandwiched by two red fields.

In his right hand, the Goliath-slaying rock is clutched.

And covering the naked David’s privates? Not a fig leaf, as was added to a Victorian Era plaster copy of the famous towering marble statue, but a red maple leaf.

Fig leaf out. Red maple leaf in.

It’s there to be seen on the Canada 150 exhibition-promoting banner hanging on the side of the Fashion History Museum in Hespeler.

Curatorial director Jonathan Walford is proud of his promotional notion, designed by Teresa Adamo of Guelph, which drapes down the side of the town’s former post office.

“It was just the idea of using the maple leaf instead of the fig leaf,” Walford explained on Wednesday. “Because the fig leaf represents the first clothing worn by mankind. It seemed to put a Canadian bent on it, making it a maple leaf instead of a fig leaf.”

But the museum’s original plan was to have more “David’s Maple Leaf” banners.

The museum says the idea it pitched to the city would have seen mini-versions of the David banners hung from the lamp posts of Hespeler, and perhaps through Galt and Preston as well.

But on Wednesday, the banner-holding brackets along Queen Street, which tend to reach out into the street and get battered by passing trucks, were empty.

Back in February, city officials said they would not permit the David banners to dangle from city lamp posts, as other museum banners had done a year ago.

Officials, according to the museum, feared some citizens might be offended by the poster design. And, since lamp posts are city property, they declined to give the museum permission to mount the David banners from them.

The city explained its position in an email to The Record on Wednesday.

“In this case, the banners in question are not appropriate for two main reasons: they do not meet with the guidelines established by the federal government for Canada 150 banners,” an email from city spokesperson Andrea Montgomery said.

“And while they may fit with the Fashion History Museum’s brand, they go beyond the boundaries of what is appropriate for the city.”

The city took no issue with the museum, which uses an $80,000 annual grant from the city to pay expenses, using the David design to advertise the “Fashioning Canada Since 1867” exhibition — just not from a city lamp post.

“At lot of this is in anticipation of issues, which is a very Canadian response,” Walford said of the city stance on the banner design. “They’re always worried about offending.”

The “David’s Maple Leaf” design, museum chair Kenn Norman says, was put forward for a national award from TechSoup Canada and placed well in the final ratings.

“The museum isn’t aware of any controversy over the image,” Norman wrote in an email to The Record. “To date, we have had only one visitor comment who was curious if the banner’s placement on the exterior of the museum had raised any objections, being so close in proximity to local churches.”

Directly across Queen Street, at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, the museum’s promotional use of the Michelangelo’s biblical David had barely been noticed. And when it was pointed out to Rev. Scott McAndless, the slingshot response was supportive.

“It’s a great work of art they are referring to,” McAndless said. “There’s no issue that I’m aware of.”

Corey Cotterlinforth, the music director at St. Andrew’s, admired the creative of the museum’s poster design.

“It’s attention-grabbing,” Cotterlinforth said. “It’s good marketing.”

But such strong-of-hand marketing won’t have the lamppost reach it could have.

“We thought it would have been fun,” Walford said.

From the Waterloo Record, May 31, 2017, article by Jeff Hicks