Canadian Fashion Connection: Lore Maria Wiener, 1920 – 2019

Lore Maria Wiener (nee Frensdorff) was born in Hanover Germany on March 31, 1920 to a Catholic mother and Jewish father. After graduating high school she apprenticed as a seamstress and went on to study fashion in Vienna. In November 1938, her father was arrested on Kristallnacht but released a few weeks later. The following July her father went to Shanghai – an open city that did not require passports for entry, and in 1940, Lore and her mother joined him.

In 1941 she met and married her husband Walter Wiener. Lore found work at My Lady’s Salon, where most of her clients were from the French Embassy. At the end of the war she opened her own couture salon. In 1948 the couple had a baby girl they called Claudia.

Walter, who worked at a paper in Shanghai had written some anti-communist articles, so when the Communists took over in 1949 it was no longer safe for the Wiener’s to remain in China. They wanted to emigrate to the U.S., but the wait was too long, so they came to Canada on visitor’s visas and landed as refugees. With little money and poor English, they struggled, but they eventually found an investor to fund the start-up of a dressmaking business. In 1951, they opened their new salon on West Boulevard in the toney neighbourhood of Kerrisdale. Architect Arthur Erickson, who was just starting his career, was commissioned to design the interior.

By 1956 Lore Maria Wiener had become Vancouver’s only member of the Montreal-based Association of Canadian Couturiers, an organization that was founded in 1954 and disbanded in 1968. Contrary to what many may think, fashion is less creative than it appears. “What we produced each season was dictated by the top designers. If they said you did short skirts, you did short skirts” confessed Wiener in an interview with Vancouver journalist Marilyn Wilson in 2010.

Label from Wiener suit, c. 1965, Vancouver Museum

The Wieners closed their business in 1990 but after Walter died four years later, Lore returned to work, creating clothes from her home. She delivered her last garment in 2010. “How can I be so lucky?” Lock stock and barrel – husband, children, life, work, customers – they all are awarded the label, “FABULOUS!”, she said in the interview with Wilson. Lore passed away July 16 at the age of 99.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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