Canadian Fashion Connection – Erich Fayer and Balmain

During his lifetime Canadian financer Erich Fayer was a bit of a mystery man. He was rarely interviewed and never talked about his past. Only after his death did it become known that Fayer was a Polish-born Jewish refugee who came to Canada in the early 1970s by way of Panama. Where or how Fayer made his money was never clear, but his Montreal-based company, Produits Parfums et Cosmetiques Universels, had many assets in its holdings including a $50-million Montreal shopping centre. In July 1986 Fayer bought the Paris fashion house of Balmain with an eye to resurrecting the label’s prestige – the way Lagerfeld had resurrected Chanel in 1983.

Balmain had been one of Paris’ leading fashion ateliers when it was founded in 1946 by its namesake Pierre Balmain. However, it lost its lustre over the years, especially after Pierre’s death in 1982 when Balmain’s life partner and business assistant, Erik Mortensen, became the house designer. While Mortensen kept loyal clients happy he failed to make waves in the fashion press. 

Fayer diversified production into a line of luxury products including accessories and perfume, and bought back the rights to the original Balmain perfumes that had been sold to Revlon in the early 1960s. By 1987 he had cancelled licensing agreements with companies that were churning out Balmain designs using second-rate craftsmanship, damaging the Balmain image. Fayer bought d’Ana Cote d’Azure, a high-end clothing manufacturer in the south of France to produce all of the Balmain lines including Balmain Ivoire, a luxury ready-to-wear line created with the American market in mind (see video below of Fall 1989 Balmain Ivoire fashion show.)

Instead of contracting out ready-to-wear collections to lesser designers for the growing ‘fastwear’ market (as it was called in 1987), Balmain’s ready-to-wear collections were now designed under Mortensen to retain an elite, upscale chic that would be sold for 25% – 30% more than ready-to-wear had been previously priced. Twenty-two year old Hervé Pierre was hired to assist Mortensen with the increased designing responsibilities.

The influx of new ideas and capital re-invigorated the house of Balmain and ushered in an era of foreign capital investments into long-standing Paris fashion houses. However, everything wasn’t working smoothly behind the scenes at Balmain. In March 1990 Alistair Blair was hired to design the Balmain Ivoire luxury ready-to-wear collection, allowing Mortensen to devote his work exclusively to the couture collection. 

That same year, Fayer sold Balmain to Alain Chevalier, a French financer from the Louis Vuitton group, only to buy it back a year later in June 1991 at a greatly reduced price. Mortensen however, was no longer with Balmain when the company was purchased back. Hervé Pierre had been made in charge of creating Balmain’s couture collections for 1991 and spring 1992. 

Fayer then brought on board Oscar de la Renta as Balmain’s lead designer in early 1992. De la Renta, who had established himself in New York in 1966 and had only shown his own collection in Paris for the first time in March 1991, became the first American designer to take over at a Paris fashion house. He remained at Balmain until 2002. 

Erich Fayer died in Brussels on April 6, 1995 from a heart attack.

Alber Elbaz (1961 – 2021)

Alber Elbaz with Meryl Streep in 2014 as he is handed his Fashion Group International award. Streep, who is wearing Lanvin, said “if what you’ve made me feel over the years is multiplied by all the other women whose lives you’ve enhanced, I think you should get this every year.” 

Fashion designer Alber Elbaz has passed away from Covid-19.

Elbaz was born in Morocco and moved to Israel with his family when he was 10 years old. After studying at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design he moved to New York in 1985 to work for Geoffrey Beene. In 1996 he moved to Paris to work at Guy Laroche. He became the creative director at Yves Saint Laurent in 1998 and in 2001 he joined Lanvin. 

Elbaz revitalized the dying fashion house of Lanvin – the oldest French fashion house in continuous existence that had been reduced to relying on men’s ready-to-wear and fragrances. During his 14 year tenure, Elbaz turned Lanvin into a creative and commercial success, and established signature trademarks for a modern Lanvin style, including exposed zippers and grosgrain ribbon trim. 

Fissures in the relationship between Elbaz and management grew into chasms, and Elbaz was ousted in 2015 after a loss in projected net profits. A complicated lawsuit followed that claimed there was a lack of investment strategy and that the projected profits were unrealistic, while blame was put from the other side onto Elbaz for poor sales of accessories. Ultimately, the real problem was a difference in opinion over priorities and in similar cases, the creative director is often held accountable for a decline in sales.

After years of inactivity, Elbaz just recently established his new label, AZ Factory.

Lerner Shops

Lerner was founded in 1917 in New York City as a woman’s blouse shop. By 1920, the store had expanded to 23 branches and by 1930, the number had grown to 160 shops across 37 states.

Lerner Shops located in busy shopping districts, signing long term leases to get better rental deals. Their shop exteriors embraced modern design and always featured enticing window displays, their interiors were light and spacious – and air conditioned! 

By 1967, Lerner began expanding into shopping centers, but as shopping malls became more popular, downtowns deteriorated. Lerner was tied into long leases on many downtown stores and began to get a reputation for being dowdy and dated like the downtown cores of many cities. 

In 1985 Limited Brands purchased Lerner and breathed new life into the business, eventually changing its name to New York & Company in the late 1990s. Limited Brands resold New York & Company to RTW Retailwinds in November 2002, and the shop became a popular mall staple alongside businesses like Forever 21 and American Eagle. The pandemic forced NY&Co. to seek bankruptcy protection in the summer of 2020. Saadia Group, LLC purchased what remained of the company in October 2020. 

Patent Fashions – Pantyhose

On November 9, 1956, Ernest G. Rice filed for a U.S. patent for a garment that combined stockings with an opaque panty. In his description he writes: “…a combination garment in which a pair of stockings and underpants are unitarily formed…that eliminates the need for garter attachments and belts.” His idea wasn’t new – dancers had been wearing tights for decades, however, his improvement was in the addition of an opaque panty, reinventing it for fashionable use. Sixteen months later, on March 18, 1958, Rice was granted his patent and pantyhose hit the market the following year. Sales shot up in the late 1960s when the miniskirt soared four inches above the knee, and until the late 1990s pantyhose were a staple of every woman’s wardrobe. In the process of researching pantyhose history, I came across this interesting website that is still in development but outlines a history of stockings.

Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Ramona Rull

Left: model Donna DeMarco wears a Ramona Rull dress with Sheesha work. Right: Ramona Rull wearing a wood-block printed cotton ‘at home’ dress, Toronto, April, 1979

Several years ago we inherited a collection of caftan and caftan-like dresses from a friend who loved the style. A few of them were labelled Ramona Rull, and the quality was particularly interesting, but I couldn’t find anything about the name on the label. Fortunately, thanks to Fashion History Museum remote researcher Lynn Ranieri, she managed to find a LOT of information about Ramona Rull and her career as a manufacturer:

Ramona Mary Rull was born into a Eurasian family of Hong Kong clothing manufacturers on August 5, 1933. In 1965, Ramona moved to New York and took a job at the United Nations. However, the fashion industry was in her blood and in 1968 she opened a boutique on Madison Avenue selling clothes made in Hong Kong from textiles she sourced across Asia. 

In 1971, Pakistan House International (a government agency), financed a trip for her to Pakistan to see what they could offer to encourage the export of Pakistani textiles. That same year Ramona closed her boutique and went into the wholesale manufacturing of cotton clothes made from vegetable-dye patterns printed with traditional wood-blocks. Sometimes her clothes also featured decorative work, like sheesha (mirrorwork). The dresses were manufactured in Lahore and Karachi using patterns for the export market that showcased the textile, using simple designs like slight A-line dresses with sash belts, caftans, and shifts with side slits. 

Her new manufacturing and importing business was called ‘Ramona Creations’. Over the next two decades she would travel to Asia for four to six weeks, three times per year, to source fabrics, draft patterns, and oversee quality control. The worst problem was ensuring textiles weren’t printed on rainy days when the dye wouldn’t set properly and then bleed easily.

In 1977, Ramona married Canadian businessman Thomas William Karson and moved to Toronto. Her first Canadian fashion show was held at Simpsons, Toronto in April 1979, where her clothes were sold through ‘The Room’ – their chic fashion department.  Over the years her clients would include Canadian journalist Betty Kennedy, and American actresses Ali McGraw and Shirley MacLaine.

Her husband passed away in June, 1989 and Ramona closed down her business by 1994.  Ramona Karson (nee Rull) died June 6, 2010. 

Sumptuary Laws

I just received a copy of the book Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History, by RIchard Thompson Ford. It’s now in my ‘to read’ list, but it might be a while before I get to it… I found a reference to this book during one of those rabbit holes that are easy to fall into when I was researching 18th century sumptuary laws. These were laws enacted to limit access or restrict use of certain materials or styles to specific people, usually with an eye to keeping everyone within their class and not dressing like their social betters.

One such law I came across recently in an article about Swedish lace making refers to two acts. In 1767 Sweden, His Majesty’s Directive against Luxuriance and Superfluity was enacted to minimize commoners from wearing luxurious materials and accessories, as well as limit ostentation amongst aristocratic ladies when not at court: “For the prevention of a harmful luxuriance in Ladies’ costumes, all trains on Ladies’ costumes of whatever kind are forbidden as from the 1 January 1767…” As well, this edict also limited silk and wide lace trims to court wear only. Three years later, a 1770 sumptuary law extended restrictions to men’s clothing: “All Male Persons in general are forbidden at a Penalty of one Hundred Silver Riksdalers…to wear Silk Velvet, and Silk fabrics in Clothing, Lining, by which is meant Coats, Frock-coats, so-called Surcoats, Jackets and Waistcoats; Likewise forbidden at the same Fine are all Galloons and Embroidery in Gold, Silver, Silk or any other kind, except for what officers and the parading Burghers of the town have the right to wear on their Hats and Caps; Also forbidden for Male Persons at the same Fine are Lace and Mountings on Canvas for Cuffs…”

Canadian Fashion Connection – Lady Beatrice

Lady Beatrice was a mid-priced line of millinery sold through Eaton’s department stores, and possibly other venues. The line was created by K&G Hats Ltd., 55 York St., Toronto, ON. The company was operated by Philip Katz (president) and Harry Glassman (vice president), and was in operation from 1935 until at least 1965. The company went out of business sometime between 1966 and 1979, and was expunged in 1980.

Canadian Fashion Connection Everywoman’s World Magazine 1914 – 1923

Everywoman’s World magazine first appeared in 1914. Founded by Isidor Simonski of the Continental Publishing Company, Toronto. Although The Canadian Home Journal, founded in 1895, had a 50% female readership, Simonski realized there was no magazine in Canada that exclusively marketed to female consumers. Everywoman’s World was an instant hit and by 1921, the publication boasted the highest per issue circulation of any Canadian magazine to date, with 106,167 monthly readers.

The publication is an interesting mixture of fashion and household management, alongside articles with feminist interests, from reportage on various women’s organizations to what women can do to help win the Great War. The magazine favoured women writers, including Lucy Maude Montgomery. There are several issues available online here but despite its popularity, surviving examples of the actual magazines are rare. The last reference I can find for the publication dates from 1923, which must be the last year it was printed. Not sure how a publication can go from the highest circulation in Canada to defunct in two years! If the Continental Publishing Company in Toronto was associated in any way with an American publishing company of the same name, the U.S. company was dissolved in 1925, however, it is not clear if there was any association.

Carla Zampatti (1942 – 2021)

Carla Zampatti’s name probably doesn’t ring a bell unless you are from Australia where she is so well-known that she is being honoured with a state funeral in New South Wales. 

Born in Italy in 1942, Carla Zampatti’s family immigrated to Australia in 1950. In 1965 Carla produced her first small fashion collection and in 1970, she founded her ready-to-wear boutique-style business Carla Zampatti Pty Ltd.

She became one of the first Australian designers to include swimwear in her collections, and over the years became an Australian fashion institution, dressing Australian celebrities including Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett. She passed away this week after a fall at the age of 78.