English Shoe Manufacturer Lotus Ltd.

Green suede pumps, ‘Career Girl’ by Lotus Ltd., c. 1965

In 1814 Thomas Bostock (1777 – 1865), moved to Stafford to set up a shoemaking business. Thomas’ son Edwin (1807-1883) became a partner in his father’s firm that by 1833 was employing about 200 men, women and children. Thomas’ other sons Frederick (1812 – 1890) and Thomas Jr. (1816-1871) also each set up shoemaking businesses, Frederick in Northampton in 1835, and Thomas Jr. in Stone in 1842.  Edwin took over the Stafford factory upon Thomas Jr’s death in 1871. 

Despite strikes by workers in the 1850s, sewing machines and other technologically advanced shoemaking equipment were installed in the factories during the late 19th century that expanded the profitable production of footwear for these companies. Edwin Bostock & Co., became a limited liability company in 1898. In 1919, Edwin Bostock & Co. Ltd. amalgamated with Frederick Bostock Ltd. of Northampton to become Lotus Ltd., a brand name Edwin Bostock had been using for some time. 

After years of being one of England’s largest shoe manufacturers, Lotus Ltd. left family ownership in 1970 and went into decline. Sold and resold several times, by 1998, all but the Northampton factory had been shuttered. The company name survives as a subsidiary of D. Jacobson & Sons Ltd.

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What were they thinking?

The luxury Spanish brand Loewe launched a collection on November 14 that included a black and white striped outfit that looks not unlike a World War II era concentration camp uniform (with the addition of patch pockets and the subtraction of a matching hat.) Loewe said the design was inspired by 19th century British Arts & Crafts ceramicist William De Morgan (not sure how, as it doesn’t resemble the exotic floral glaze work he is known for).

I often think complaints about cultural appropriation are the result of snowflakes who are looking for something to complain about, but sometimes it’s hard not to see anything but the obvious appropriation. I don’t think concentration camp uniforms were the inspiration for this outfit anymore than blackface was the inspiration for that Gucci sweater, however, why is it that nobody at these companies saw the resemblance and brought up the issue before production and launch? Should there be more history majors working at these companies who can identify some basic historical events from the past century? Are most people that dumb when it comes to our recent past? If they had even just dumped the trousers and maybe the black breast pocket the effect would be very different.

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Dressing for the Job

late 1940s waitress
White Castle restaurant, late 1950s
contemporary suggestions for how to dress for an interview, although I would have added either a tie or jacket to the man’s outfit, you don’t need both, but you do need one…
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Joseph Thimister 1962-2019

Josephus Melchior Thimister was born in Maastricht, Holland on September 16, 1962. He attended the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and worked as an assistant for Karl Lagerfeld and later Patou before becoming the creative director of Balenciaga in 1992. Thimister left Balenciaga in 1997 to start his own label but, despite critical success, struggled to find investors. He took a side stint as creative director of Genny but in 2004 Thimister ceased designing under his own name. Between 2005 and 2007 he worked as the artistic director of Charles Jourdan, the shoe company.

He then worked different jobs: an interior designer, consultant at Pucci, and taught at la Cambre art school in Brussels and the Institut Francais de la Mode in Paris. He returned to fashion with a comeback couture show in 2010 which lead to an opportunity to design ready-to-wear in 2011, but his work never found an audience. 

He possessed an artist’s temperament: dramatic, stubborn, sensitive, flamboyant, and moody, and eventually his depression got the best of him. Thimister commited suicide at the age of 57 on November 13.

Thimister dress, Image by Irving Penn for Vogue, April 1999
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How to Stay Spiffy

I was stumped earlier this year when I was contacted by the Carleton Place and Beckwith Museum with a picture of a wire thingy in their collection and asked if I knew how it was used… I couldn’t help. However, when they did find an identical one on its original display card they shared their find. It’s an early 1940s collar stay to keep men’s collar points crisp!

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The Year in Fashion – 2019

If you read fashion magazines you probably think 2019 was all about VSCO girls, the colour lavender, floral prints, bicycle shorts with blazers, tartan, equestrian boots, capes and trench coats, Gucci logo belt buckles, and sneakers, sneakers, sneakers. But these are disposable trends offered up by bloggers and fashion editors that keep you buying stuff. While athleisure continued to grab a bigger portion of the fashion market, the trends worth watching this year were not those that were ‘in’ but rather those that were on their way out. The miniskirt all but disappeared – not surprising for women’s fashion to become less salacious in the wake of #metoo (this also party explains why the Victoria’s Secret runway show was cancelled for good this year.) The designer handbag too has lost its once leading status in the fashion world. Also worth taking note is a slump in cosmetics. Oversaturated in brands, make-up has become less important as more women turn to skin-care over paint products.

While this year had its share of stories about cultural appropriation, racism, diversity and inclusion, the biggest trend in fashion was in regard to sustainability and the financial survival of fashion in the wake of the shrinking middle class who have been the purveyors of fashion since the French Revolution.

Sustainability: Textile and fashion production is the world’s second most polluting industry after oil and is growing only because of over-consumption. The UKs Extinction Rebellion movement has grown quickly and internationally since its October 2018 origins. There is a growing trend to buy less, choose quality over quantity, re-wear what you already own, and recycle everything else. To make the point that consumerism is at the root of our environmental problems, protesters blocked access to malls on Black Friday – the busiest shopping day of the year. The message is getting through to even large companies: Levi’s is working towards sustainability in the near future for all their products; Prada is also seeking sustainability that was required in order to get a 42.9 million pound loan; other companies including Eileen Fisher, Patagonia, and Madewell are buying back their own used clothes from consumers for upcycling. Some smaller designers are creating collections with a patchwork chic that uses fabric destined for the garbage. For consumers, renting over buying clothes is a growing trend.

Sustainability of the fashion economy: The growing polarization of wealth is creating two worlds of fashion, but both high and low ends are seeing lower profits. For the low end, a third of all sales are now online, saving overhead costs. Forever 21, that relied heavily on mall retailing, sought protection from bankruptcy this year primarily brought on by the high rents they pay (an issue that is a factor in many chain store failures). Despite some landlords rolling back rents, many high-streets are emptying out in New York, Paris, and Hong Kong due to high rentals for leading designer outlets. With a combination of high rents, E-commerce, less formal attire, and shoppers buying less, the fashion industry is scrambling. A recent study showed that in the U.S. for every fashion store that opens, two close as retail outlets become more like showrooms than shops.  

2019 saw the closure of Barney’s, Sonia Rykiel, and Zac Posen and the passing of Isabel Toledo, Karl Lagerfeld, Gloria Vanderbilt, Terry de Havilland, and Max Azria. As for this year’s biggest fashion faux pas? It was undoubtedly the tasteless school shooting hoodies produced by Bstroy.

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Joseph Carrier with sample shoes, Carrier Shoes, Toronto, 1949

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Nylon vending machine, Paris Metro, 1955

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Canadian Fashion Connection – Lola Leman

Little is known about this Canadian knitwear designer/retailer. Olga was born in Yugoslavia on July 29, 1924 and came to Canada with her family sometime before the mid 1950s when her mother opened a knitwear shop in Toronto. By 1980, Olga (professionally known as Lola) had taken over her mother’s boutique and had become known as one of Canada’s leading knitwear designers.

In 1980 her shop, at 55 Avenue Road, sold hand knit coats and suits upwards of $2,000. By 1985 she was known for her heavy knit and crochet ribbon two-piece dresses and three-piece suits. Her shop closed sometime in the 1990s, and was officially dissolved in 2006. Lola died on February 26, 2012 at the age of 87.

1985 Advertisement for Lola Leman, featuring one of her crochet ribbon dresses that she was known for.

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Barneys (1923 – 2019)

Barney Pressman standing in front of his men’s clothing store at 7th Ave and 17th Street, 1923

Founded in 1923 by 29 year old Barney Pressman, the men’s clothier grew to become a New York institution. Barney originally acquired his stock from bankruptcies and manufacturer overstocks, offering deep discounts to his working class clientele. Barney’s son Fred officially took over the store in 1975, although Barney remained influential in all business decisions until his death in 1991. Fred polished the store’s reputation, and expanded the business, venturing into women’s clothing and housewares in 1977. Around the same time Fred brought in his two sons Bob and Gene to learn the family business. Wanting to make Barney’s larger, Pressman’s grandsons pushed to partner with Japanese retailer Isetan in the late 1980s. In an expansion designed to rival Bergdorf Goodman, a glitzy flagship department store was opened at Madison and 61st in 1993.

Barneys followed a classic three-generation business arc (first generation makes, second generation maintains, third generation loses) when Isetan pulled out, leaving Barneys to face bankruptcy in 1996. The company was sold and left control of the Pressman family. Fred Pressman died that same year.

After several different owners, the store once again declared bankruptcy in August 2019. The company was bought out and will be dismantled – its stock sold at deep discounts during the 2019 Christmas season (angering competing New York luxury retailers). Barneys joins New York store Henri Bendel that also closed this year, and many other once great, now defunct New York department stores: Arnold Constable, Bonwit Teller, Abraham & Straus, and Gimbel’s.

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