The New Look before 1947

I love this picture of Elsie de Wolfe’s party in Paris from July 1939 because it shows how the postwar ‘New Look’ silhouette was already underway before the war stymied style and forced a different direction in fashion for the duration of the conflict:

Shop Windows – Knocking off Schiaparelli in 1939

I ran across this undated window of Arnold Constable & Co. and I suspect these are knock-offs of Schiaparelli’s summer 1939 collection that was inspired by the 50th anniversary of the Eiffel tower”


Undated photo of store window in Arnold Constable & Co., New York, with what looks like versions of Schiaparelli’s summer 1939 bustle collection

Somewhere Over My Price Range…

The blue and white gingham dress worn by 17 year old Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz in 1939, sold for U.S. $480,000 this past weekend. It had been in storage since 2005 when it was sold in London for less than half that amount. Adrian, the designer of the iconic gingham jumper (or pinafore if you are English), reportedly made ten identical examples for the star and stand-in to wear, but the one that just sold is the only one to appear in the film. Adrian reportedly told his seamstresses to use a cheap cotton gingham because he wanted it to look like yardage Auntie Em would buy from the local general store. To add to the authenticity, the dress was apparently sewn at MGM on a treadle sewing machine brought in by one of the seamstresses. The colours in the dress seem grey in comparison to how it appears on film, but the film was shot in three strip technicolour film, which produces a high resolution and saturated colour. There may also be some overall even fading due to a shift in the colour caused by the chemical deterioration of the blue dye.

A zesty dress…

This photo from a 1939 National Geographic shows a young woman dressed in a gown made from grapefruit peels, apparently woven together, although exactly how it was made is not known. The dress was made to celebrate Rio Grande Delta’s harvest season, Rio Grande Delta is the southernmost tip of Texas, bordering the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the country of Mexico, and is a large producer of citrus fruit, with grapefruit making up the bulk of the crop.

If you are keeping tally, there have been food dresses made from meat, gummy bears, corn husks, chocolate, licorice all sorts, and artist Sung Yeonju has created dresses from everything from Lotus root to shrimp.

Fashion S.O.S. – Steven Arpad

Arpad design for shoes, made up for Balenciaga’s fall 1939 collection

A couple of years ago images of shoes dating from 1939 and designed by Steven Arpad, started appearing on the net. They were fantastic creations from the Brooklyn Museum of Art collection, but when that collection was transferred to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, this collection of pullovers (industry term for mock-ups or models) and shoes, were photographed and put on the Museum of Art’s website, where they were subsequently blogged about on several sites.

Arpad pullover – a mock-up or model of a shoe, c. 1939

The only information that ever appears with the shoes is that they are by French shoe designer Steven Arpad, and date from 1939. When I was at the Bata Shoe Museum in the 1990s, we were contacted by Steven Arpad, or his legal representative, about some archival material of his – it wasn’t these pullover models, and I can’t remember exactly what it was because I wasn’t in the loop regarding this discussion – it was being dealt with by the museum’s director Edward Maeder and founder, Sonja Bata (yes, it was a dysfunctional arrangement where the curator was often the last to know…)

Arpad pullover, c. 1939, all images courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

I recall that Steven Arpad was American,  and had studied engineering. He had gone to France before the war where he took up shoe design. His 1939 collection of shoes were all he produced, and Balenciaga in Paris, Delman in New York, (and perhaps Schiaparelli?) bought some of his designs for making into shoes. Unfortunately, WWII started at the same time as Arpad’s shoe design career, and his engineering skills were more valuable for the war effort. Arpad dropped shoe design, returned to the States, and then got lost to history.

Pullover, c. 1939, by Steven Arpad

A search on his name results in a lot of hits about this shoe collection on various blogs, but little else. There was one Steven Arpad I could find that had been born on May 12, 1904 in New York and died on October 12, 1998 in the Bronx, New York. This must be the same Steven Arpad as we were contacted by him or his representative sometime between June 1995 and April 1997. Needless to say, the Bata Shoe Museum did not acquire whatever it was that was being offered. I wish I knew or could remember more… anybody out there know more about Arpad?

To view more of Steven Arpad’s shoe designs go to the Museum of New York’s collection database.

Addendum May 9: I was contacted by Milo Bandini and Irma Vivaldi who have the shoe blog ‘Paddock’, which is a great read because their insight and access to the Italian footwear industry is unparalleled. They found a few references that shed some more light onto Steven Arpad in this post. Apparently Arpad, who was born in Hungary, abandoned shoe design for jewellery design during World War II. They found an obscure article about Arpad that appeard in 1964 in The Bulletin, a daily paper out of Oregon. The journalist Gay Pauley writes:

Arpad, Budapest-born, moved to Paris as a young man to study fashion and applied arts. He started his career making boutique items for Jean Patou and ultimately for Balenciaga, Schiaparelli, Paquin and Molineux. He designed and made collections before World War II, he said. And before the war also he was under contract to several U.S. shoe firms including Delman and I. Miller. At the same time he was operating embroidery firms in both Paris and New York. When World War II started, Arpad moved to operate his embroidery firm, open a sportswear house and to do accessories for ready-to-wear designers. He made a big splash during the war years with his retail line of metalless jewelry, made with lace, braiding, net and passamenterie. During the years, he has jewelled everything from combs to belts to shoes. He made jewelled snoods when long bobs were popular and brought back the jewelled hatpin during the post-war years. “

For more references and information about Arpad, check out Paddock’s blog.