Ronald Bard, – 2018

I just found out that Ronald Bard passed away in Asheville, North Carolina on March 3, 2018. His name may not be well known today, but in the late 1960s, he was the leading spokesman for the paper dress industry. Bard was part owner, of the company Mars of Asheville, along with his sister Audrey, and her husband Robert Bayer, who worked as an engineer at Scott Paper. Mars of Asheville was the first company to manufacture paper dresses as a commercial enterprise. Bard was quoted as saying that in 1966 he was convinced that disposable clothing would become half of the clothing market by 1980. However, the paper dress fad faded into history by 1970.

I came across Bard’s obituary accidentally via a link from the Ramsey Library at the University of North Carolina. They have in their collection this Master Charge paper dress that was created by Mars of Asheville to advertise the launch of Master Charge in 1966 (renamed MasterCard in 1979). I thought I had seen all the paper dress prints ever made, but this one is new to me!

Montreal in two days and six exhibitions – Exhibits 2 & 3 – Musee des Beaux Arts

Paco Rabanne outfit for Jane Fonda in Barbarella

The Musee des Beaux Arts has created some phenomenal fashion exhibitions in the past. This is where the amazing Yves St. Laurent retrospective was launched in 2008, as well as where the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition was conceived and began its long world tour in 2011. This summer it has two exhibitions I wanted to see, although the first was not strictly a fashion exhibition.

Revolution was created in collaboration with the Victoria & Albert museum (modified and expanded for the Quebec audience.) The exhibition looks at consumerism, protests, drugs, concerts, civil rights, sex and everything else that was revolutionary about the late 1960s. Several galleries tell parts of the story in a categorical approach to the topic. The artifacts were spectacular – ranging from John Lennon’s suit from the Sgt. Pepper album cover to the chain mail outfit made by Paco Rabanne for Jane Fonda in Barbarella… really iconic pieces.

The dress on the left is by Thea Porter, but I couldn’t read anything more about it or the caftan next to it because the labels were either illegible or inaccessible due to the crowds in the Woodstock gallery standing in front of the cases

However, this exhibition had some organizational issues. Firstly, the audio sets were just music and added no further information to the show. The labelling was largely unreadable – dark text was often applied to vertical glass, becoming illegible in the dimly lit galleries. Some label information was missing or wrong: A Wiccan robe decorated with silver lurex was identified as dating from 1953 – unlikely as lurex was barely available in 1953, and besides the show was about the 60s, not the 50s. I could find no label to identify a peacock chair, and Greenpeace was not founded in California, but in Vancouver B.C. in 1971.

The show was also not well laid out for accessibility. In the second to last gallery, a massive wall projection of scenes from Woodstock was playing and the floor scattered with large pillows so that visitors could lie down to enjoy the projection. This left a narrow walkway at the back where other visitors stood to watch the film. The problem is they stood in front of the glass cases that had the REAL artifacts worn to Woodstock! Why anyone would waste their time watching clips they can see on Netflix while ignoring the actual garments worn by Roger Daltry, Jimi Hendrix, and Janice Joplin is beyond me!

A variety of Carnaby street fashions including Mick Jagger’s stuffed jumpsuit

Fortunately an exhibition of wedding attire by Jean Paul Gaultier downstairs more than made up for any complaints I had about the Revolution show.

Love is Love is a spectacular exhibition of wedding attire created by Jean Paul Gaultier that includes pieces he has designed over the last twenty-odd years. A massive tiered wedding cake in the middle of the gallery holds the bulk of the dresses and suits, shown in non-traditional pairings, while other unusual wedding outfits line the outer walls that have been covered with a scrim creating ghostly 3D images of chairs and picture frames – the presentation is fantastic.

In one corner is a mannequin on a swing with a massive train that had been the backdrop for the duration of a fashion show, until the wedding dress (traditionally the last image in a fashion show) appeared and the backdrop turned into her train. Gaultier’s clothes always surprise you – there is nothing typical about his work. Superb tailoring stands next to patchwork frou-frou and while some garments appear to be original ideas, others are unapologetically appropriated and reinvented.

The artifacts in Revolution, and the artifacts and presentation in Love is Love are worth seeing. Revolution concludes October 9, and Love is Love ends October 22.

Myth Information – The First Miniskirt — ‘Ya-ya’

This should forever end the debate over who ‘invented’ the first miniskirt. It turns out it wasn’t Mary Quant, or Andres Courreges, or John Bates, or Rudi Gernreich, or Marimekko… Although not yet called ‘miniskirts’, the earliest above-the knee dresses date from the spring of 1960. The photograph at left dated June 3, 1960 pictures Annalisa Posen (then known as Alice Honzal) wearing the girlishly short hemmed skirt with fellow model Cynthia Doucette. Annalisa recalled in an email conversation that it was her first modelling job in Canada, and that later that day they appeared on a Toronto television show, modelling the above-the-knee styles.

A quote about the history of miniskirts on wikipedia references a May 28, 1960 article from the Montreal Gazette that cites the origin of the short style coming from the manager of an unnamed shop in London’s Oxford Street who was experimenting with short skirt hemlines on window mannequins, and noted how positively his customers responded. Despite this, the style didn’t catch on, but two years later another attempt to bring in shorter skirts occurred, but this time they were called ‘Ya-ya’ skirts. The two images below dating from 1962, both from Women’s Wear Daily, refer to Ya Ya skirts:

Thanks to James Fowler for unearthing this following snippet from the Canadian fashion industry news magazine Style, that reported on July 9, 1962:

“The Ya-Ya skirt, recently launched in England, was introduced recently to the west coast by Marjorie Hamilton with traffic-stopping impact…The controversial… skirts… on a girl of average height, a Ya-Ya reaches about eight inches above the knee if worn with a crinoline. There is a six-inch hem for any length alteration required… Commenting on the Ya-Ya the other day, the curator-historian of the costume department in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum said: “This is more than a concession to the sun. This fashion emphasizes that women are seeking a matriarchal state, that they desire to grip and hold men’s attention and gain their subjection. Not since the days of bare bosoms have women been so studiedly carefree in their clothing”.” 

Speculating on the possible origin of the name ‘Ya-Ya’, there were two popular songs at the time. Lee Dorsey’s 1961 hit Ya Ya “Sittin here la la, waitin’ for my ya ya – a-hum, a-hum….”, and the Ya-Ya Twist first recorded by Richard Anthony in 1961 and then Petula Clark in 1962. Although English, Clark often sang in French and was considered one of what the French called the ‘Yé-yé girls’ for their choruses that had a lot of ya/yeah refrains.

Gina Fratini, 1931 – 2017

Dress of the Year 1975 – Bath Museum of Costume (Now known as the Fashion Museum)

Georgina Caroline Eve Butler was born into an aristocratic, connected family on 22 September, 1931 in Kobe, Japan and spent most of her childhood in colonial India. She studied at the Royal College of Arts before marrying in 1954. After her first marriage ended in divorce in 1961, she married Renato Fratini.

Elizabeth Taylor’s second marriage to Richard Burton, 1975

In 1964 ‘Gina’ opened her own clothing business and became a part of the British Boutique movement that redefined youth fashion. She kept her name after she and Renato divorced in 1968 – just as her romantic, historically-inspired floaty, frilly, lace-trimmed fashions were becoming influential.

Princess DIana wearing Fratini

In 1975 the Bath Museum of Costume chose one of her wedding dress designs for their Dress of the Year Award.  That same year, Elizabeth Taylor wore a Fratini designed dress for her second marriage to Richard Burton. In the 1980s Princess Diana also wore Fratini designed dresses.

Gina married two more times before closing her fashion house in November 1989. Her last husband was actor Anthony Newley. Reports of her death first appeared in a tweet over the weekend by Joan Collins, who had been married to Anthony Newley before Gina Fratini.

C.N.E. Fashion Shows in the 1960s

Some great images of fashion shows held at the Canadian National Exhibition in the 1960s:

Graphic Novel Fashions

Although I knew about various Superhero and Archie comic books when I was a kid in the 60s/70s, I didn’t read them, so there was a whole world of popular culture that existed outside my sphere of reality. Because I wasn’t into that I also wasn’t aware that there was such a thing as ‘girl’ graphic novels about love — and fashion.

A recent article on Messy Nessy Chic brought my attention to it, and with a bit of spelunking about the net I have found a few online resources for images from these romance comics. It seems romance comic books are overshadowed by the superhero and science-fiction comic book genres, often lingering at the back of comic book stores and left unsold at the end of comic book conventions. What a shame, because romance comics are filled with wonderful images and salient fashion advice aimed at teenaged girls.

For more comic-book fashions check out Sequential Crush blog, and this flickr account

Shades, hose, and wigs

Headband sunglasses, late 1960s

Headband sunglasses, late 1960s

LIFE magazine reported in their 9 January 1970 issue on American trends during the 1960s including some surprising sales figures on fashion items.

Sunglasses showed a healthy increase in sales from $14.5 million in 1960 to $39 million in 1969. Pantyhose, which had been on the market since 1959, suddenly spiked in popularity, showing an increase of over three fold in just one year, from 200 million pairs sold in 1968 to 624 million pairs sold in 1969. And most surprising of all were wig sales that expanded from $35 million in 1960 to $500 million in 1969. And how were all these paid for? Credit card sales also grew in the 1960s, from $8 billion in 1960 to $17.5 billion in annual sales nine years later.

When wearing vintage was weird…

Three designs by Leong for Streisand's club appearances in the early 60s that included (left to right) a feathered bedjacket, vintage 20s shoes, and Edwardian bodice.

Three designs by Leong for Streisand’s club dates in the early 60s that included (left to right) feathered bedjacket, vintage shoes, and Edwardian bodice.

I never knew that when Barbra Streisand sang “…I’m wearing second hand hats, second hand clothes, That’s why they call me Second Hand Rose…” in Funny Girl, a song originally written for the 1921 Ziegfield Follies, that she was also singing from experience.

When I wrote the chapter ‘Doing Your Own Thing’ in my book Sixties Fashion: From Less is More to Youthquake, I knew there was more to the history of wearing vintage clothing but every contemporary academic book and period article I could find on the topic credited the Mods and Hippies of the mid 1960s as the originators for wearing funky threads found in antique stores and thrift shops. Any reference that predated the mid 60s trend referred to old clothing as something worn for fancy dress-up, or out of need due to wartime necessity or poverty. These last two reasons however, were more about the resale of previously worn clothes that pass for new, or remaking vintage clothes to disguise their archaic styling- not wearing them because of their archaic styling.

Research doesn’t end when the book is published and so it is that I discovered an interesting site today about Barbra Streisand’s fondness for wearing vintage clothing. In 1960, the 18 year old Barbra often wore black tights and raincoats for a Beatnik chic while attending acting classes. After winning a fifty dollar prize in a singing contest, Barbra got a gig that September to perform between comedy sets by Phyllis Diller at the Bon Soir, a Greenwich Village after-hours club. In a January 9, 1970 article in LIFE magazine, Streisand recounted how she wore an antique white lace combing jacket and pink silk 1920s shoes to appear at the Bon Soir. “I didn’t know you were supposed to wear gowns in nightclubs so I sang in a wool dress or in antique clothes.”

Earlier that year Streisand met the young costume designer Terry Leong while rehearsing a play. Leong sketched several stage outfits for her nightclub routine that included vintage pieces such as an Edwardian beaded bodice, feather-trimmed bed jacket or shoes from the 1920s. Phyllis Diller reportedly told Striesand “You can’t wear that stuff”, and took her shopping for a cocktail dress, but “It wasn’t me” said Streisand.

MODe: Fashion in the 1960s

IMGP4319There is still a bit of tweaking to be done, but our new show at the Fashion History Museum is now open. MODe looks at the phenomenal changes in fashion that occurred between 1960 and 1970.

For three centuries, women’s fashions had been almost exclusively the invention of Parisian couturiers, but by the early 1960s the haute couture tradition was in jeopardy as new sources of style were on the rise from: London, New York, Florence, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Madrid, Rome…

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Early 1960s garments including Balenciaga and a Davidow copy of Chanel.

Early in the decade, fashion was under the influence of Internationalism, a global style of modernism where fashion interpreted the ‘Less is more’ modernism mantra through garments of pure line with spare ornament. However, this didn’t mean plain and boring. Textiles featured texture, and the art scene was at a peak of creativity. By mid decade Minimalist and Abstract art styles were augmented by Pop, Op and Psychedelic movements that found their way into fashion prints.

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Boutique vinyl dress and psychedelic dresses by Ken Scott and Dynasty

Futurism and nostalgia both fueled fashion as some designers looked to new materials like paper, metal, and plastic for space age inspired styles while others looked inside Grandma’s trunk for Victorian coats and Jazz-Age heirloom dresses for ideas.

Left to right: pink silk chiffon print dress, unlabelled, spring 1968; sequined green silk dress by Oscar de la Renta for Jane Derby, c. 1968; Yellow silk backless dress by Heinz Riva, Rome, c. 1966; gold and silver lame evening gown and coat by Richard Tam for Sara Fredericks, spring 1968.

Mid 1960s evening wear including Oscar de la Renta for Jane Derby; Heinz Riva, Rome; and Richard Tam for Sara Fredericks.

The 1960s were all about change, largely caused by the shift in demographics that began with the first wave of post-war baby boom children coming of age early in the decade. As this generation grew in size, young people realized they had the power to reinvent the world around them. The rules of fashion broke down as young men and women chose comfortable, informal styles.

London became the centre of a boutique revolution created by the young independent shopkeeper-designers who ‘geared up’the mod generation and launched the ‘British invasion’ of fashion that accompanied the music revolution that swept around the world. As the younger generation became more restless, fashion became more radical, resulting in anti-establishment styles typified by American Hippies on the West Coast.

Doing Your Own Thing - Hippy and other attire of the late 1960s including a photo print pantsuit of the crowd at Woodstock, c. 1970

Hippy and other attire including a photo print pantsuit of the crowd at Woodstock.

It could be said that the 1960s saw the death of fashion and the rise of style. By 1970, everything had changed from the way things had been just ten years before – the styles, markets, materials, demographics, inspirations and definitions of fashion were all new. ‘Take it from me,’ said designer Betsey Johnson in a 2003 article ‘There will never be another chunk of time of such pure genius… it was the first and last time that fashion really, really changed.’

The exhibition closes March 16, 2014.

Sixties Fashion: From Less is More to Youthquake

My latest book is about to be released. Sixties Fashion: From Less is More to Youthquake, will be hitting book stores October 29. Like my book on 1940s fashion, my goal was to look at the international fashion scene through period references to see how and why fashion changed during the decade. In just ten years, the styles, markets, materials, demographics, inspirations, and even the very definition of fashion was transformed.

While a richer landscape of high fashion from New York, Florence, Hong Kong, Madrid and Rome challenged the dominance of Paris haute couture, the baby boom generation  revolutionized the traditional definition of fashion. Diana Vreeland called it a ‘youthquake’, with new informal styles of dressing coming from new sources for fashion, from London’s mod scene and the ye-yes in Paris, to the flower children and Afro movement of the US.

The 208 page book is richly illustrated with period photographs and extant garments from several public and private collections. And if you happen to be in Cambridge from November 8 to February 3, the Fashion History Museum will have an exhibition of 1960s fashion featuring many of the original garments illustrated in this book.