Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Paul B.

Paul B. label from yellow dress, c. 1968

Paul B. label from yellow dress, c. 1968

In the late 1960s almost every city had a hip part of town where you could dance at the latest discotheque and buy the chicest clothes. In Chicago that area was Rush Street, and one of the coolest boutiques was Paul B. I recently found a blog by the woman in the hat in the photo below reminiscing about the days she worked at Paul B.:

“Paul was a dream to work for, the clothes were fantastic, and the girls were nice … Preston was the manager, a fun, black man with absolutely no rhythm, we teased him about that constantly. The store was open til midnight on Fridays with a bar serving champagne in the back by the dressing rooms, so dates wouldn’t get bored while women tried on clothes … it was like a party. I loved dressing the windows, especially because the clothes were always ahead of the curve. I had some very interesting customers there … The Staples Singers, Minnie Ripperton, and Andre, a pimp who shopped for his 3 ‘girls’…”

Dress by Paul B. c. 1967-68

Dress by Paul B. c. 1967-68

I would love to find more information about all those little boutiques that could be found in the trendy areas of fashion-conscious cities where young people shopped for the latest clothes in the 1960s-70s. These shops were rarely big enough to pay for advertising, operated with a small staff, and although a few designers found fame starting in a small boutique (Mary Quant, Betsey Johnson, Dorothee Bis, Vicky Tiel…), most designer/boutique owners left the business and faded into obscurity. A few of the shops have remained famous in memory (Apple boutique, Bazar, Paraphernalia) and a few shops even survived in some form afterwards (Biba, Le Chateau), but most were gone by the 1980s and will be forgotten.

Interior of Paul B, August 1966

Canadian Fashion Connection – Poupee Rouge – Susie Kosovic

IMGP3096In 1957 thirteen year old Susie Kosovic immigrated with her family from England to Toronto. With dreams of becoming a designer, Susie dropped out of high school and took a sale’s job at Eaton’s department store. When she was 19 she met and married her husband who  supported her idea of opening a boutique and with an investment of $6,000 Susie opened Poupee Rouge in Toronto in 1964.

Advertisement from April 1967 for Poupee Rouge store within a store at Winnipeg's Hudson Bay Company

Advertisement from April 1967 for Poupee Rouge store within a store at Winnipeg’s Hudson Bay Company

Her fashions were young and colourful, aimed at the mod generation of collegiate, working girl, and young married women. In a November 1966 article for MacLean’s magazine Vidal Sassoon was quoted as saying about Susie “I spotted her at a party in Toronto last spring. I couldn’t miss her – she was wearing an exact copy of one of my hair styles and this marvelous wild dress she’d designed herself. I was tempted to call her Canada’s Mary Quant. But that’s not right because Susie has her own thing.”

The boutique prospered, attracting celebrity clients including: Joan Baez, Genevieve Bujold, and Sylvia Tyson. By 1968 Poupee Rouge had grown to two locations in Toronto, one in Montreal, four store-within-stores of western branches of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and one shop in Montego Bay, Jamaica, with plans for branch boutiques in New York and Miami.

Styles by Susie Kosovic, appearing on the front cover of MacLean's magazine, November 19, 1966

Styles by Susie Kosovic, appearing on the front cover of MacLean’s magazine, November 19, 1966

However, by the late 1960s, boutique fashions were commonly being “knocked off” by manufacturers. In an article that appeared in the Montreal Gazette in August 1968, Kosovic notes how this has become a common problem for boutique owners, including herself. In New York, Betsy Johnson also had the same issue with design pirates and ceased running her boutique Betsey, Bunky and Nini in 1969. Johnson beat the manufacturers at their own game by becoming a designer for a manufacturer of junior sportswear, but most boutique owners closed their shops and disappeared into history.

Heavy Baggage

An interesting snippet I discovered yesterday from the Montreal Gazette, August 29, 1968:

“Women who carry heavy handbags sometimes suffer from unpleasant finger tingling… Dr. Ronald Barber, a diagnostic expert, told a group of physiotherapists heavy handbags can cause women to walk slightly off kilter. The result is pressure on certain nerve paths that causes the unpleasant sensation in the fingers… It was prevalent among women in Britain during the Second World War because they were forced to stand in queues for hours with heavy shopping bags to buy goods in short supply…”

It was 50 years ago today

Fifty years ago today the Beatles’ first album was released in Britain – a moment many consider pivotal in the history of 1960s popular culture.

The Cylinder Jacket by Pierre Cardin, 1960

The Cylinder Jacket by Pierre Cardin, 1960

A few months earlier, in December 1962, the Beatles were being toffed up for publicity shots in the wake of the moderate success of their first UK song release ‘Love Me Do’. Douglas (Dougie) Millings, an established Compton Street tailor who had already created looks for other rising music stars, was hired to polish the rocker look off the Liverpool four. Millings created a suit with a collarless jacket that looked very similar to the ‘Cylinder’ jacket Pierre Cardin had shown in corduroy for his first menswear collection in 1960. Cardin’s avant-garde look created a tapered shape that ‘suited’ the younger male physique. Although the suit was not a popular seller, the style opened the door to the influence of trend over tradition in menswear.

The Beatles with Dougie Millings, December 1962

The Beatles with Dougie Millings, December 1962

Although Dougie Millings never admitted to copying Cardin, his suits for the Beatles were essentially restyled versions of the Cylinder suit. Some of the finishing details were altered – three buttons instead of 5,  and the application of contrast edging (typically used in Austrian clothes.) But Millings biggest and most successful change was in making the suits from Italian sharkskin mohair for that touch of ‘La Dolce Vita’. The result was a flashy, youthful, mod style that was uniquely English and popular with the fad-oriented mod culture. However, in typical mod fashion, the style was short lived. By the time of their first American appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in February 1964, the Beatles were already wearing their next look consisting of V-neck jackets with narrow black velvet collars.

Family Frugging for Chemstrand Actionwear – Fall 1966

http://youtu.be/wgJh3MMnp0U

Chemstrand was a company created by the American Viscose Corporation and Monsanto Chemical Company on May 16, 1949, to carry out research development as well as manufacture synthetic fibers. The company’s research facilities, headquarters, and ‘Acrilan’ manufacturing plant were located in Decatur, Alabama. Acrilan was their trademark name for an acrylic textile that resembled fine wool in appearance and feel. In 1953 the largest nylon manufacturing plant in the world was built by Chemstrand in Pensacola, Florida, and in 1958 Chemstrand opened an Acrilan plant in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, to supply the UK market. In 1963 Chemstrand became a division of Monsanto and by 1965 was producing one of its biggest sellers – a lycra thread stretch textile trademarked as Actionwear.

Fashion and Song: Youth Quake – 1965

Click the link in the last paragraph to hear the song

In January 1965 Diana Vreeland coined the phrase “Youth Quake” to describe the effect the younger generation of teenagers were having upon the world, especially in fashion and music.

Around the same time J.C. Penny executive Paul Young was thinking there was room for a British boutique style approach to selling youth fashions in the United States. There wasn’t interest from J.C. Penney, but Carl Rosen, the president of the Puritan Fashion Corporation, liked the idea and hired Young to head a new division at Puritan they called ‘Youthquake’, after Vreeland’s word that succinctly identified the youth market.

The first goal of Youthquake was to improve sales of existing Puritan lines to the youth market. A three-year contract was signed with British designers Mary Quant, and Foale & Tuffin to infuse some British mod style into Puritan’s junior brands. The song “Youth Quake” by the Skunks was commissioned by Puritan and that autumn a 45 of the song was given away with every purchase of an English Mod-design fashion from Puritan.

The Ten Most Fashion-Influential ‘Must See’ 1960s Films

This isn’t a list of the most fashionable films of the 1960s but rather the films that created discussion, inspired ideas, represented trends, and influenced styles in that decade:

Who Are You Polly Magoo? (1966)

Who Are You, Polly Magoo? (1966) is a French satire of the fashion industry – and  especially the fashion ‘sheep’ who blindly follow designers like Courreges and Rabanne.

The World of Suzi Wong (1960)

The World of Suzi Wong (1960) is about an artist who moves to Hong Kong and falls in love with a local prostitute. What is important about this film is its setting and costumes – Hong Kong was just becoming an important fashion manufacturing centre in 1960, and the Cheungsam became a hit after this film.

Blowup (1966)

Blowup (1966) This film is about a dissolute London fashion photographer who unwittingly witnesses a murder. Although the focus of this film is about the murder, the film shows what the life of a fashion photographer, like David Bailey, was like in the mid 1960s.

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

Last Year at Marienbad (1961) is a French art film about a couple who may have met before. The styling of the film was a source of inspiration for the film and fashion industry, and the lead character’s haircut began the penchant for shorter hairstyles.

 

 

 

La Dolce Vita (1960)

La Dolce Vita (1960) is a series of stories following a week in the life of a Roman paparazzi journalist. Although filmed in 1959 and not released in the U.S. until spring 1961, the fashions held up and the styling secured Italy as a leader of chic fashion.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), a New York party girl falls in love with a her gigolo neighbour. This film secured Audrey Hepburn as the ‘it’ girl of the early 1960s and Givenchy as the leading French couturier of the early 1960s.

Cleopatra (1963)

Cleopatra (1963) about history’s most famous Egyptian queen is a plodding epic that was the most scandalous film of its time in terms of problems behind the scenes and cost overuns. However, in anticipation of the film’s release – everything went Egyptian in the summer of ’62 including heavy eyeliner, bangs, draped dresses and Egyptian jewellery.

Tom Jones (1963)

Tom Jones (1963) is about the randy tales of a charming British lover. The film inspired  deep decolletage in the mid 1960s and popularized the ‘peasant’ dress style that gained popularity towards the end ofthe decade.

Bonnie & Clyde (1967)

 

 

 

 

Bonnie & Clyde (1967) retells the story of the famous 1930s American outlaws. The 1930s costuming created a nostalgia for the past and influenced 1960s fashions, including the beret, midi hem lengths, sweaters, men’s double breasted suits and Deco styling.

Dr. Zhivago (1965)

 

 

 

Doctor Zhivago (1965) follows a Russian doctor who falls in love with a political activist’s wife during the Bolshevik Revolution. The film was a critical failure but popular with audiences and remained in the theatres for over a year after its release. Fur trimmed coats, boots, embroidery, midi and maxi hems, were all attributed to this film. Most importantly, it began a taste for nostalgic and romantic looks in fashion – pushing aside the space age modernism of the mid 1960s.

Nuclear Fashion

The Fashion History museum’s exhibition Nuclear Fashion opens Tuesday, October 2 at the Joseph Brant Museum in Burlington, Ontario.

This exhibition includes period store mannequins and over 60 advertisements, dating between 1946 and 1964 aimed at the suburban nuclear family for products ranging from Ked’s shoes to Maidenform bras.