Gloria Vanderbilt 1924 – 2019

New York ‘best-dressed’ heiress and ‘Jeans Queen’ socialite known for her troubled childhood, failed marriages, various affairs with numerous celebrities, exquisite taste, and mother of news journalist Anderson Cooper, died Monday (June 17).

There are plenty of tributes about Ms. Vanderbilt, but it’s primarily her contribution to fashion I want to mark with this post. In 1976, Gloria Vanderbilt was in discussion with Hong Kong fashion firm Murjani about creating a line of clothes under her name. Sexy-fitted high-waisted women’s jeans in stretch denim became the focus of the line that was an instant success the moment it was launched in 1977. Vanderbilt ushered in the era of designer jeans that would become cluttered with names like Calvin Klein, Jordache, and Sasson. The label remained popular for years, but by the late 1980s other brands had overtaken sales.

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.

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

The Paradise bores me and Mr. Selfridge annoys me…

Why doesn’t somebody do a series set in department store that would be REALLY fascinating… like Biba?

There are plenty of posts in the blogosphere about Biba, so I won’t go into detail: It started in 1964 with a mail-order offer in the Daily Mirror for a pink gingham dress designed by Polish-born designer Barbara Hulanicki. Apparently somewhere between 4,000 and 17,000 of these dresses were sold but that sounds like a massive exaggeration to me, especially as I have only ever seen a picture of one extant example of this famous pink gingham dress.

Whatever the real number of sales, the dress was the start of the meteoric rise of Hulanicki as she designed her way from a boutique to a department store. In 1973, Biba opened in the former 7-story Derry & Toms department store on Kensington High Street in London. The store looked like it had been designed for a Ken Russell film – a mix of Hollywood glam, Art Deco decadence, Mod elan, and English eccentricity. It was so cool that Twiggy and David Bowie went there, and even the young Anna Wintour started her fashion career as a Biba sales-girl. Hulanicki said her ideal customers were “postwar babies who had been deprived of nourishing protein in childhood and grew up into beautiful skinny people…” Something Wintour maintains to this day.

THIS is the department store I would love to see recreated in film… Problem is, it could only be a one year series because the financial strain of operating that size of store in the soft British economy of the early 1970s was too much and Biba shuttered its doors a little over a year later in 1975.

Fred Slatten (1922 – 2015)

fullThere was a wave of innovative shoe designers who all opened their businesses in about 1970. In London it was Terry de Havilland, in Vancouver it was Peter Fox and John Fluevog, in Toronto it was Master John, and in Los Angeles it was Fred Slatten. Born 10 October 1922 in Kansas City Missouri, Slatten began selling shoes while he was still attending college. In the late 1940s he moved to California and began working as a shoe buyer for Bullocks department stores. Eventually he ended up in the wholesale shoe business, and in 1970 Fred opened his Los Angeles shop on Santa Monica Boulevard near San Vicente.

6073fe3ff2e59bd4961531572a63431aWhen platforms became popular in the early 1970s, Slatten became famous for his towering, eccentric styles. Celebrities came to buy: Liberace, Cher, Elton John, and Sally Struthers who wore her Slatten platforms on All in the Family. Slatten’s boots, shoes and sandals were embellished by artists who hand-painted, decoupaged, gold leafed, airbrushed, and bedazzled the platform soles for their clients, often in styles inspired by ‘Old Hollywood’. Slatten also took credit for creating the apocryphal live goldfish swimming in a see-through platform.

His shop window was known for the outrageous shoes revolving on mirrored turntables, illuminated by disco balls. When platforms fell from fashion Slatten then became known for his high heel styles instead. Slatten closed his shop in 1992, when he turned 70, and died on July 1 at the age of 92.

Spread from TV Guide November 15, 1975:

platform-shoes-tvguide-nov15-21-1975-cher-carol-burnett platform-shoes-tvguide-nov15-21-1975-sally-struthers

Elio Fiorucci (1935 – 2015)

Italian fashion designer and entrepreneur Elio Fiorucci posing in his shop in Galleria Passarella. In the background, the shop assistant Cristina Bagnoli posing wearing a sexy gown designed by the fashion designer. Milan, 1970 (Photo by Giuseppe Pino/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

Elio Fiorucci in his shop in Galleria Passarella, Milan, 1970 (Photo by Giuseppe Pino/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

In 1979’s The Greatest Dancer, Sister Sledge sang “He wears the finest clothes, the best designers, heaven knows, from his head down to his toes – Halston, Gucci, Fiorucci…” Although I don’t believe Fiorucci ever made or sold men’s clothes, the song immortalizes how important the label was in the late 1970s.

Elio Fiorucci was born in Milan on June 10, 1935. He began his fashion career as a teenager, working in his father’s shoe shop. In 1967 he opened a boutique on Galleria Passarella in Milan, modelled after the lifestyle emporium Biba in London, with most of his stock coming from English designers like Ossie Clark and Zandra Rhodes. In 1970 Elio began styling his own eponymous line that mixed the spirit of Carnaby street with his Italian sense of colour and humour. He also kept his eye on trends, and popularized Afghani coats and Brazilian thong bikinis in his store. His approach was right for the times, and within a few years he was expanding his fashion empire, opening stores in London in 1975 and New York in 1976.

Fiorucci store on 59th street in New York

Fiorucci store on 59th street in New York

When Studio 54 opened in Manhattan in 1977 Fiorucci was hired to organize the grand opening. The clothes Fiorucci sold became associated with the disco scene. In 1980 when Warhol launched Interview magazine, the opening party was held at Fiorucci’s store. Fiorucci was more of a stylist and retailer than a designer – in 1978 he was the first brand to sign a collection of sunglasses. The Fiorucci logo became a pair of cherubs wearing sunglasses – an image that could be found on everything from T-shirts to key chains.

Advert for Fiorucci jeans, c. late 1970s

Advert for Fiorucci jeans, c. late 1970s

Although known for colourful, fun clothing, including clothes of vinyl and plastic, it was tight-fitting jeans that really established Fiorucci’s international reputation and set off the designer jean wars of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Tight-fitting jeans were a staple of the Disco scene and later, in the early 1980s, Fiorucci reportedly became the first to carry stretch jeans made from a mix of Lycra and denim. His skinny clientele loved them – Fiorucci only carried clothing for thin girls, explaining “To manufacture only small sizes is doing a favour for humanity. I prevent ugly girls from showing off their bad figures.’’

knapsack from the Fiorucci store in Rome, 1981, donated to the FHM by Liz Derbecker, 12.22.11

knapsack from the Fiorucci store in Rome, 1981, donated to the FHM by Liz Derbecker, 12.22.11

After meteoric success in the 1970s and early 1980s, Fiorucci’s fortunes began to turn. By the late 1980s his style had fallen from favour, he ran into distribution problems, and had to close his New York location. In the mid 1990s Fiorucci was up on charges of fraud for falsifying reports to increase the value of his company when it was sold to Carrera in 1989. He was sentenced by an Italian court to a suspended prison term of 22 months.

Fiorucci’s fortune eventually changed and in 2004 he founded the brand ‘Love Therapy’.

Dye Bleeds – Shazbot!

T-shirt featuring Robin Williams as Mork from Ork, dated 1978, Paramount Pictures Trademark

T-shirt featuring Robin Williams as Mork from Ork, dated 1978

A few days ago I decided to clean-up the storage room as too many things were in need of being put away in their proper boxes. In the bottom of a plastic bag I rediscovered this 1978 T-shirt featuring Robin Williams as Mork. I bought it at an ‘antique mall’ at the beginning of the summer and completely forgot about it.

Although I watched a few Mork and Mindy episodes when it was originally aired (1978-1982), it was not one of my favourites. I always thought the wardrobe for Mork was a bit past its ‘best before’ date — that disco-hobo look was a little more mid 70s Shields and Yarnell or Godspell, as I remember it. Regardless, thirty-five years later the T-shirt now appealed to me so I bought it for three dollars to use in some future 1970s exhibition.

Close-up of the bleed along the collar

Close-up of the bleed along the collar

This was before the sad news of Robin William’s death, so when I rediscovered the shirt I thought I might feature it on Facebook, but it needed a freshening up as it smelled from decades of being stored in a musty basement. Unfortunately, even though I thought I had been careful testing the blue dye on the knitted collar and cuffs for fastness, after a quick wash with PH balanced soap in cool water, a cold water rinse, then a roll-up in a bath towel to remove excess moisture and hanging to air dry, a small amount of the blue dye still migrated into the adjacent white cotton. I should have known better as I have noticed that dyes on items that have been stored in a damp place seem to be more migrant than if they had been stored in a dry place. I have rarely had a bad experience with washing things because I am usually very careful, (ever since an unfortunate event when I was a young collector involving a 1940 rayon dress with gelatin sequins…) but I should have been more vigilant in testing the blue dye on the collar – as Mork would say – Shazbot!

Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Mountain Artisans

Mountain Artisans dress, mid 1970s

Mountain artisans label from skirt, c. mid 1970s

As part of the renewed interest in traditional crafts and the back-to-the-land movement that grew out of the hippie culture of the late 1960s, Mountain Artisans was created in 1968. Organized as a cooperative quilting business in Charleston, West Virginia, the not-for-profit co-op was owned and operated by the women who made the patchwork creations including: Sharon Percy Rockefeller, Florette Angel, and Dorothy Weatherford. Marketing efforts had garnered national recognition and a prestigious Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award in 1972. In their Coty citation, Mountain Artisans was recognized for being a part of the American crafts revival movement. Their quilted fabrics were used by  interior designers such as Parish-Hadley, the firm that had assisted Jacqueline Kennedy in redecorating the White House, and was sold through upscale department stores across the U.S. including Neiman Marcus. Oscar de la Renta used Mountain Artisans fabrics in his fashions, and the company had its own line of quilted fashions in the 1970s. The Co-op was dissolved in 1978.