Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Jorn Langberg

"Pioneer" collection for Christian Dior, London, spring 1970

“Pioneer” collection for Christian Dior, London, spring 1970

Christian Dior London, autumn 1969

Christian Dior London, autumn 1969

As Christian Dior’s business succeeded he expanded his fashion empire to include outposts, most notably in New York in 1948 and London in 1952. Designing for these lines initially came from Dior himself, but as the work load increased assistant designers were brought in. Both New York and London sold pret-a-porter suits and coats designed specifically for their markets and in 1958 Marc Bohan was hired to design this pret-a-porter line for London. But in late 1960 Bohan was given Dior’s Paris couture line after Yves St. Laurent’s departure from Dior.

In 1965 Danish-born Jorn Langberg was hired to design London’s pret-a-porter line. Langberg was born June 16, 1930 in southern Denmark. Despite his father’s disapproval, Langberg moved to London in 1953 to study fashion at St. Martin’s College for four years. He began working at Worth in Paris before returning to London to take a job designing ready-to-wear for Wallis Shops “I liked the immediate measure of success. When 250 copies of one dress are sold in a day it makes for an easy reckoning in the success or failure tables.”

After a year as chief designer, Langberg became the director of Christian Dior London. In 1967 Dior Paris created Miss Dior, a pret-a-porter line for younger women; Langberg created a similar line in London around the same time under the name Diorling, named after the Dior scent created in 1963. In 1972 Langberg began a men’s line for Dior London. Langberg remained as director of Christian Dior London until 1975 when Dior Paris dissolved the New York and London offices to refocus the business on the world wide licensing of luxury goods.

Langberg’s professional history gets muddy after 1975, although his name continues to pop up in various publications regarding the restoration work of his various residences and surrounding stylish gardens. Jorn Langberg passed away March 12, 2014.

DIORama – art or fashion?

Last November the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) launched an exhibition in their textile and costume gallery entitled BIG. Despite the fact that there is nothing oversized about the one room exhibition, there is one big museum purchase with a huge controversy acting as the centrepiece of the display.

In the spring of 2011 the ROM commissioned a $100,000 dollar dress, called ‘Passage #5’, from the House of Dior. When museums commission artifacts, like a couture gown, they are buying a replica of a design, and the act of commission transforms the museum from being a collector of cultural artifacts to a patron of commercial artworks. This Dior dress is very likely the only one of it’s kind ever made, other than the one created for the runway, so you have to ask yourself – is this fashion or wearable art? Like a telephone, I believe that fashion needs a transmitter (designer) as much as a receiver (wearer) to call itself fashion. If a dress is designed but nobody wears it, I don’t call it fashion.

When I was at the Bata Shoe Museum, the founder sometimes commissioned artisans to recreate ethnographic artifacts that were no longer being made by their culture. It’s difficult to know what to do with these reproductions in the museum collection because they are not authentic cultural artifacts but display replicas.

Adding to the controversy, this dress was from John Galliano’s last collection for Dior. You may recall that shortly after Galliano presented his spring 2011 collection he was caught on film, while strung out on alcohol and arrogance, making some very stupid comments about Hitler. Obviously he was goaded into saying something that was neatly edited from the taped evidence but regardless of the prod, his responding comments were career ending. Except, it seems, to the ROM, which followed through with their commission of his dress and an accompanying documentary about the 500 hours of labour to make it.

Alexandra Palmer, curator of the costume and textile department at the ROM, and internationally recognized scholar regarding the House of Dior, did not discuss the politics of the purchase in a recent lecture and interview, but explained that the disappearing couture industry and its associated quality of construction as the reason for buying the dress, “It’s a critical moment in the history of the house as well as for Galliano and for fashion.”

However for me the BIGGEST thing about the exhibition, is the lack of a secure environment for the 100,000 dollar dress. The gallery it is located in the ROM is in the quarter billion dollar ‘crystal’ extension where the roof is so leaky there are pails to catch drips of water…


Passage #5 – John Galliano for Christian Dior, spring 2011,

The Image that Launched a Thousand Misconceptions

I hate this image. It appears in numerous fashion history books as an example of Dior’s debut collection from spring 1947 – the same collection that U.S. Harper’s Bazaar editor Carmel Snow said had such a “New Look.” The image was taken by German fashion photographer Willy Maywald, but the problem is that this image is not from 1947, it’s from 1957.

The same suit as in the above photo. Image courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London owns the actual suit that appears in this image. Cecil Beaton requested Christian Dior for an example of the New Look on the museum’s behalf and in 1960 received this suit from the Christian Dior company in Paris. It turns out that the suit had been made up in 1955 for Christian Dior to use at a lecture at the Sorbonne. The design was based on the Bar suit from 1947 but it’s actually very different.

The real bar suit, spring 1947

The original Bar suit jacket had a shawl collar and six button closure with the jacket closing in front, girdling the hips in the padded silk coattails. The jacket in the Maywald image has a notched collar, five button closure, and the front doesn’t close correctly in front, but instead sticks out more like a peplum. (added May 26 – an email I received from Lynne Kranieri noted that the original design from Dior’s design book in Paris defines 5 buttons for the jacket, so the 6 button jacket shown to the right must be an alteration from the original design, probably for the jacket to fit right on a longer-waisted model.) The skirt is also wrong. The original skirt was made up of yards and yards of knife pleated wool, whereas this version is just a very full A-line skirt (although the V&A image appears to use something that more closely resembles the original skirt than what was worn in the Maywald photograph.) The original hat was also flatter and black, not baskety in shape and texture. And most of all, the shoes are nothing like what was worn in 1947, or 1955, when the suit was made.

Christian Dior and Renee, spring 1957

This image must have been taken in 1957 in honour of Christian Dior’s tenth anniversary. Although the Dior company had kept sales slips, design details, production notes and some toiles and patterns, they did not keep an archives of dresses. Ironically, many of the highest prices paid for vintage couture at auctions the past few decades came from the houses that created those fashions in the first place as Givenchy, Chanel, Dior and others, bought back examples of their early work.

Renee modelling Dior, spring 1957

There is some controversy over whether this New Look image is from 1957 or 1955, but I am quite sure its 1957 for two reasons. Firstly, the baskety hat is typical of ‘My Fair Lady’ Edwardian style big hats, which were popular from fall 1956 to spring 1958. Millinery shown with earlier Dior garments are frequently wide brimmed, but flatter and not as heavy looking. And secondly, the shoes. The pointed toe, stiletto heel was the hot trend of 1957. Roger Vivier, the shoe designer for Dior, had been at the forefront of popularizing this footwear fashion. And if you don’t believe me, then look at other pictures of the same model.

The model is Dior house model Renee. She was also Dior’s favourite model in 1957 and appeared in a photograph standing next to Dior in spring 1957 wearing what appears to be the same shoes and earrings. Another fashion image, also from spring 1957, shows the same shoes. Unlike today, house models had a limited shoe wardrobe of basics for photography and fashion shows, and I would not be surprised if in fact they are the exact same shoes in all three photos. There is no doubt in my mind that this image is from 1957, and was taken to recreate (although imperfectly) the New Look style of 1947 as a marketing image for the tenth anniversary.

Here’s a close up of the shoes of Dior house model Renee in the Bar suit image on left, and a dated spring 1957 fashion image of the same model in the same shoes:

Dior and the War

Christian Dior (back left) and his family in c. 1920 Catherine is sitting on the chair between her parents

An interesting tidbit about Christian Dior’s family re-surfaced recently when the C.E.O. of Christian Dior took the stage a few weeks ago before a Dior fashion show to talk a little about Dior’s family during the war. Dior’s sister, Catherine, had been in the Resistance. Although her wartime work had no direct bearing on today’s Dior fashion brand, this bit of history was obviously brought up in a continuing battle for damage control after Galliano’s unfortunate comments.

In late 1941, Catherine Dior became a member of the ‘Massif Central’, a Resistance network focused on gathering and transmitting intelligence about German troop movements and weapon production. In June 1944, Catherine had used Christian’s Paris apartment to meet with members of the Resistance while her brother was away. Some of Christian’s friends were staying at the apartment at the time and did not realize how dangerous the scene was until afterwards when they learned that Catherine had been arrested by the Gestapo.

Catherine Dior was put on one of the last trains out of Paris, which departed on August 15, just days before the liberation of the city. About 2,600 people were packed into the cattle cars of that train, the men destined for Buchenwald, the women for Ravensbruck. Only eight-hundred and thirty-eight survived – most of the rest died from Typhus.

Between the time of his sister’s arrest and her deportation, Christian used every contact he had to seek her release. Raoul Nordling, the Swedish consul-general who was expert at mediating on behalf of prisoners and the Red Cross secured a promise on August 18 that Catherine would be placed under the protection of Sweden if she was still in France, but the train was already in Germany.

Luckily, Catherine had been put to work in a munitions factory and survived the war. She was liberated in April, 1945 and returned to Paris the following month. Catherine was awarded the Croix de Guerre as well as the Combatant Volunteer Cross of the Resistance, the Combatant Cross and, in the U.K., the King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom. She was also named a chevalière of the Legion of Honour. She died in 2008.

Take a quiz – Win a prize! —— And the winner is Mary-Jane Enros!

(Originally blogged January 15, 2010)

Congratulations to all who sent in their answers to the fashion designer quiz. All questions were answered correctly but not by one person! There was a three-way tie for first place with a score of 10 out of 12 by Vintage Visage, Linn Alber, and Mary-Jane Enros but the first person to submit their answers was Mary-Jane Enros of Poppysvintageclothing – CONGRATULATIONS!

1 – This designer survived the sinking of the Titanic

Lady Duff Gordon, who worked under the name Lucile, opened her dressmaking firm in London in 1891 but only became well known after she married Sir Cosmos Duff Gordon in 1900. In 1909 a branch of Lucile was opened in New York and another branch opened in Paris in 1911 – she was on her way from Paris to New York when she boarded the Titanic in April 1912. The lifeboat she and her husband were in had left the Titanic nearly empty and did not go back for survivors, leaving the Duff-Gordons open to speculation of paying off the boatmen. Her reputation never fully recovered and by 1918 her romantic dress styles were less appealing to modern woman and her London business closed. The New York and Paris shops closed with the onset of the Depression in about 1930. Lady Gordon died in 1935.

2 – This designer’s first job was designing skiwear for White Stag in 1948

Emilio Pucci was a leading figure in Italian fashion of the 1950s and 1960s, but his designing career began when he was commissioned by the American company White Stag to design skiwear after Pucci was photographed for Harper’s Bazaar in 1948, wearing a ski suit of his own design. In 1950 he opened his own couture house in Florence and gained a reputation for colourful casual clothing. By the mid 1960s his clothing was seen everywhere including as stewardess uniforms for Braniff airlines. At the height of his fame as a designer he served as a Member of Parliament for Florence between 1964 and 1973.

3 – This designer was known for wearing dark glasses decades before Karl Lagerfeld or Anna Wintour

Admittedly this was a bit of a trick question, because I didn’t specify it was a FASHION designer… Edith Head, the costume designer, wore dark blue lensed glasses as a way to see how costumes would look in a black and white film. The glasses became her trademark and although she was rarely photographed with out her blue glasses, she commonly wore clear glasses when out of public view.

4 – This shoe designer trained for the Italian track and field team for the 1960 Olympics

Most people probably don’t know his name but they will know his shoes… Armando Pollini was an athlete before he settled down to shoe design. His most famous was a clog mule with a leather strap that sold millions of pairs in the late 1970s under the brand name of Candies.

5 – This designer redesigned the Girl Scout uniform in 1948

Born Main Rousseau Bocher, he served in WWI and stayed on in Europe after the war, eventually becoming the fashion editor for French Vogue. He founded his own atelier in Paris in 1930 and quickly became a very successful couturier as well as the first American admitted to the couture syndicate. He fled Paris in 1940 and went to New York where he was quickly embraced as a prodigal American designer. In 1948 he was commissioned to redesign the Girl Scout uniform. Before opening his atelier in Paris, his name was properly prounounced as Main ‘Bocker’ or ‘Bosher’. However in Paris he took on the French pronunciation of his name – ‘Mahnboshay’.

6 – This designer survived the explosion of the Hindenburg

Philip Mangone was the son of an immigrant Italian tailor. He learned his craft from his father before working at numerous different firms eventually opening his own business in 1916. He became famous for his tailored wool coats and suits that were often made of European wools. After one of his European fabric buying trips in 1937 he headed home, with a severe cold, aboard the Zeppelin Hindenburg. He was badly burned in the crash and spent most of the next year recovering in hospital. Upon his release the first thing he did was to board a flight to Chicago to prove to himself he wasn’t afraid to fly.

7 – This designer was engaged to Grace Kelly before she married Prince Ranier of Monaco

Oleg Cassini was working in Hollywood as a costume designer when he met and married the actress Gene Tierney. However, the marriage suffered, especially after Gene’s daughter was born retarded – caused by Gene having been exposed to measles while pregnant. The story became the inspiration for Agatha Christie’s novel ‘And the Mirror Cracked’. After the couple divorced in 1952 Oleg Cassini took up with Grace Kelly and had proposed to her on several occasions before finally being rebuffed for Prince Rainier of Monaco.

8 – This shoe designer’s ancestor is Sun Yat Sen, the first president of the Republic of China in 1912

Beatrix Ong is fairly new on the scene of shoe design. She worked at Jimmy Choo under Tamara Mellon before striking out on her own. Beatrix can trace her ancestry back to a great uncle who was Sun Yat Sen.

9 – This designer survived the atomic blast at Hiroshima

As a seven year old, Issey Miyake lived on the outskirts of Hiroshima. To this day he says he can remember the bright light and black cloud and the desperation of the people running about after the explosion. The only good to have come from it for him was a passion to create rather than destroy.

10 – This designer consulted a psychic before opening his Parisian atelier to make sure the timing was right

Isaac Mizrahi, Paul Poiret, Coco Chanel – many designers used psychics, fortune tellers, mediums, and ouiji boards to foresee the future and their success. However, Christian Dior was probably the most avid follower of psychic visions. At a young age he was told he would become very important for women, and before agreeing to open his own atelier he sought the advice of a psychic to make sure the timing was right. In matters of business, the psychics were absolutely right in all the advice they gave Dior.

11 – This designer dated a German officer who had worked as a spy in Paris before World War II

During World War II, at the age of 56, Coco Chanel took up residence at the Paris Ritz hotel, along with Hans Gunther von Dinklage, a German officer 13 years her junior, who had been living in Paris since the 1930s, working as a spy.

12 – This designer changed her last name to be the same as the richest person in America

The story goes that Viennese born Henrietta Kanengeiser emigrated to the United States at the age of eleven and trained as a milliner. Before opening her first hat shop in 1909 she realized her last name would not pull in wealthy clients so Henriette or ‘Hattie’ called her shop ‘Carnegie – Ladies Hatter’, after the richest man in America at the time, Andrew Carnegie. By 1914 she was known simply as Hattie Carnegie.

Whatever happened to?

(Originally blogged December 24, 2009)

Thomas Hoving died last week. His name may not be familiar to most, but in the museum field Thomas Hoving is remembered as a controversial director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in the late 1960s and 1970s. Hoving immodestly recounted his experience at the Met in his book “Making the Mummies Dance”. He was not always likable, or ethical, but he knew how to sell tickets at the door, and the museum world is still dancing in the shadow of Thomas Hoving’s influence every time a blockbuster exhibition opens.

Hoving was influential in changing how museums present themselves. The visitor experience has improved in the last forty years because museums now consider their audiences, producing relevant and popular exhibitions rather than navel-gazing academic diatribes. One of the more popular topics have been fashion history exhibitions. Under Hoving, Diana Vreeland produced the first contemporary retrospective exhibition about Yves St. Laurent. This may not seem like a controversial idea now, but for a museum to mount an exhibition about a living designer was, at the time, unheard of.

Whether a good idea or not (some day I will blog about why I don’t think curators should do retrospectives of living designers), that show proved to museums that the public likes to look at clothing. There had been little respect for the field of fashion history at the time, and only now is the field gaining respect as a serious topic. I was cleaning out an old file (part of the end of year ritual) and came across a brochure from a 1998 conference at the New York University entitled ‘Fashion: The Newest Art’ suggesting it was only then being recognized as something above a trade.

I have had a file called ‘Collectors and Museums’ for over twenty years now, and every time I got a brochure or found an article about some interesting fashion, costume or textile collection somewhere I added it to the file. Coming across this file inspired this blog, but not in the way I thought it would. I thought I might turn the contents of the file into a blog about little known historical fashion and accessory museums but when I started searching out details, I discovered most of these collections had closed.

It’s no secret that the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired the Brooklyn museum’s costume collection this year. This will make the Met the largest repository of historical fashion in the world, even after de-accessioning Brooklyn artifacts that duplicate the Met’s already extensive holdings.

Both the Denver Art Museum in Colorado, and Castle Howard in York, England had spectacular ‘Every Dior Out the Door’ close-out sales of their historic fashion collections a few years ago. Similarly, the Nottingham museum of costume in England closed its doors, but I am not sure what happened to their collection. More recently, the Fashion Museum in Abilene Kansas and La Crasia glove Museum in New York City have disappeared (no websites exist and their phone numbers are no longer operational.) Even corporate collections are quietly disappearing, like the Maidenform Museum collection in New York (again no contact information was working when I checked). I don’t know where these collections ended up – perhaps at auction…

It has been difficult to keep up with all the recent museum deaccession auctions. Although I am all for museums honing their collections rather than just amassing huge quantities of junk, some museum auctions have ended in controversy. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) experienced negative publicity for selling off garments from their collection. Usually museums quietly discard their ‘also-rans’ but LACMA advertised their clear-out which resulted in some buyers using the LACMA connection to springboard their own careers. One ‘artist’ bought fifty items and then used the destruction of these garments through redesign for the purpose of promoting himself. One of the worst was a Claire McCardell dress turned into a hobo satchel and witches’ hat.

Like everything else in life, museums are not necessarily forever and its a shame when carefully acquired collections are scattered to the winds. However, despite the disappearance of some collections, and corporate-like buy-outs of others, there are new collections being formed, from the Museo de la Moda, in Santiago Chile, to our own Fashion History Museum (website to be launched in 2010), in Ontario.

If you know of any little gems of fashion and costume related museums, drop us a line in the comments – I would love to amass an updated resource of exceptional fashion museums still in business, and keep tabs on what is being shown and when.

Here’s a couple to get the ball rolling:

The Museum of Vision Science at the University of Waterloo

Christian Dior childhood home and garden, Granville, Normandy

Forties Fashion – From Siren Suits to the New Look

(Originally blogged October 29, 2008)

Cover of English language edition

Forgive the blatant self-promotion with this post as I herald the release date of my latest book. I have always found the Second World War a fascinating topic but our connection to that period of history dissipates as that generation passes away. Although I came from a family who were too old or too young for military service, their wartime stories never bored me. An aunt who had married a Norwegian ship captain was caught by the unexpected Nazi invasion of Norway and ended up living most of the war in a ski cabin while her husband worked for the underground. A great aunt, who had worked as a nurse during the Great War, was living in Honolulu when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred; she volunteered her services to help the injured sailors. My father, who was a teenager at the time, worked in the kitchens of a prisoner of war camp for German soldiers who were labouring as lumberjacks in Northern Ontario for the duration.

Cover of French language edition

My calling is fashion history, so rather than write a general book about World War II, my interest is in uncovering the story of fashion during the war. What I felt was lacking was a book that showed how civilian fashions varied because of wartime restrictions in designs and materials. The war experience differed according to who and where you were – women in Paris, London, Berlin, and New York were dressing in different ways because of how the war was affecting them and which materials they were limited to using.

The last chapter of the book is devoted to the postwar reconstruction of the fashion industry and how the New Look myth was born. I was never a fan of the New Look gospel. Don’t get me wrong, I greatly admire Christian Dior’s work, but his 1947 silhouette was not the earth shattering revelation as is often reported.

The book uses original garments, period fashion illustrations, and accounts from those who were there to bring to life the varied experiences of fashion in a time of crisis. I hope you enjoy the book and make it a Christmas gift to all your friends!

Some nice reviews: