Archival Fonds – You Never Know What You Are Going to Get…

Fonds is a word borrowed from the French to describe an archival collection from a single source. It is the same in both singular and plural which is awkward because ‘a fonds’ doesn’t flow off the tongue as easily as ‘many fonds’, but you get used to it in the same way you got used to ‘moose’.

The FHM has acquired several fonds to date. The largest have come from: Estonian-born Canadian designer and fashion school founder Ellen Peterson; English-born Canadian boutique owner and fashion designer Pat McDonagh; and most recently, Canadian journalist David Livingstone. Each fonds is a collection of files, notebooks, photos and scrapbooks, but what is in each collection speaks volumes about the source.

Ellen Peterson was disciplined – she obviously ran a tight ship at her fashion school. Her scrapbooks were well trimmed and in chronological order. The student records were meticulously kept with grades and receipts for payments for courses filed alphabetically for each year. We retained the roster of students attending her school throughout the years, but it was heartbreaking to destroy the grade and payment records (for privacy reasons) because so much care had gone into their creation.

Pat McDonagh’s career was a forty-five year mix of feasts and famines and her archives reflected the up and down chaos that came from being either too busy scrambling to pay bills, or too busy filling high volume orders. Undated and unidentified sketches, fabric swatches, bank statements, tear sheets, business proposals, duplicate copies of articles, bills, videos and private correspondence were piled into boxes in no particular order. After an initial tidy up, the McDonagh fonds awaits a thorough archival shake-down.

The most recent addition is the David Livingstone fonds. Livingstone passed away a year ago at the age of 69 and his archives came to us via his daughter Alexandra Gair. Throughout his career, Livingstone freelanced articles about fashion, film, photography, literature and music to magazines like Saturday Night, MacLeans, and the Toronto Star. He also held down long-term writing and editorial positions, starting with TVONtario in the 1970s. In 1983 he joined the Globe and Mail as a fashion writer but left in 1996 to help launch Elm Street (he called it the thinking woman’s magazine). In 2002 he became the editor-in-chief of ‘ The Look’ a spinoff from Elm Street which, as the name implies, focussed on fashion. In 2011 he became the editor-in-chief of Men’s Fashion – a Canadian spinoff from Fashion (formerly Toronto Life Fashion). He left Men’s Fashion in 2016.

His fonds consists of huge research files that show Livingstone’s thorough journalistic approach to writing. The files are impressively thick, filled with tear sheets, barely legible hand written notes and quotes, and numerous printouts including dot matrix and faded thermal photocopies. The subjects of his research are varied, influenced largely, I think, by his personal interest in the person, style, or story: Tilda Swinton, William Klein, Linda Evangelista, A Space Gallery, Joseph Mimran, Raymond Chandler, Martha Wainwright, sunglasses, Vivienne Westwood, Comrags, Nan Goldin, Norma Kamali, Toronto punk bands, Buster Poindexter, Yves St. Laurent… Every file either became, or was intended to become, an article.

It will take some time to wade through the cartons of files, but amongst them are some real treasures – thank-you notes from designers and models, invitations to Paris fashion shows, snapshots of friends and colleagues like Isabella Blow and Polly Mellen, even a eulogy he must have read at a memorial for Alexander McQueen… A whole career that will be forever preserved at the FHM archives.

Invitations to Paris and New York fashion shows, 1980s – 2000s, including shows cancelled on September 11, 2001. From the David Livingstone fonds

For more information about David Livingstone see:

Remembering Canadian Fashion Legend David Livingstone

As Seen In – Regola – 1949 convertible suit and coat

Last week when I blogged about Ellen Peterson I mentioned the patent she registered in 1949 for a suit design she called ‘Regola’, the jacket of which could be converted into a coat with the addition of a skirt and cape. Fortunately, one of the garments included with the archives was Peterson’s own copy of the suit that she brought to Canada in December 1952. The July 1949 design in the article differs from Peterson’s example which I believe originally resembled the example in the article before alterations were done in the early 1950s.

Canadian Fashion Connection – Ellen Peterson (1922 – 2018)

This past week the Fashion History Museum received the archives of Ellen Peterson. Born Ellen Tullus in Pärnu Estonia on April 29, 1922, she was the third generation from a family of dressmakers. Her mother had a salon that was closed when the Soviet Union annexed Estonia in June 1940. A year later, when the German army liberated Estonia from the Soviets, Ellen and her mother went to Germany where Ellen married in 1944 and bore two children over the next two years.

In 1947 Ellen was admitted to Germany’s Esslingen Fashion School and upon completing the program opened a dressmaking salon. In 1949 she won first prize from four hundred entries for a one-shouldered dress design she called ‘Diana’, and later the same year registered a patent for a coat design she called ‘Regola’ that could be converted into a jacket via removable coat tails and  shoulder cape.

One of Ellen most popular wedding and evening dress designs that featured on the cover of Canadian Bride in 1962.

One of Ellen Peterson’s most popular wedding and evening dress designs, featured on the cover of Canadian Bride in 1962.

In 1952 Ellen left Germany for Canada and worked as a freelance designer for various sportswear and dress manufacturers before starting up her own salon again. By 1957 Ellen was known for her bridal wear but also evening gowns and elegant daywear. As the fashion world changed in the 1960s, Ellen’s business dwindled, closing to the public in early 1963.

In 1970 Ellen opened a school of fashion design, and received official diploma-granting status as a registered fashion institute in 1978. She closed the school in 1990 and worked as a fashion design teacher in Tallinn, Estonia, and at Sheridan College in Toronto before retiring from the business in 1992.

Ellen Peterson passed away at the age of 96 on October 13, 2018.