Canadian Fashion Connection – Elsa Jenkins

'At the house of Lanvin Elsa Jenkins and a designer admire an off-one-shoulder black crepe dress which is part of the Pret-a-Porter collection. Mrs. Jenkins was in Paris to choose garments to be shown at the C.N.E... Mrs. Jenkins' wool knit suit is from Dorothea Knitting Mills, Toronto...'

A couple of years ago I came across a stack of photographs from the mid 1960s in a junk shop. Two of the photographs had writing on the reverse that identified the people in the photograph as Elsa Jenkins with a model and Guy Laroche in Paris in one photo, and at Lanvin in Paris in the other photo. After a bit of sleuthing I managed to find out a bit more about Elsa Jenkins.

Elsa was working as a fashion editor for McLean’s publishing in Toronto in 1952 when she became the director of the Women’s Division of the Canadian National Exhibition Association (CNE). The purpose of the Women’s Division was to promote women’s interests at the annual fair, particularly in the presentation of kitchen theatres, home furnishing exhibits, school displays, and fashion shows at both the Better Living Centre and the Women’s Building (after it opened in 1957).

'Guy Laroche and Elsa Jenkins seem pleased with the choice of an ankle-length dress of melon crepe, topped by a gold brocade jacket. This is one of the garments in the Travel fashion show... Mrs. Jenkins is wearing a charcoal-coloured silk suit by Lou Larry and a wide-brimmed black and white Paris hat.'

I barely remember when there was still palpable excitement over fairs and exhibitions like the CNE where you could see the latest model cars, taste foreign foods, walk through a model house of the future, and marvel at modern gadgets. Fashion was a part of these fairs, where everything from haute couture to novelty space age outfits made of plastics could be seen live.

Although not a journalist, Elsa Jenkins contributed to the field of fashion in Canada for 28 years through the production of shows and exhibitions of fashion. She remained at the CNE until 1980 when her position was dissolved and its functions distributed amongst other departments within the CNE.

Book Review: How to get a ‘head’ of fashion…

(Originally blogged April 16, 2009)

1860s plaster spoon bonnet mold, complete with an unfinished black straw bonnet. The ends of the bonnet were tacked in place on wood inserts in the mold and heat was applied to shape.

There have been few books written about hats; since hats have been more ‘out’ than ‘in’ fashion since the 1960s everyone forgets what great accessories they were. One of the few publications on the topic is well known to fans of the chapeau – written by Sue Langley Hats & Bonnets 1770 – 1970 was published in 1998 and graces the shelves of most collectors, museums, and libraries I know.

At the risk of using a predictable cliche, I am happy to announce that Sue Langley has thrown her hat in the ring once again with a second edition of Hats & Bonnets. However, this is far more than just an updated first edition – its an entirely new book featuring hat and bonnet treasures she has found in the past decade. Not only are all the images new but there is also much new research.

Black felt and green silk hat by Jeanne Lanvin, c. 1911. A leading couturier of the 20th century, Lanvin began as a milliner and was instrumental in popularizing the cloche or bell shaped hats of the 1920s, of which this is a predecessor.

An interesting snippet from this volume discusses the Society for Abolishing the Wearing of Birds. In the 1890s, even though fashionable women slung pelts of mink, fox, seal and otter around their necks, they were concerned about the use of bird’s wings from rare species, like parrots, to trim hats. Princess Alexandra of England, a fashion leader of the era, was at the forefront of this anti-feather movement.

The 416 page, all colour illustrated tome is from Collector Books. Although designed as a collector’s guide, I never pay much attention to suggested retail price guides – those prices become dated after a while. For me, the value will remain in the book for its depiction of outrageous, rare, whimsical, beautiful, and sometimes even practical hats and bonnets. Sue’s collection is a treasure and her willingness to share invaluable. There are exceptional examples from milliners such as Jeanne Lanvin, Rose Valois, Jack McConnell, Sally Victor, Lily Dache, as well as some unique novelties such as a World War II hat trimmed with velvet carrots and a beach hat a yard in width! Hats & Bonnets 1770 – 1970 Second Edition is a valuable visual guide to the history of getting a head of fashion.