Canadian Fashion Connection – Backing the Bandage Dress

Hervé Peugnet was born in 1957, and after working as a hairdresser and milliner, he turned his hand to fashion. In 1981 he got the chance to work for Karl Lagerfeld at Fendi. Lagerfeld advised Peugnet to change his surname as it was too difficult for Americans to pronounce. Hervé chose Léger when he created his first collection in 1985. 

In 1986, Azzedine Alaia created a collection that used Lycra bands, spawning the age of ‘body-con’ fashion. Léger may have copied Alaia’s idea or independently developed a similar style. He said he had been inspired by seeing scraps of Lycra trim in a work room and wondered how they would work sewn together. Léger launched his ‘bender’ dresses, as he called them, made of knitted bands of Lycra in 1989, and offered them every year for the next eight years. Although he used other materials to create other fashions, it was these bandage-like dresses for which Léger became known.

The Canadian Bronfman family who owned Seagram’s Group bankrolled Léger’s business when they were diversifying their portfolio (outside of liquor) in the 1980s. However, due to the economic recession of the 1990s, over-extended projects, and many poor business decisions, like the Canary Wharf development in London, Seagram’s sold off Hervé Léger in September 1998 to BCBG Max Azria Group of Los Angeles. Not liking his new boss, Léger quit in 1999, losing the rights to his own name. Hervé took the new last name of Leroux in 2000.

Max Azria was surprised to discover that the Léger bandage dresses weren’t as simply made as they appeared. The back catalogue had been ransacked before the buy-out, so Azria had to buy back samples for the company archives, mostly on eBay, as well as from a former muse of Hervé Léger. In April 2007 Max Azria relaunched the Hervé Léger ‘bender’ or bandage dress, and the next year presented the Hervé Léger by Max Azria collection at the Fall 2008 New York Fashion Week.

The Sin of Stretching the Dollar

According to Leviticus 19:19: “…Thou shalt not… wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together.” This Old Testament law may not carry any religious weight today, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be consequences by ignoring it.

According to an article in the December 16 issue of the Washington Post, the paper used for printing American currency was fabricated from a blend of cotton fibres salvaged from recycled garments, especially denim. However, in the 1990s denim began to be tainted by the addition of spandex (aka lycra.) This stretchy material had been in use for girdles since the early 1960s, and bicycle shorts since the early 1980s. In the 1990s, blue jean manufacturers discovered that blending a bit of spandex with denim created better-fitting jeans.

However, as much as spandex benefitted blue jeans, it weakened the dollar. A batch of currency paper could be ruined by the inclusion of spandex fibres and there is no practicable process for separating spandex from cotton fibres. Crane, the company that has been making American currency paper for over a century, had no choice but to buy new cotton instead of recycling used garments, which explains why thrift stores are now inundated with racks of blue jeans.

Fashion and furniture

Pierre Paulin Ribbon chair and ottoman, 1966, made possible by the bathing suit...

Spandex (an anagram of ‘expands’) was co-invented in 1959 by chemists C. L. Sandquist and Joseph Shivers at DuPont’s laboratory in Virgina as a replacement for rubber in corsetry. Also known as lycra, the super stretchy synthetic fabric was being used for bathing suits in the early 1960s when it caught the eye of French furniture designer Pierre Paulin. His sculptural designs were difficult to upholster section by section in the traditional method because of the curves. Paulin got the idea of ‘dressing’ his furniture in spandex and tested the idea by cutting up his wife’s bathing suits to cover miniature models of his designs. Fitting the pre-sewn bag over the chair was “like a woman shimmying into a bathing suit” he said. Paulin’s 1966 ‘Ribbon’ chair and ottoman design was the first to feature the new bathing suit material inspired upholstery. For the complete story of Pierre Paulin see Modernism magazine, summer 2008.