Patent Fashions – Sweater clip

The spring clip used on the back to hold a sweater in place over your shoulders are especially designed to hold firm but not snag the knit. The original design, (1,981,740) patented in 1934, was just a jaw and tended to bunch and snag the material. This improved patent (2.853,761) was applied for in October 1957 and granted in September 1958.

Canadian Fashion Connection – Tundra sweaters


The Standard Knitting Co. building on Dufferin Street in Winnipeg, c. 1930 – 1967

In 1904, twenty-one year old Moishe Halparin fled to Winnipeg with his father and younger brother from the pogroms of Russia. In 1909 he married Clara Fiskin and after his first business venture in wholesale meat failed, Halparin bought a small knitting company that had been established in 1923. Knowing nothing of the knitting business Halparin hired a Mr. Penny from Scotland to successfully manage the factory. By 1930 the Standard Knitting Company Limited was operating from a small factory next to Halparin’s house at 387 Dufferin street in Winnipeg. The company prospered and its sweaters were carried nationwide by the T. Eaton and Hudson’s Bay companies.

Moishe Halparin died in 1947 but the company continued to be operated by the family until 1967 when it was sold to partners Lou Kliman and Hugh Lowery who moved the factory to a modern plant on Inkster Blvd. Under the ownership of Kliman and Lowery Standard Knitting became famous for their Tundra line of sweaters. According to Halparin’s granddaughter, Morri Mostow, ‘Tundra’ was a brand name originally created by her father for a line of men’s sweaters in the 1950s.


Tundra Sweater c. 1990

By the late 1980s, Tundra sweaters were being made that resembled the colourful Coogi sweaters from Australia, Tundra sweaters used a bright array of colours in a patchwork of knitting techniques. Crazy patterned sweaters became an iconic style in the late 1980s and early 1990s due in part to their popularization by Bill Cosby’s character Dr. Huxtable on the Cosby show (1984-1992.) Early episodes featured Dr. Huxtable in tastefully patterned sweaters by Perry Ellis and Missoni, but then a Koos Van den Akker sweater debuted in the opening credits of season 3 (1986) and the sweaters became more colourful and featured various textures. Ironically, although the Cosby show fueled the crazy sweater craze, Coogi and Tundra sweaters were never worn by Bill Cosby because they were too busy on film.

With their growing popularity, a special division called ‘Tundra Knitwear’ was created in 1989 to handle production and distribution in the American market, however, despite the sweater’s popularity, Standard Knitting was in trouble due to competition from Asian manufacturers. Kliman and Lowery sold the company in the early 1990s but the new owners could not save the company. Tundra knitwear was closed in 2002 and Standard knitting went into receivership in 2006.

Canadian Fashion Connection – Robin Kay

If you had to choose the most controversial character in Canadian fashion history, Robin Kay would probably win.

Robin Kay was born in 1950 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In 1969 she did the hippy thing and left home to bum around Europe, taking odd jobs here and there to pay for her passage to her next destination. In 1975 Kay moved back to Canada and took a job in the display department at Eaton’s in Toronto. The following year she opened an eclectic boutique that sold primarily surplus army clothes. Kay’s success was fueled by overwhelming confidence and a good cash flow – courtesy of a lucrative cocaine-dealing side-business that lead to her being busted in 1978 and serving half of an 18 month prison sentence.

Cotton sweater by Robin Kay, 1980s

Upon her release, Kay met Judit Adam, a knitwear specialist, and the two began making one-size-fits-all cotton knit sweaters. Kay’s start-up funds were provided by her first husband, Bay Street financier, David Rothberg. In 1981, the growing Robin Kay Clothing Company opened in Liberty Village, the wartime factory area of Toronto that was filled with derelict warehouses at the time. At the height of her business in the late 1980s Kay had 18 store locations, and was wholesaling her sweaters across North America. The early 90s recession and the changes in industry manufacturing at the time caused Kay to take on Wing Son Garments as a partner, but with an overwhelming debt load, Wing Son took over the company in 1999, firing Kay and rebranding the company as RK.

In 2000, Kay was offered the top job at the not-for-profit Fashion Design Council of Canada. While with the FDCC, Kay is credited with creating Toronto Fashion Week but she also created many enemies along the way. The board of the FDCC was reduced from 12 industry representatives to 4, most of which were friends, including Joseph Mimram, the creator and owner of Club Monaco, and later Joe Fresh. Sponsors and locations of the event changed almost annually, and in the fall of 2007, a petition to have Kay removed from office was circulating through the fashion community. Many designers began holding their own shows during the same time but off-site from the fashion week locale.

A few weeks ago it was announced that the Toronto Fashion Week had been sold. I wasn’t aware you could sell a not-for-profit event into the private sector for an undisclosed sum… but apparently you can. IMG, an event management firm that also runs fashion weeks in Berlin, New York, Tokyo, Mumbai, Moscow, and Miami, are the new owners. Kay has stepped down from managing  Toronto’s Fashion Week but will remain president of the illusive FDCC (If you can find evidence of the FDCC’s existence let me know – I could find no website or phone number…)

Fashion and Reality – What to wear on the Titanic

red wool sweater, painted scarf, and skirt, c. 1912

Dorothy Gibson wearing the sweater she wore the night of the sinking of the Titanic

This is a bit of coincidence… The colour photograph is of a mannequin we put together for an exhibition at a local museum that was hosting the R.M.S. Titanic travelling exhibition. Just recently I discovered this black and white image of the actress Dorothy Gibson, wearing a nearly identical sweater. Dorothy Gibson was a survivor of the Titanic and this image is from a film about the sinking of the ship, where she wore the same clothes she wore the night of the wreck.