By Ingrid Mida
There are many beautiful evening gowns in the Fashion Research Collection at Ryerson University, with the oldest gown dating back to c.1860. Wedding gowns, ball gowns and evening gowns might only be worn once or perhaps only a few times, and then stored for many years before the owner is willing to part with them. Special event clothing often makes up a high proportion of study and museum collections, and that is also true at Ryerson.
I want to feature Canadian designers as much as possible on this blog and I have selected two evening ensembles created by acclaimed Canadian designer Pat McDonagh for this post.
Pat McDonagh was born in England, studied at Manchester University and the Sorbonne, before coming to Canada in the 1970s. According to her website biography, she is known for her “innovative textile techniques and youthful romanticism” and has designed gowns for celebrities and royalty. She is one of the founding members of the Fashion Design Council of Canada and has had a remarkable career as a Canadian fashion designer with 2010 marking her 40th year in fashion. She has won a number of awards including:
American Legend Fur Award
Five World Bureau Awards, 1975
New York Times award for Design Excellence, 1982
Judy Award for Contribution to the Canadian Fashion Industry, 1992
The Majestic Mink Award, 1994
Bata Shoe Museum Best Shoe Award, 2000
Matinee International Award, 2002
NAFA Fur Award, 2002
FDCC Lifetime Achievement Award, 2003
The two gowns by Pat McDonagh that were photographed for the digitization project include: a gold lame two-piece ensemble (FRC2000.04.002A+B) and a white satin ball gown (FRC2013.99.020).
This shiny metallic gold lame Edwardian style top with puffed sleeves and ruffles with a matching gold lame long gathered skirt by Pat McDonagh captures the essence of the 1980s evening look, which was a blend of decadence and Hollywood glitz.
The metallic finish of the lame and the cascade of ruffles would sparkle in the dimmest light.
The snow-white satin evening gown with black velvet trim at the bust-line and black velvet applique on the skirt is another statement piece by Pat McDonagh, but in a quieter and more refined way. Undated in the collection, it probably can be situated as having been crafted in the last decade. It is in perfect condition, and perhaps was worn only once as it is unmarked.
The black velvet applique is reminiscent of the soutache embroidery on white cotton gowns that was so popular in the 1860s. (See for example the White cotton pique day dress embroidered with black soutache from the Costume Institute at the Met. C.I.60.6.11 A+B recently on display alongside a painting by Claude Monet called “Women in the Garden” from 1866 in the exhibition Fashion, Impressionism and Modernity at the Metropolitan Museum of Art seen in this installation shot).
After writing this post, Pat McDonagh corrected my interpretation and told me that this dress was actually designed for “Canada’s first winner of the Rose of Tralee Festival in Tralee Ireland. Contestants of Irish descent come from all over the world to compete for the title of Irish Rose, the dress was prepared with traditional Irish symbols, it is the biggest pageant festival in the world.” This festival takes its inspiration from a 19th century ballad about a woman called “The Rose of Tralee” because of her beauty.
Both evening gowns featured in this post are finely finished, a hallmark of the Canadian label Pat McDonagh.
The FRC also holds another six garments by Pat McDonagh that were not photographed for the digitization project, including:
Ball gown, hand-painted yellow silk with full skirt, c.2005-2010. (FRC2013.99.010)
Dress, Green, purple, orange and pink hoizontal striped silk chemise dress with short sleeves and V-neck, c.1970s. (FRC1998.04.003)
Evening gown, black floral printed chiffon spaghetti strap dress with blouson top, gathered waist and panelled overskirt, c. 1976-79. (FRC19888.02.008)
Evening gown, gray one-shoulder knit, beaded. c.2000-2010. (FRC2013.02.005).
Evening gown, grey sequined evening dress with train, spaghetti straps with cross-over back, c.2007-2010. (FRC.2013.99.025)
Skirt, Black lace tiered calf length. c.1980s. (FRC2000.04.003).
“About Pat McDonagh”. Pat McDonagh n.d. Web, Jan. 2013.
Routh, Caroline. In Style: 100 Years of Canadian Women’s Fashions. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing Co. Ltd., 1993. Print.