Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive


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Assembling the Puzzle of Jack Liebman’s Career

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Jack Liebman peau de soie dress c.1950-1960, FRC 1983.06.003

For those knowledgeable on Canada’s sartorial history, the name Jack Leibman may be familiar, invoking images of cocktail dresses from the 1940’s. Leibman contributed to the history of Canadian fashion and left a lasting mark on our culture. In spite of all this, his name is shrouded in mystery. We know very little about the particulars of Leibman’s life and work, a fact which presents us with the challenge of learning as much as we can about this enigmatic figure.

The Ryerson Fashion Research Collection has four Jack Liebman garments, one of which I examined in an earlier post (note 1). These fascinating pieces have no accompanying ephemera or histories, and so naturally invite interest into the questions of who Jack Liebman was and what contexts these garments fit into. This blog post will attempt to assemble information about this Montreal-based fashion line using archival research.

Much of fashion history is pre-internet and in order to discover information about mysterious figures or little-known topics, such as the life of Jack Liebman, it is important to expand the scope of investigation. It took extensive research and persistence to find these references. After the preliminary searches in general search engines and databases proved insufficient, it was necessary to explore new sources. By searching in newspaper databases, government records, and national archives, many more relevant results appeared.

I began my research with Ryerson University Library and Archives’ Search Everything feature. My searches included phrases like “Jack Liebman”, “Jack Liebman Dresses”, and “Jack Liebman Fashion”. By using key words, I hoped to find relevant material, but this was not enough to narrow the results. I continued to sift through the information I came across through RULA’s Search Everything, and other search engines like Google, but the results were not answering the questions I had about Liebman.

In order to dig deeper, I met with Naomi Eichenlaub, the Fashion librarian at Ryerson University. She had searched for additional information and offered many research tips. She suggested searching in more focused databases such as the RULA’s Fashion subject guide, RULA’s Newspapers database, and Government of Canada archives. When exploring the Fashion database, I was able to access Vogue Archives, WGSN, and Berg Fashion Library. Once I broadened my search terms in more narrow databases, I was able to find results pertinent to my research. Eichenlaub also offered helpful tips like using quotation marks around key words you’d like to find together (ie. “Jack Liebman”). She made it clear that it is important to remain determined and keep an open mind when looking for information on under-documented topics.

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Jack Liebman printed silk dress c. 1947-1950, FRC 1991.04.001

Let us now examine the first piece of the Jack Liebman puzzle. We know from various sources (see notes 2-6) that Liebman was the owner of Jack Liebman Dresses Canada Ltd. which was located at 423 Mayor Street, Place 3008, Montreal (note 2), but the exact nature of the business is unclear. The Globe & Mail described Liebman as a designer (note 3), while The Montreal Gazette described him an importer on one occasion (note 4) and a manufacturer on another (note 5). His label was called “Fashion Preferred Styled by Jack Liebman” (note 6). 

The Globe & Mail published articles related to Jack Liebman three times, the first of which was in 1946. In the article “Grecian Influence Sends Skirts Down 3 Inches”, the author suggests that the fashions for fall were to be “longer, simpler, better” – a claim that Jack Liebman supported. He is described as a Montreal designer who was “showing buyers across Canada a collection of fall clothes that are truly in the best couturier tradition” (note 7). Ten years later, Liebman was mentioned again. A 1956 article “Fall Silhouette Is Called Released Sheath” describes fall trends. The accompanying image shows two women in Canadian-made garments. The figure on the right wears a slim fitting wool dress with a bloused back by Jack Liebman. The article presents opinions about fashion trends in Montreal. The slender line was the most common silhouette, knit fabrics were growing in popularity, crepe was making a resurgence, and the ensemble (or jacket dress) was a well-liked garment type (note 8). Finally, in September of 1958, a piece called, “After-Five Fashions Are at Sixes and Sevens” was written to showcase the major trends for fall. A black broadcloth sheath dress by Liebman was featured as a leading silhouette of the season (note 9).

During February of Canada’s Centennial Year, 1967, the Ottawa Journal released an article called, “High Style, High Color in Centennial Collection”. It describes a number of garments that were shown in Montreal. It was a glimpse into what fashion was like during this moment in Canadian history. A Jack Liebman dress is included under the heading “Oriental Influence”. It is described as a “daytime dress in white ribbed fabric… styled with uncluttered lines and a small mandarin collar” (note 10).

With several Liebman garments appearing in major publications as examples of the 1956, 1958, and 1967 trends, it can be inferred that Jack was considered a prominent leader in the Montreal fashion scene throughout this time. But the question remains, what clientele were these garments aimed at? One strategy of gathering information, recommended in step 17 of The Dress Detective’s Reflection Checklist, is to identify whether there are similar garments or related ephemera available for sale on Ebay and/or auction sites. This step revealed two billheads from the brand that were available for purchase on eBay (note 11). At the time of my search, February 21, 2017, these receipts were being sold for $3.00 and $6.00 dollars by seller stillman_82 of Stillman Collectibles. These bills of sale indicated that Liebman’s garments were sold at a mid-level price point. One billhead from 1945 lists two garments that were sold; one for $11.75 and the other for $13.75. The second billhead from 1946 indicates that one dress was sold for $13.75.

The statement that Leibman was a prominent leader on the Montreal fashion scene is reinforced by the 1989 Montreal Gazette. The newspaper published an article called, “Show time!; Fall and spring trends land on runways”. It discusses a trade show that presented fall/winter designs to a consumer audience and spring trends to an audience of retailers. The trade show, which was held at the Four Seasons Hotel, featured Jack Liebman, who was described as a legendary name. It says that Liebman showed designs from brands Tricoville, Parigi, St. Jacques, Bellino and Jacqmar. The article states that Charles Widmer, managing director of Jack Liebman Dresses Canada Ltd., told the audience that the company was purchased by a European trading company called UTC (UTAC in the U.S. and Canada). The article goes on to say that, “from the 1940s to the ‘60s, Liebman was a style leader and manufacturer”. It also states that at the time this article was published (1989), the company was importing collections designed in Europe that were mostly produced in the Orient (note 12).

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Jack Liebman crepe cocktail dress c.1945 FRC 2014.07.024

Interestingly, it seems that Liebman had an international reach and a celebrity clientele. In June of 2004, Christie’s, the historic auction house, was selling four garments owned by Patsy Cline (note 13). One of these was a Jack Liebman dress with the label “Original Fashion Preferred Styled by Jack Liebman Montreal-Canada”. It is a beige silk chiffon ankle-length dress with a rhinestone adorned bodice. The description of the collection states that many of the dresses were worn by Cline while performing in Las Vegas in 1962. This suggests that the purchase of Liebman’s garments extended beyond the realm of the middle class, affecting an even greater influence on fashion than at first imagined.

With the success of his business, it appears that Liebman became not only a business leader but a philanthropist and community leader as well. In 1942 Jack Liebman’s company donated funds to Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital and was recognized for his contribution in their Ninth Annual Report (note 14). The Canadian Jewish Review from Toronto recorded the marriage of Louis Liebman and Ruth Betty Wine in December of 1950. The publication describes the wedding in detail. It lists Mr. and Mrs. Jack Liebman of Montreal as out of town guests (note 15). These findings suggest that Jack Liebman was an active member of the Jewish community in both Montreal and Toronto.

Throughout his career, Liebman must have collaborated with various individuals and/or companies. I found an example of this in the Furriers Joint Council of New York’s publication “50 Years of Progress 1912-1962”. Liebman’s name is listed with eleven others under the heading “Golden Anniversary Greetings from the workers of Clay Furs, Incorporated, 224 West 30th Street”. This suggests that Liebman worked with a furrier in New York in the early 1960s (note 16).

The final piece of our puzzle is a description of the scope of Leibman’s garments. The Canadian International Property Office lists Jack Liebman Dresses Canada Ltd. as having filed for the trademarks of four brands; Fashion Life, Saint Jacques & Design, Puccini, and Lambsuede. Fashion Life was filed for in 1975 and sold “Ladies’ dresses, blouses, skirts, pants, coats” (note 17). St Jacques & Design was filed for in 1980 and was listed under “Ladies; coats, dresses, pant suits, shirts, skirts, blouses, slacks, lounge wear” (note 18). Jack Liebman Dresses Canada Ltd. is listed as the “Registrant” and Pollack, Kravitz & Teitelbaum are listed as the “Representative for Service” for both brands. Puccini was filed for in December of 1983 under the description, “Ladies’ dresses, suits, skirts, slacks, blouses, and sweaters” (note 19). Lambsuede was filed for in February of 1983 and was described as, “Knitted imitation suede fabrics in the piece constructed from 100 percent synthetic polyester” (note 20). For both these brands, Jack Liebman Dresses Canada Ltd. is listed as the “Registrant” and Seymour Machlovitch is listed as the “Representative for Service”.

In conclusion, it is apparent that to compile a chronological timeline of Liebman’s life and work would be extremely difficult. However, each of these findings act as pieces in the puzzle that is Jack Liebman. Alone, they may seem insignificant, but once put together, they begin to take shape. Many of the pieces of Jack Liebman’ story remain elusive, but the evidence has helped to create a picture of his influence on Canadian fashion. 

Notes:

Note 1: To read a previous post about a Jack Liebman cocktail dress, visit, https://ryerson-fashion-research-collection.com/2017/02/27/a-study-of-a-1940s-cocktail-dress-by-jack-liebman/

Note 2: Address taken from an ad in the newspaper Canadian Jewish Chronicle on September 16, 1949.

Note 3: Cay Moore, “Grecian Influence Sends Skirts Down 3 Inches,” The Globe and Mail, July 19, 1946. Accessed February 22, 2017.

Note 4: “Jack Liebman Dresses bought: [Final Edition],” The Gazette, August 9, 1989. Accessed February 22, 2017, 

Note 5: Iona Monahan, “Show time!; Fall and spring trends land on runways: [Final Edition], The Gazette, September 5, 1989. Accessed February 24, 2017.

Note 6: “Artefacts Canada – Humanities,” Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2013. Accessed February 22, 2017, http://www.rcip-chin.gc.ca/bd-dl/artefacts-eng.jsp?emu=en.artefacts:/ws/human/user/www/Record;jsessionid=471D8276F42B20AC7360F0995D60A369&w=NATIVE%28%27INSNAME+EQ+%27%27GUELPH+MUSEUMS%27%27%27%29&upp=0&m=30.

Note 7: See note 2.

Note 8: Olive Dickason, “Fall Silhouette Is Called Released Sheath,” The Globe and Mail, June 5, 1956. Accessed February 23, 2017.

Note 9: “After-Five Fashions Are at Sixes and Sevens,” The Globe and Mail, September 20, 1958. Accessed February 22, 2017. 

Note 10: Lorraine Hunter, “High Style, High Colour in Centennial Collection,” The Ottawa Journal, February 11, 1967. Accessed February 25, 2017.

 Note 11: To view the billheads, visit, “1946 Billhead Montreal QC Canada Jack Liebman Dress Limited *Graphic*,” eBay. Accessed February 21, 2017, http://www.cafr.ebay.ca/itm/1946-Billhead-Montreal-QC-Canada-Jack-Liebman-Dress-Limited-Graphic-/272440752760?hash=item3f6ebbfa78:g:uq8AAOSwMVdYH8PI, http://www.cafr.ebay.ca/itm/1946-Billhead-Montreal-QC-Canada-Jack-Liebman-Dress-Limited-No-Graphic-/272440754375?hash=item3f6ebc00c7:g:R~UAAOSwal5YH8RR.

Note 12: See note 5.

Note 13: To view the Liebman dress and the three accompanying ones being sold, visit,  “Patsy Cline Dresses – Entertainment Memorabilia,” Christie’s, June 24, 2004. Accessed February 27, 2017, http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/Lot/patsy-cline-dresses-4302144-details.aspx.

Note 14: “A Tribute Everlasting,” Jewish General Hospital, December 31, 1942. Accessed February 25, 2017.

Note 15: “Marriages – Liebman-Wine,” Canadian Jewish Review, December 1, 1950. p.113. Accessed February 24, 2017.

Note 16: “Fifty Years of Progress 1912/1962,” Furriers Joint Council of New York, December 8, 1962. Accessed February 22, 2017.

Note 17: To view more about the Fashion Life trademark, visit, “Canadian trade-mark data,” Canadian Intellectual Property Office, 2017. Accessed February 28, 2017.

Note 18: To view more about the Saint Jacques & Design trademark, visit, “Canadian trade-mark data,” Canadian Intellectual Property Office, 2017. Accessed February 28, 2017.

Note 19: To view more about the Puccini trademark, visit, “Canadian trade-mark data,” Canadian Intellectual Property Office, 2017. Accessed February 28, 2017.

Note 20: To view more about the Lambsuede trademark, visit , “Canadian trade-mark data,” Canadian Intellectual Property Office, 2017. Accessed February 28, 2017.

Bibliography:

“After-Five Fashions Are at Sixes and Sevens,” The Globe and Mail, September 20, 1958. Accessed February 22, 2017.

“Artefacts Canada – Humanities,” Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2013. Accessed February 22, 2017.

“A Tribute Everlasting,” Jewish General Hospital, December 31, 1942. Accessed February 25, 2017.

Dickason, Olive, “Fall Silhouette Is Called Released Sheath,” The Globe and Mail, June 5, 1956. Accessed February 23, 2017.

 “Fifty Years of Progress 1912/1962,” Furriers Joint Council of New York, December 8, 1962. Accessed February 22, 2017.

 Hunter, Lorraine, “High Style, High Colour in Centennial Collection,” The Ottawa Journal, February 11, 1967. Accessed February 25, 2017.

“Jack Liebman Dresses bought: [Final Edition],” The Gazette, August 9, 1989. Accessed February 22, 2017.

“Marriages – Liebman-Wine,” Canadian Jewish Review, December 1, 1950. Accessed February 24, 2017.

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object Based Research, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015.

Monahan, Iona, “Show time!; Fall and spring trends land on runways: [Final Edition], The Gazette, September 5, 1989. Accessed February 24, 2017.

Moore, Cay, “Grecian Influence Sends Skirts Down 3 Inches,” The Globe and Mail, July 19, 1946. Accessed February 22, 2017.

 

 


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A Weston & Wells Reversible Plated Bustle

by Christine Gow

Much like the clothes that parade down the catwalks of the world’s fashion capitals, the fashionable female body is also subject to the cyclical whims of taste. When we manage to attain the unattainable—that year’s bump, lump, or lack thereof du jour—we tire of it and move on. Take, for example, the statuesque supermodels of the late 80s, who gave way to heroin chic’s Kate Moss in 1993; she, in turn, conceded the crown to a gravity-defying Gisele Bündchen at the end of that decade. While boy-slim silhouettes still dominate the pages of high fashion magazines in 2017, pop culture has permeated the arena of health and beauty and overinflated boobs and butts provide a shapely foil to the tiny waists of a million social media feeds.

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Reversible Player Bustle c.1885

It is with this in mind that I ask Ingrid Mida, curator of the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection and author of The Dress Detective, to show me the selection of bustles in her care. The idea of temporarily exaggerating one’s shape with a strap-on 3D form appeals, having once had a costly brush with dermatological fillers (lips, $1600, looked like a platypus for six months). “Bustles,” Ingrid replies, “are so fun. We have a whole variety of them—in different materials, shapes etc. I will bring out the whole box.” She is right—the collection hosts a plethora of styles from the bustle’s hey day in the 1870s and 80s. Here, I must note, that bustles were conceived as a way to support the elaborate and heavy draping and embellishments of the dresses of the time, not as a way to give the impression of a larger-than-average bum. In Victorian Fashions & Costumes from Harper’s Bazar: 1867-1898, Stella Blum explains that “the knees had been freed by this time, and the trains for day disappeared for easier walking, but the weight of these costumes and the structures needed to support the huge rear extension added little to increase mobility. Many of the fabrics were upholstery like in quality, made heavier by the profuse use of beading, fringes, braids and furs” (1974). When viewed from the side as was intended this rear profile looked like the backend of a horse.

Blum also describes how our perpetual ennui is the primary catalyst of change in fashion, stating how “it often manifests itself as a dissatisfaction with the original shape of the body and seeks expression in a wide variety of anatomical constrictions and distensions.” From her vantage point in the 1970s, she felt that “of these deviations from the natural, none is so difficult for the modern eye to justify in terms of esthetics, comfort or practicality as the form considered fashionable in the mid-1880s.”  Ms. Blum clearly did not anticipate the impact Kim Kardashian or Nicki Minaj would have on the desired female form in the new millennium at the time of her writing.

The mid-1880s is known as the high bustle period, as in the 1870s a much lower profile was in fashion (Peteu and Gray 2008). Harold Koda, curator of The Met’s Extreme Beauty: The Body Transformed exhibition in 2001, explains how “the silhouette of the 1880s was created with corsetry and “dress improvers” such as (the) wire-mesh bustle. Structured foundation garments exaggerated the sexually-dimorphic curves of the female body.” What was then achieved with wire mesh is now the domain of gym squats and implants, but Koda points out that the shape women sought with the bustle was nothing new, even then: it was a “deliberate revival of the “bum rolls” and “half-farthingales” of the Baroque era. The height of this style peaked in 1887 and 1888 and “can be explained by the competition between Thomas P. Taylor and Henry O. Canfield (both of Bridgeport, Connecticut) to invent a viable folding bustle” (Peteu and Gray 2008).

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Label on bustle FRC2013.99.001

The bustle I find the most interesting within Ryerson’s collection is precisely this type, though not because of the wire-mesh, double croissant-like shape, or intriguing combination of straps and laces. This one is the only one with any sort of maker’s mark. “THE REVERSIBLE PLATED BUSTLE”, proclaims the neat red print on the cotton twill tape used to secure the wire form to the wearer, the vestiges of a patent number barely visible in faded ink below. “MADE ONLY BY THE WESTON & WELLS MANUFACTURING CO.” in Philadelphia, P.A., by “AN AMERICAN BRAIDED WIRE CO.”, this bustle speaks of American ingenuity in a newly industrial world, and thus, in a sense, of the American dream. I love the perky sense of optimism this fashion invention projects. Dated to circa 1885, the bustle’s original owner is unknown, having come to Ryerson through the vast Cleaver-Suddon donation, a collection of artifacts amassed by fine arts librarian Alan Suddon and acquired in 2001 by Professor Emeritus Katherine Cleaver on his passing.

As you can well imagine, a rigid metal structure strapped to your behind would make sitting rather awkward, and innovations in bustle making stemmed from inventors looking to solve this problem. Koda explains that these were normally “attached only by a waistband, so that they could shift or lift when the wearer sat. Frequently, they were collapsible, but even in those cases, a woman was required to shift her bustle to the side and perch on the edge of her seat”. It seems ironic that at this time women began to actively participate in sports, even daring to try such masculine pursuits as yachting and fencing. It mattered little what a woman was doing; in order to remain fashionable she still had to wear a corset and bustle—even when running around a tennis court (Blum 1974). This sport, I posit, could well have been the purpose of my ‘reversible plated bustle’, though a little further research tells me that her manufacturer was a purveyor of “torsion braided wire springs for carriage cushions and backs” (Fitz-Gerald 1896).

Perhaps Weston & Wells were only concerned with the comfort of a lady’s backside while seated; of the bustles patented between 1887 and 1888, “when the most extreme protruding bustles were in fashion, 44% were for folding bustles to aid in sitting.” Innovation in this area required engineering adeptness, as these contraptions needed to be robust enough to offer significant support, fold when the lady sat, and spring back into shape when she rose. In an 1888 bustle patent, inventor Alice White described the extreme “mortification of the wearer” should her bustle tangle and not regain its intended shape (Peteu and Gray 2008). Though bustle patents outnumber those of other shaping garments (there were 261 between 1846 and 1920, versus 205 hoop patents in the same period), it is only after 1890 that patent records show a major turn in attention to skirts designed for sports and professional activities. “Shaping devices followed the generally accepted timeline for fashionable silhouettes, indicating market demand as a patent incentive” (Peteu and Gray 2008).

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Did the wearer of this bustle use it in her attempts to chase a ball around a clay court from the confines of a corset and gown? If she did, this lightweight add-on would have been the least of her worries. The light soiling on the straps suggests excessive perspiration did not manage to escape her corset and petticoat, which could mean the sport was played at a more leisurely pace, or that the corset had formidable powers of absorption (the torn loop where the bustle would attach to the corset and missing stainless cap at the end of one lace indicate that perhaps she did engage in athletic pursuits of some kind). A certain level of plainness was mercifully acceptable in sporting ensembles at this time, but it could well have been that this lady’s greatest concern was not how many points she could win but simply how best to sit. Although extreme rear profiles were only favored for a short while within the two decades of the bustle’s prime, the undergarment itself would remain fashionable in much subtler incarnations into the next century. Surprisingly, Peteu and Gray found that four patents were filed between 1921 and 2007, indicating there exists those who still champion its cause. In any case, it is either the masterful engineering or the short time this bustle was on trend that accounts for its relatively well-kept condition.

American anthropologist Igor Kopytoff writes: “commodities must be not only produced materially as things, but also culturally marked as being a certain kind of thing. Out of the total range of things available in a society, only some of them are considered appropriate for marking as commodities. Moreover, the same thing may be treated as a commodity at one time and not at another. And finally, the same thing may, at the same time, be seen as a commodity by one person and something else by another.”

From valued undergarment to artifact—practically overnight, in the grand scheme of things—I am thankful that when millions of these bustles were relegated to the scrap heap in 1889 or 90, a lady somewhere tucked this particular one into the farthest reaches of her closet, perhaps hoping that it would one day again come back into fashion.

Works Cited

Blum, Stella. 1974. Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper’s Bazaar, 1867-1898. Dover Publications.

Fitz-Gerald, William N. The Automotive Manufacturer. Vol. 37. New York City, N.Y.: Trade News Publishing Co., 1896.

Koda, Harold. Extreme Beauty: the Body Transformed (The Costume Institute, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, December 6, 2001 – March 17, 2002). New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001.

Kopytoff, I. 1986. “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process.” The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective.

Mida, Ingrid, and Alexandra Kim. 2015. The Dress Detective: A practical guide to Object-based research in Fashion. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Peteu, M. C., and S. Helvenston Gray. 2008. “Clothing Invention: Improving the Functionality of Women’s Skirts, 1846-1920.” Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 27 (1): 45–61.

Sloan, Will. “A Stitch from Time” Ryerson University. December 12, 2014. Accessed March 11, 2017. http://www.ryerson.ca/news/news/General_Public/20141212-a-stitch-from- time/.

Christine Gow is an MA Fashion candidate and communications professional, researching how the fashion industry could actively subvert dominant cultural narratives surrounding female consumers over the age of 40 and this market’s digital engagement within omni-channel fashion retail.

This blog post was part of an object-based research assignment for MA Theory II and has been edited by Collection Co-ordinator Ingrid Mida.