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

FRC_Dresses_1983.6.3B_detail_web

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.

FRC_Dresses_1991.04.001_front_web

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).

frc_dresses_2014-07-024_left_watermarked_web

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 Dissection of a Wool Jacket by Christian Dior for Holt Renfew

By Millie Yates

Dior Jacket Front 2013.99.007

Wool Jacket by Christian Dior for Holt Renfrew, Front FRC 2013.99.007

It is impossible not be intrigued by the deceptively simple design of this garment. Though it appears uncomplicated, the process of creating its perfect drape and elegant angles required mastery. Such is the beauty of couture.  This wool tweed cropped jacket with ¾ sleeves was designed by Christian Dior for Holt Renfrew and is from the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection (FRC2013.99.007).  Initially the jacket was dated as originating from 1958-1963, but further research has revealed that there is a high probability that it is from 1955-1956 and that there was once a matching dress or skirt.

There are many subtle and complex details to be noticed. For example, the front and back of the jacket are cut on the bias, which results in a soft chevron effect. The sleeves are cut as part of the body of the jacket with a seam that follows the shoulder line. There is a diamond-shaped gusset under each underarm. In couture tradition, there are bound buttonholes on the front of the jacket and three metal weights concealed in the lining towards the hem of the jacket to help it hang properly.

The jacket is very angular in shape, with sharp straight edges along the hem, collar, pockets and sleeves. The collar of the jacket is flat and wide. There are three large textured round buttons at the front that hold the jacket closed. These buttons are very large at 2 inches (10 cm) across and appear to be made of plastic. Two 5-inch (13 cm) wide tailored pockets sit on either side of the centre front, towards the bottom of the jacket. The pockets are lined but would have limited functionality due to their very shallow depth. The selvedge is not visible in the garment, because the jacket is fully lined with facings at the neckline and centre front. The gusset under the arm appears in both the shell and the lining of the jacket. There are no reinforcements to the jacket, in terms of boning, padding, or wire. This garment was made with a combination of machine and hand stitching. The care taken with construction is apparent, and this affirms the quality and cost associated with a Dior garment.

Collar and button detail FRC2013.99.007

Collar and button detail FRC2013.99.007

The fabric of the jacket gives it the appearance that it would be very warm. The wool tweed has been matched with a silk satin lining. The outer shell of tweed has a number of colours in its pattern, with brown and a greyish green being the most prominent as well as some flecks of white. The silk satin lining is reddish brown.

The garment has a label at the neckline that reads: “Christian Dior Original in Canada Exclusive with Holt Renfrew and Co. Limited.” It was in 1951 that Christian Dior and Holt Renfrew made an agreement for exclusive Canadian reproduction rights (Palmer 117). The label does not indicate the season or exact year that the jacket was made. There are no care labels, name tags or size labels within the garment. There is no information on the owner as the jacket was donated to the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection anonymously.

This jacket is a truly beautiful piece. Constructed to sit lightly on the body, it is boxy but would not overwhelm the frame. The design of the jacket is both clever and subtle: a perfect marriage between couture quality and everyday versatility. It is a classic jacket: something proper to wear in a professional setting or for formal occasions. Though a serious piece of clothing, its cropped length, big buttons and the 3/4 length sleeves of the jacket present as anything but austere and boring.

Dior Jacket, FRC2013.99.007

Dior Jacket, FRC2013.99.007

Studying this garment requires some historical context, which is most easily provided by considering comparable garments. There are several other Dior pieces in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection, but the most directly comparable examples can be found in the collection of the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  An online search reveals that there are 797 garments by Christian Dior in the collection of the Costume Institute. From this sample, the general patterns and trends in Dior’s early designs are apparent. Dior is most known for The New Look, which date from his first collection in February 1947 and the silhouette features a padded bust and hips, sloping shoulders, and a dramatically nipped-in waist. As the 1950s move along, the shape of Dior’s jackets change too. Collars are wider, sleeve lengths are often shorter and the slim waist is often integrated into the matching skirt or dress: many of Dior’s jackets from the late 1950s are cropped and boxy, much like this particular garment from the FRC.

One of the most similar dress artifacts in the collection of the Costume Institute is not a suit jacket but a coat. The coat is dated to 1956, almost ten years after Dior’s first collection (Met Accession Number: 2002.262). Like the FRC jacket, its design is a bit of a contrast against his earlier designs. The jacket is 44 inches (112 cm) long at the centre back, and has a sack-like shape. The shoulders are unpadded like the FRC jacket, and the sleeves are not set in at the shoulder, but appear to be almost kimono-style. Similarly the FRC jacket does not have traditional set-in sleeves. The 1956 Dior coat also has three wide, round brown buttons as a closure. Beyond the obvious similarities in shape, one of the most important and exciting resemblances is the fabric: the wool used for both the coat and the jacket appears to be a very similar (if not the same) greyish-brown tweed. This similarity makes it highly likely that the FRC garment was produced in the same year, as a similar-looking self fabric suggests that the two garments are from the same collection. Like the FRC jacket, the design of this coat appears all at once very simple yet also masterfully conceived: this is the beauty of a Dior garment.

Another comparable artifact found in collection of the Costume Institute Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art was the “Virevolte” dress and matching jacket from the Fall/Winter 1955 collection (Met Accession number 2009.300.443a–d). Like the FRC garment, this ensemble is made of a very similar looking brownish-grey wool tweed. The jacket is a little shorter than the FRC garment: at centre back it measures 17 1/2 inches (44.5 cm) whereas the FRC jacket selected is approximately 21 ½ inches (54.5 cm). The “Virevolte” outfit features a cropped wool tweed jacket with set-in sleeves and a built-up collar, with a matching wool tweed dress to go underneath. Beyond the obvious similarities in fabric and cut, what is most interesting about the “Virevolte” ensemble is the dress underneath. It is reasonable to assume that the garment from the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection would have at one point been accompanied by a matching dress or skirt. The “Virevolte” gives a good idea of the garment that might been worn with the jacket from the FRC. It, too, is beautifully designed and it features short sleeves constructed in a similar fashion to the sleeves on the Dior jacket from the FRC. The sleeves are cut with the front panels and widen under the arms with a gusset insert. There are two darts that bring in the waist on the front of the dress, and these darts widen into two box pleats down the skirt of the dress. A thin brown leather belt cinches the waist and matches the buttons down the bodice of the dress. The curatorial notes provided with this artifact read: “No matter which silhouette (Christian Dior) chose, the slim sheath or the bouffant skirt, the narrow waist recurs in nearly every garment.” It seems probable that the skirt or dress that accompanied the jacket from the FRC might have been quite fitted at the waist to contrast the little jacket’s boxy shape. In seeing the photographs of this ensemble on a dress form, it becomes a lot easier to see how the garment from the Fashion Research Collection might have looked as a complete outfit. After seeing “Virevolte” one could imagine that it would have been a very trim, smart look.

After a thorough analysis and comparison to similar garments, many mysteries still surround this garment. Who purchased this jacket? Who wore it? What secrets lie inside the garment, beyond the silk-satin lining? Though one can only speculate at the answers to these questions, this garment offers the opportunity to study the masterful construction of Dior.. The House of Dior is known to guard the secrets of  the design and construction of their pieces. Each clue gathered in a close study of such pieces is a step towards understanding the ever-intriguing Christian Dior’s work.

References:

Bruna, Denis. Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette. New Haven: Yale UP, 2015. Print.

Cawthorne, Nigel. The New Look: The Dior Revolution. Edison, N.J.: Wellfleet, 1996. Print.

Dior, Christian. Dior by Dior: The Autobiography of Christian Dior. London: V & A Pub., 2007. Print.

Giroud, Francoise, and Sacha Van Dorssen. Dior: Christian Dior, 1905-1957. New York: Rizzoli, 1987. Print.

Palmer, Alexandra. “Couture, Fashion Shows and Marketing.” Couture & Commerce: The Transatlantic Fashion Trade in the 1950s. Vancouver: UBC, 2001. 117. Print.

Palmer, Alexandra. Dior: A New Look, a New Enterprise (1947-57). London: V & A, 2009. Print.

Parkins, Ilya. ” Christian Dior: Nostalgia and the Economy of Feminine Beauty.” The Berg Fashion Library. The Berg Fashion Library, 2012. Web. 28 Jul. 2015.

Pochna, Marie France. Dior. New York: Assouline, 2008. Print.

Pujalet-Plaà, Eric. “New Look.” The Berg Fashion Library. The Berg Fashion Library, 2005. Web. 29 Jul. 2015.

Nudelman, Zoya. The Art of Couture Sewing. New York: Fairchild, 2009. Print.

 

Notes on Comparable Garments in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection:

1) Green and cream tweed wool jacket and skirt suit by Maggy Reeves FRC 1998.06.007 A+B

A similar garment from the Fashion Research Collection is a Maggy Reeves tweed jacket and matching skirt. Like the Dior garment, the jacket is made of a woollen material with a silk lining. There are many similarities in cut, too: the Reeves jacket has a flat collar, button closure and a slightly cropped length. The bold look of the large round buttons, the soft cut of the collar and the matching skirt nipped in tightly at the waist compare well to the Dior jacket, too. One major similarity between the Reeves jacket and Dior jacket is the flawless job of concealing darts and seams. Both garments appear to be only one piece due to a delicate balancing of the tweed fabric.

2) Citron yellow cropped jacket with sleeveless dress by Bill Blass for Maurice Rentner FRC 1986.01.001 A+B

At first glance it does not appear that the Bill Blass for Maurice Rentner jacket and matching dress have much in common with the Dior garment: the Bill Blass ensemble is a citron yellow colour with a pale blue lining. Its fabric is a brocade silk, and appears to be a formal outfit. Though quite different in colour and fabric, in many ways, the cut and design of the Bill Blass ensemble resembles that of the FRC Dior jacket. Like thee garment, this jacket does not have traditional set-in sleeves: its centre front and centre back panels were cut in a T-shape. With the Blass jacket, there is a side panel that continues and becomes the bottom-half of the sleeve, resulting in princess seams along centre front and centre back that curve into the sleeve seam where the armhole should be. Like the Dior jacket, the yellow jacket also has a gusset under the arm.

3) Yellow Boucle wool belted coat “143C Dior SANFRAN” by Christian Dior for Holt Renfrew FRC 1997.04.044

In a beautiful saffron yellow, this coat has a striking fitted waist and an a-line skirt. A wide belt with a fabric-covered buckle secures the middle. Like the Dior jacket, this coat has many couture quality details. For example, both garments have bound buttonholes. Both garments also have a subtle topstitching done along each edge of the garment: pockets, centre front, sleeve hem and jacket hem. This garment is closer in cut to Dior’s iconic New Look silhouette: with its belt and darting, it cuts an hourglass figure. If the Dior jacket had a matching skirt or dress to accompany it, it might be possible to compare the shape of the entire outfit to the shape of the yellow coat. Like the Dior jacket, the coat is lined with a matching silk fabric. Both garments are made of very fine materials.


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A Close Look at a 1950s Wool Jacket by Christian Dior for Holt Renfrew

By Millie Yates

Dior Jacket Front 2013.99.007 Photo by Jazmin Welch

Dior Jacket Front 2013.99.007 Photo by Jazmin Welch

The garment I have selected for my project is a wool jacket by Christian Dior for Holt Renfrew from the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection (FRC2013.99.007). The jacket is dated in the collection catalogue as originating from the late 1950s to early 1960s, most likely 1958-1963. Based on the styles of the time, it is highly probable that there was once a matching dress or skirt that accompanied the jacket.

Side view of Dior Jacket FRC2013.99.007  Photo by Jazmin Welch

Side view of Dior Jacket FRC2013.99.007
Photo by Jazmin Welch

At a quick glance, the jacket does not appear to be particularly complicated in construction. However, upon closer inspection, there are many subtle and complex details to be noticed. For example, the front and back of the jacket are cut on the bias, which results in a soft chevron effect. The sleeves are cut as part of the body of the jacket with a seam that follows the shoulder line. There is a diamond-shaped gusset under each underarm. In couture tradition, there are bound buttonholes on the front of the jacket and three metal weights concealed in the lining towards the hem of the jacket to help it hang properly.

Sleeves and pocket detail on Dior jacket FRC2013.99.007

Sleeves and pocket detail on Dior jacket FRC2013.99.007

 

Collar and button detail FRC2013.99.007

Collar and button detail FRC2013.99.007

The jacket is very angular in shape, with sharp straight edges along the hem, collar, pockets and sleeves. The collar of the jacket is flat and wide. There are three large textured round buttons at the front that hold the jacket closed. These buttons are very large at 2 inches (10 cm) across and appear to be made of plastic. Two 5-inch wide tailored pockets sit on either side of the centre front, towards the bottom of the jacket. The pockets are lined but would have limited functionality since they are very shallow in depth. The selvedge is not visible in the garment, because the jacket is fully lined with facings at the neckline and centre front. The gusset under the arm appears in both the shell and the lining of the jacket. There are no reinforcements to the jacket, in terms of boning, padding, or wire reinforcements. This garment was made with a combination of machine and hand stitching. The care taken with construction is apparent, and this affirms the quality and cost associated with a Dior garment.

While the fit of the jacket is quite boxy, the jacket sits snugly across the shoulders and is cropped in length. The sleeves are 3/4 length. A woman wearing this jacket would not be drowning in fabric.

The fabric of the jacket gives it the appearance that it would be very warm.  A wool tweed has been matched with a silk satin lining. The outer shell of tweed has a number of colours in its pattern, with brown and a greyish green being the most prominent as well as some flecks of white. The silk satin lining is reddish brown.

Back of Dior Jacket 2013.99.007

Back of Dior Jacket 2013.99.007 Photo by Jazmin Welch

The garment has a label at the neckline that reads: “Christian Dior Original in Canada Exclusive with Holt Renfrew and Co. Limited.” It was in 1951 that Christian Dior and Holt Renfrew made an agreement for exclusive Canadian reproduction rights. The tag does not indicate the season or exact year that the jacket was made. There are no care labels, nametags or size labels within the garment. There is no information on the owner as the jacket was donated anonymously.

Label inside Dior Jacket 2013.99.007  Photo by Jazmin Welch

Label inside Dior Jacket 2013.99.007
Photo by Jazmin Welch

Although the garment is over fifty years old, it is in remarkable shape.  There is some wear at the cuffs and collar with some light discolouration. There are some small stains on the insides of the jacket on the silk lining. The silk has lightly split in a couple of areas on the inside of the jacket, especially near the hem and at the armholes. There have been no alterations.

When I first encountered this jacket in the FRC, I felt a number of sensory reactions. Visually, it is consistent within the period, particularly with its large buttons and cropped length. To the touch, this jacket feels a little nubby and a little scratchy. The fabric feels like it is of a fairly heavy weight. The inside of the jacket is silken and cool to the touch. One could imagine that the wearer of this jacket might made a soft, low, scratchy sound as she moved. It does not have a particularly strong smell, but there is a subtle worn wool smell to the jacket on its underarms and collar.

Sketch of button and fabric by Millie Yates 2015

Sketch of button and fabric by Millie Yates 2015

This particular garment attracted me for a number of reasons. First of all, it is a truly beautiful piece. It is warm, yet sits lightly on the body, and though boxy it would not overwhelm the frame. The design of the jacket is both clever and subtle: a perfect marriage between couture quality and everyday versatility. I believe that this jacket would fit me well, though it could be a little short in the sleeves. If this jacket was mine, I would wear it through every fall season. It is a classic jacket: something proper to wear in a professional setting or for formal occasions. Though a serious piece of clothing, in its cropped length, big buttons and 3/4 length sleeves the jacket is far from austere and boring.

Sketch of jacket collar by Millie Yates 2015

Sketch of jacket collar by Millie Yates 2015

There are several other Dior pieces in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection, and there are many Dior garments from the 1950s in the collections of museums around the world. Christian Dior is one of the most celebrated designers of the twentieth century and so much has been written about his work. It is truly remarkable just how much Dior changed the fashion industry during the time of the New Look in the 1950s, and though this jacket was created towards the end of that decade, there are hints of the ultra-feminine style in the bias cut of the jacket and its narrow, sloping shoulders.

Sketch of jacket front by Millie Yates 2015

Sketch of jacket front by Millie Yates 2015

Sketch of jacket back by Millie Yates 2015

Sketch of jacket back by Millie Yates 2015

 

Edited by Ingrid Mida, Collection Co-ordinator