Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive


Leave a comment

The Top Hat of E.J. Lennox, Architect of Old City Hall

By Amanda Memme

The Ryerson Fashion Research Collection owns five top hats – quite a few, I thought, for this type of accessory. One top hat stood out among the rest (FRC2014.07.091 A-J). This hat was housed in a luxurious hard-shell case of leather and canvas that had been stencilled with the initials E.J.L.T. Furthermore, not only was this top hat in relatively pristine condition (considering its age), but the case also contained other items: three shirt collar stocks, two well-worn pairs of fine leather gloves, a silk tie and two velvet cushions.

IMG_8576

E.J.L.T. Canvas and leather top hat case 2014.07.091 B, Photo by Amanda Memme

Who would go to such lengths to label this item and what do the letters represent? Also, what is the significance of the additional contents of the box? These questions exemplify individualization of the hat itself.

Individualization of the item describes the “de-commoditization” of a thing according to Igor Kopytoff’s seminal essay “The Cultural Biography of Things.” According to Kopytoff, in capitalist and non-capitalist societies alike, things may be endowed with value; and with value, objects become tradable. If an item’s ability to be traded is what commodifies it, its individualization – through purchase or trade, and hence, ownership – is what changes its status to that of a ‘non-commodity’. He writes: “Such singularization is sometimes extended to things that are normally commodities – in effect, commodities are singularized by being pulled out of their usual commodity sphere” (74). As such, I was curious to uncover who owned this well-kept hat, and forgo its commodity biography in favour of studying its life as a singularized possession.

IMG_8554

Silk plush top hat FRC2014.07.091 A, Photo by Amanda Memme

While I analyzed the hat’s physical attributes using Ingrid Mida’s checklists from her book The Dress Detective, Ingrid told me that E.J.L.T. are initials of Edward James Lennox (1854-1933), an architect of notable Toronto landmarks, including Old City Hall and Casa Loma.

E.J._Lennox_1885

E.J. Lennox courted clients that were elite members of society including Henry Pellatt, for whom he designed Casa Loma, and George Gooderham, for whom he revamped the King Edward Hotel. This information is relevant in discussing the particular biography of my object because, not only does it illuminate an enigmatic physical signifier, but also, ownership of an item gives it different meaning than it had as a homogenized commodity. Kopytoff writes: “In the homogenized world of commodities, an eventful biography of things becomes the story of various singularizations of it” (90). Hence, had this hat been owned by another person, its biography would differ greatly. Perhaps Lennox even wore the top hat and accessories for one of the events related to the opening of these Toronto landmarks. Suddenly, through Ingrid’s revelation, my subject transcended its likely status as a dress artifact – useful for the study of material culture  – and became a “precious Toronto relic,” as Adjunct Professor Janna Eggebeen pointed out.

Aside from the initials stencilled on its carrying case, other notable physical attributes of Lennox’s hat include its relatively good condition. Considering its age, the exterior shows minor deterioration, and mostly along the inside of the brim. This fact, as well as the other formal items included in the box (the collar stocks, leather gloves and tie) suggest the hat was likely reserved for occasions of significance. Folledore notes the emblematic significance of the top hat in formal occasions:

The hat continued, of course, to be a simple, practical way of protecting the head against adverse weather conditions, but it was also used more and more as a way of expressing complex messages heavy with meaning. The [top] hat, like a royal crown, definitely had an emblematic function, since it was a clear statement of virility, and a means of pleasing…respect… (Folledore 25)

The preservation of the hat suggests that it was carefully handled by subsequent owners (see curator’s note below). I believe this reinforces the sentiment that the hat is a precious item with known historical and geographic importance. Adding to this rich significance is the hat’s materiality.

The hat is tall, flat-topped, with an elegant up-turned brim and a flared cylindrical shape. It comprises rigid material covered with different silks – the black exterior, by Ingrid’s assessment, is silk plush. The upturned brim is covered with smooth, black silk and altogether, the exterior is finished with a ribbon.

IMG_8562

Inside of top hat 2014.07.091 A, Photo by Amanda Memme

The interior is covered in cream silk and contains a leather sweatband where the crown meets the interior brim. This is the part which would rest on the head when worn. The natural medium brown of the leather is stained darker by oils from a forehead – leaving a lasting imprint of the legendary wearer. The leather is branded on both sides with a maker’s mark. The overall choices in materials are luxurious, and the format non-utilitarian. These two aspects of its materiality suggest the item is of a ‘special’ type – what Kopytoff would refer to as from “the sphere of prestige items” (71).

Further illuminating this symbol of power is another, singular detail: a third maker’s mark, in the centre of the crown, printed on the cream silk lining. The mark consists of the manufacturer’s name – Henry Heath Limited – surrounded by the British emblem and text which reads “By Warrant to His Majesty the King.” This detail comprises what is known as a Royal Warrant – a distinction granted to tradespeople who supply the British Monarch and whose manufacturing upholds high standards. The warrant gives status to the maker and its products, and in turn to its owner.

At what upon first glance seemed an innocuous men’s top hat, proved to be anything but. The material evidence suggests that it was owned by a wealthy individual of power, was worn for select occasions and subsequently taken care of. Upon deeper research, the signifiers which led to this assessment were illuminated by Ingrid’s revelation of the name of its former owner. Its relative importance is also relevant in the context of Ryerson’s Fashion Research Collection. Although another hat top from the collection is also stored in a very similar leather case, most others were stored in cardboard boxes, not necessarily original to the hat. As shown by the photo below, their conditions starkly contrast with that of the Lennox hat.

IMG_8568 2

Top Hats in the Ryerson FRC February 2017, Photo by Amanda Memme

What does this reveal? It reveals that, although these items once existed in the same “commodity sphere,” to quote Kopytoff, their post-commodity biographies are vastly different. The signifiers of the other hats say something about their histories, each unique from the others. The hats do share one thing in common, and that is their current biographies, since they have all become further singularized as artifacts belonging to the university.

In every society, there are things that are publicly precluded from being commoditized…This applies to much of what one thinks of as the symbolic inventory of a society: public lands, monuments, state art collections, the paraphernalia of political power, royal residencies, chiefly insignia, ritual objects, and so on. Power often asserts itself symbolically precisely by insisting on the right to singularize an object, or a set or class of objects (Kopytoff 73).

As such, E.J. Lennox’s top hat is totally de-commoditized because, for one thing, it is part of a research collection as an artifact. For another, its viability to return to the commodity sphere has long diminished, as Kopytoff would point out, because it is no longer a fashionable item. Though it will no longer impart status on a wearer, it will, as part of a collection, connote power of the university. As long as it exists, the hat and accesories will provide an educational opportunity and a glimpse of the past. Of course, E.J. Lennox’s legacy of monumental buildings certainly far exceeds his top hat, but his top hat is significant because it humanizes him.

Amanda Memme is a graduate student in the MA Fashion Program at Ryerson University. This post was condensed and edited by Ingrid Mida.

Curator’s Note:

This top hat came into Ryerson University’s possession in 2014 via the donation of the Suddon-Cleaver Collection. Alan Suddon’s records indicated that it was given to him by Mary Gooderham. This fact is interesting since Gooderham was a client of Lennox, but there is no further information on that aspect of its provenance.

Works Cited:

Eggebeen, Janna. Personal Interview. 9 March 2017.

Folledore, Giuliano. Men’s Hats. Modena, Italy, Zanfi Editori, 1989.

Kopytoff, Igor. “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process.” The Social Life of Things, 1986, pp. 64–92.

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

Mida, Ingrid. Personal Interview. 27 February 2017.


Leave a comment

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.

 

 


1 Comment

A Study of a 1940s Cocktail Dress by Jack Liebman

frc_dresses_2014-007-024_front_watermarked_web

FRC2014.07.024 Black crepe dress with abstracted crinoline print by Jack Liebman (Photographed by Hannah Dobbie)

This post examines a black cocktail dress from the 1940s by Montreal-based manufacturer Jack Liebman. His design is characterized by its sophisticated colour scheme, flattering shape, and unique pattern. Dresses of the 1940s typically fell below the knee, the shoulders were usually squared, and the natural waist was often belted (note 1). This Jack Liebman dress shares many features in common with other wartime garments, and yet also blurs the perception of what a dress from the 1940s should look like.

This dress is made of a fine black crepe. There are bust darts, shoulder darts, two hidden zippers, and large sewn-in shoulder pads. The dress’s skirt is attached to the bodice at the natural waistline. The fullness this creates falls delicately to form a soft and flowing garment. One of this dress’s most interesting details is the addition of two draped panels that hang over the hips. (note 2). This dress is machine stitched with black thread. The tight even stitches have held up in some places, but are beginning to loosen and break in areas such as the waist and side seams. The garment is unlined, thus making all internal seams visible. The unfinished edges of the seam allowances are significantly frayed. Along the dress’s inner neckline is a Jack Liebman label. It reads “Original Fashion Preferred Styled by Jack Liebman”.

In addition to the intermittent seam breakage, this garment shows various signs of wear. There are holes in the side bodice and back skirt seams where the thread tore completely. The Jack Liebman label is significantly discoloured. There are several dark spots, implying untreated stains. Attached to each side seam at the waist is a corded thread suggesting that at one time there may have been a belt to accompany the dress.

This dress is stylish and unique, however it lacks fine details such as lining and high quality thread. Because of the absence of refinement in this garment’s construction, it can be conjectured that this dress was sold at a mid-level price point. Little is known about Jack Liebman Dresses Ltd., aside from its location at 423 Major Street, Place 3008, Montreal.

The impression this dress makes is one of stylish poise. The name of the original owner is unknown; it was purchased from a Salvation Army store in 1965 by collector Alan Suddon (note 3). The unique pattern and interesting details combine to conjure an image of an elegant Canadian woman marching through the cobblestone streets of Montreal in this flowing dress. The fabric would swoosh around her knees as she walked and the hip panels would bounce slightly with each step. This woman would match the crowd with her broadly padded shoulders and cinched natural waist, but she would stand out in it because of the boldness of the black crepe and the swirling, playful print that adorns it. The silhouette is very indicative of the 1940s and suggests femininity, poise, and vitality.

frc_dresses_2014-07-024_detail_watermarked_web

Detail of dress by Jack Liebman FRC2014.07.024 (Photographed by Hannah Dobbie)

The hip panels on this dress are reminiscent of eighteenth-century panniers. Panniers began as round hoops that attached to skirts. They gradually became flatter from front to back and wider in the hips. These caged apparatuses grew to be very large by the middle of the century; they could span as long as six feet from hip to hip (note 4). An alternative form of panniers was a bag-like structure that tied around the wearer’s waist to enhance the hips. These styles were very popular for most of the eighteenth century, however they began to fade away in the 1780s (note 5). The swooping panels on Jack Liebman’s garment act as a sort of deflated pannier. They draw attention to the hips, just as historic hoops did.

This historic reference is interesting on its own, however, it is enhanced by the choice of textile. The figures depicted on the textile are wearing crinolines; a second nod to the fashions of the past. The cage crinoline developed in the mid-nineteenth century, replacing petticoats and freeing the wearer’s legs beneath her skirt. Jessica Glasscock, a research associate at the Met Museum, describes the expansive silhouette achieved with the cage crinoline; “Made of hoops of whalebone, cane, or steel held together with cloth tapes or encased in fabric, the light, effective support of the cage crinoline allowed dresses to achieve an expanse as great or greater than that provided by the eighteenth-century panniers” (note 6). The crinoline came to replace the pannier, but both were meant to enhance and exaggerate the hips of their wearers.

It is interesting to compare the structure of seventeenth and eighteenth century bodies to the relatively free one of the 1940s. Wartime garments featured natural waists and loose, flowing skirts. Women began wearing pants. The fashions of this period were rooted in utility (note 7). Perhaps this is why Jack Liebman chose to include references to such seemingly whimsical and extravagant periods of fashion history.

An additional detail that is interesting to note is the dating of the dress. This garment came from the same period as the “New Look”. This was Dior’s first collection and it marked a shift from the days of practicality and fabric shortages to a time of prosperity and femininity. The “New Look” was famous for its cinched waist, full skirt, and extreme elegance (note 8). Jack Liebman’s dress features all of these characteristics, while also including unique hip panels that, while comparable to panniers, also resemble a peplum. Many of Dior’s designs featured peplums, as did various other garments throughout the 1950s (note 9). This Jack Liebman design is a good example of how the “New Look” echoed through fashion at different price points. Although Dior is credited with introducing the style, many designers all over the world were migrating towards these silhouettes before 1947.

Jack Liebman was a participant in the growing Canadian garment industry of the twentieth century and his garments contribute to our nation’s rich fashion history (note 10).

frc_dresses_2014-07-024_left_watermarked_web

Side view of Black crepe dress by Jack Liebman FRC2014.07.024  (Photographed by H.Dobbie)

Notes:

Note 1: “1940s Women’s Clothing,” University of Vermont Humanities, accessed January 15, 2017,  https://www.uvm.edu/landscape/dating/clothing_and_hair/1940s_clothing_women.php.

Note 2: The hip panels are made of two roughly rectangular panels. The shortest sides of these rectangles are sewn along centre front to the side seam and from the side seam to centre back, thus allowing the length of the panel to hang over the hip. The fabric from these panels are gathered where attached to the waist seam.

Note 3: Alan Suddon was a private collector who amassed the garments in the Suddon-Cleaver Collection. See Will Sloan, “A Stitch from Time,” Ryerson Today, December 12, 2014. http://www.ryerson.ca/news/news/General_Public/20141212-a-stitch-from-time/

Note 4: Yvette Mahe, “History of Women’s Hooped Petticoats”. Fashion In Time. 2013. www.fashionintime.org. January 19, 2017. http://www.fashionintime.org/history-womens-hooped-petticoats/3/

Note 5: To learn more about the history of panniers, visit, “Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History – Panniers,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accessed January 19, 2017, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1973.65.2/

Note 6:  See note 5.

Note 7: See note 1.

Note 8: To learn more about Dior’s “New Look”, visit, “Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History – Christian Dior (1905-1957),” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accessed January 23, 2017, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/dior/hd_dior.htm.

Note 9: See note 8.

Note 10: To learn more about the history of Canada’s garment industry, visit, “The Garment Industry and Retailing in Canada”, Berg Fashion Library, accessed February 6, 2017, https://www-bloomsburyfashioncentral-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/products/berg-fashion-library/encyclopedia/berg-encyclopedia-of-world-dress-and-fashion-the-united-states-and-canada/the-garment-industry-and-retailing-in-canada

References:

“Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History – Christian Dior (1905-1957),” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accessed January 23, 2017 http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/dior/hd_dior.htm.

“Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History – Panniers,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accessed January 19, 2017, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1973.65.2/

Mahe Yvette, “History of Women’s Hooped Petticoats”. Fashion In Time. 2013. www.fashionintime.org. January 19, 2017. http://www.fashionintime.org/history-womens-hooped-petticoats/3/

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

“The Garment Industry and Retailing in Canada”, Berg Fashion Library, accessed February 6, 2017, https://www-bloomsburyfashioncentral-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/products/berg-fashion-library/encyclopedia/berg-encyclopedia-of-world-dress-and-fashion-the-united-states-and-canada/the-garment-industry-and-retailing-in-canada

“1940s Women’s Clothing,” University of Vermont Humanities, accessed January 15, 2017,  https://www.uvm.edu/landscape/dating/clothing_and_hair/1940s_clothing_women.php.


Leave a comment

A Peek inside a Pumpkin Yellow Corset

FRC_2013.05.001_detail_1_web

Corset, c.1900. Cotton, Metal, Ryerson (FRC 2013.05.001) Photo by Millie Yates

This under bust corset (FRC 2013.05.001), dated 1900, is made of a rich pumpkin coloured woven jacquard cotton with a motif of staggered flower buds and stems (Note 1). The corset is lavishly trimmed with lace threaded with a similar yellow toned satin ribbon along the busk, and top and bottom edges. The centre front closes with metal slot and studs that are unmarked. The spoon busk measures 12 ¾ inches, with hand-stitching visible at the openings for surrounding each of the slots of the busk.  The closed waist measures 23 inches, and there is notable discolouration along the panels along the waistline of the corset, as well as signs of wear including small stains and discolouration. Looking closely, there appears to have been four separate remnants of stitching resembling the shape of a dart, located respectively on each side of the front and back of the corset.  There are 12 pairs of metal eyelets on the back to lace the corset; however the original laces are not present. The corset is lightly boned with 5 flexible bones placed directly beside each other, on each side of the corset, as well as one bone on either side of the eyelets at the back.  One of the bones located on the back pokes out of the casing at revealing what appears to be ¼ inch flat white metal bone. The garment appears to have been sewn by machine; however the stitching is noticeably lacking fluidity and accuracy.

FRC_2013.05.001_detail_2_web

Back view corset, Ryerson (FRC 2013.05.001) Photo by Millie Yates

Examining the inside of the corset, the top and bottom edges are trimmed in cotton bias tape in a darker shade of pumpkin yellow. The five bones on each side of the corset are clearly visible within their white cotton casings. The busk has been enclosed leaving the raw edge of the fabric visible, and closed with large herringbone like stitch along the length of the busk. The seaming is quite visible and the seam allowance along the waistline, and centre front and back have been left raw, and have shredded over the years. Upon close inspection there are remnants of vibrant pink stitching concentrated along the waistline. Given the placement it could be surmised that the raw edges of seaming along the waist could have been enclosed by lining along the waistline at some point.

FRC_HistPieces_2013.05.001_INS_4_Web

Inside view, Ryerson (FRC 2013.05.001) Photo by Ingrid Mida

 

This corset is a bit of a conundrum. The vibrant colour and trimmings, as well as light boning and size would suggest that this is more of a fashion corset for a smaller women; however the use of the spoon busk is usually for the more practical purpose of containing a larger stomach. Furthermore given the construction of the corset with flexible boning only being used at the sides, this corset was probably intended more for looks rather than to greatly reduce one’s waist; as it would only lightly shape and support the figure. The weight and quality of fabric do not seem to be appropriate for the early 1900s, as it is a lightweight cotton jacquard fabric in a very vibrant yellow (Note 2). Nor does use of the spoon busk, or decoration of it, which does not seem to be typical of the period (Note 2).  Additionally the decorative outside of the corset would infer that the garment was more of a fashion item, made for someone who could afford to have a more frivolously coloured item of clothing; in contradiction there is the odd lack of finishing on the inside of the garment, as well as in the accuracy of the stitching.

FRC_2013.05.001_rightside_threequarterview_web

Side view corset, Ryerson (FRC 2013.05.001) Photo by Millie Yates

 

 

The vibrant pink stitching remnants may indicate that there once was a lining of that colour; however the remaining raw edges still seem very odd for a corset from the early 20th century. As for the indications of the four dart-like stitch remnants, this again is extremely odd as darts are not a normal feature in corsets. This would suggest that they would have been added later to accommodate a smaller waist, and then taken out later to expand it again.

FRC_HistPieces_2013.05.001_INS_2_Web

Detail inside corset (FRC 2013.05.001) Photo by Ingrid Mida

Typically corsets from the early 1900s are longer lined, and have a more curvaceous silhouette with the S bend shape. This is not at all consistent with the style of this corset; though it could be argued that the surface embellishment is somewhat similar. While there were shorter under bust corsets, more similar to the shape of this corset, there are very distinct differences.

CI45.68.174_F

Corset, c.1907, French, The Metropolitain Museum of Art (C145.68.174)

Under bust corsets from the turn of the century have far more boning, and are constructed in less vibrant coloured but lavish fabrics like silk,  with more detail, and do not employ the use of a spoon busk, but a straight busk. They can however be trimmed with decoration, but the busk is not typically decorated.  This is clearly illustrated in contrast between the corset in question, and this plain white cotton corset, ca. 1900 (C.I.41.103.4) from the Met, which is similarly cut, but far more heavily boned. It also closes with a straight busk, and has far less surface decoration in contrast to the highly decorated spoon busk of the pumpkin yellow corset.

CI41.103.4_F

Corset, ca.1900, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I41.103.4)

There were also ribbon corsets at this time, like this cream ribbon corset from Ryerson (FRC 2014.07.228) which have only light boning at the sides, very similar to this corset in number and placement-all being concentrated beside one another at the sides.  The fabric used in this ribbon corset is also far more expensive, being entirely silk,. Though the fabric is on the more decorative side, the fabric is still a plain weave, not patterned. Finally, the ribbon corset does not have similar trimmings, but instead a single ribbon decoration at the top of the busk, which is straight not a spoon shaped.

FRC_Corsets_2014.07.228_rightside_threequarterview_web

Ribbon Corset, c.1900, R&G No.65, Ryerson (FRC 2014.07.228) Photo by Millie Yates

None of the other early 20th century corsets were constructed from comparable textiles – neither in composition, weave or colour. Nor do any of the corsets feature decorated busks, or even just spoon busks; nor do they have separate panels cut along the waistline. Given the inconsistencies when compared to various other corsets from the early 1900s, there is a good chance that this pumpkin cotton corset is a vintage theatre costume corset, taking inspiration from the style of early 1900s corsets.

This corset seems to be a hybrid of different corset styles which would coincide with it being a theatre costume corset, as costume designers do not always make period accurate costumes, but are looking more for a certain aesthetic. This would also account for the vibrant colour of the fabric, and stitching, as well as the amount of surface decoration. Additionally the peculiar lack of finishing on the inside would makes sense as well, as  theatre costumes are often left unfinished on the inside as they are not visible to the audience, as well as for ease of making alterations. This could also explain the dart like shapes still visible, as it could have been altered for a production. Finally the amount of wear it seems to have could be explained by the use it would have gone through being a costume; but also suggested that it is a vintage item.

As there was no provenance attached to the artifact upon acquisition, there is no way to know with certainty the origins of this undergarment. However, this artifact offers an interesting peek into 20th century corsetry and the complex nature of dress artifacts.

 

Notes

1. For more information on fabrics, see: http://www.dressandtextilespecialists.org.uk/dats-toolkits

2. See various early twentieth century corsets, all in pale coloured, plain cotton or silk fabrics with surface embellishments and straight plain busks.

Corset, ca.1900

Corset, ca.1900

Corset, ca.1900

Corset, ca.1900-1905

Corset, ca.1900

3. To learn a bit more about common corsetry misconceptions, this article offers additional information: http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/everything-you-know-about-corsets-is-false/

 

References

“Corset.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 8, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/86753.

“Corset.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 8, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/109083.

“Corset.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 8, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/86390.

“Corset.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 8, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/86393.

“Corset.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 8, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/86394.

“Corset.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 8, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/86398.

“Corsets Early 19th Century – Edwardian.” Vintage Fashion Guild : Lingerie Guide : Corsets Early 19th Century. July 11, 2012. Accessed March 20, 2016. http://vintagefashionguild.org/lingerie-guide/corsets-early-19th-century-edwardian/.

Johnston, Lucy. “Corsets in the Early 20th Century.” Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed March 20, 2016. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/c/corsets-early-20th-century/.

Mida, Ingrid, and Alexandra Kim. The Dress Detective a Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic,  2015.

“Reflecting Historical Periods in Stage Costume.” Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed March 20, 2016. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/r/reflecting-historical-periods-in-stage-costume/.

Steele, Valerie. The Corset: A Cultural History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

Waugh, Norah. Corsets and Crinolines. New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1970.

 

This post was reviewed and edited by Curator and Dress Historian Ingrid Mida.


Leave a comment

Smythe Les Vestes: The Story is in the Name

By Jennifer Braun

Designer Elsa Schiaparelli once wrote; “A dress has no life of its own unless it is worn.” According to this statement, a one-button women’s blazer which now resides in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection (FRC) has had a dejected biography and a short-lived one at best. From the manufacturer straight to the FRC, the blazer adorned with a houndstooth pattern and caramel leather elbow patches has never been worn or owned by a particular individual. Instead, it has been stored in the archives since its production in 2012 in order for students and researchers alike to study its craftsmanship and the unique history of a Canadian company – Smythe les Vestes – who found success through its popularity.

FRC_Coats_2012.02.001_FRT_Web

Black and white tweed jacket with leather patches on elbows, double vent back, single button closure, patch pockets, notched lapel. Label reads: Smythe les Vestes. FRC 2012.02.001

Designed and manufactured in Toronto, this fitted blazer was coveted by FRC Collection Co-ordinator Ingrid Mida with good reason. As fan of the brand from its launch in 2004, she asked the designers at Smythe to donate something to the collection in 2012 and chose this jacket as well as another piece from the same collection – a black wool tuxedo style womenswear jacket FRC2012.02.002 (Note 1).

The fine tailoring and quality that went into creating this jacket are evident at first glance. Sold for the price of $695 and stamped with the celebrity approval of the likes of Kate Middleton, January Jones, Charlize Theron, Blake Lively and more – who would expect anything less?

FRC_Coats_2012.02.001_RGT_Web

Side view of black and white tweed jacket with leather patches on elbows, double vent back, single button closure, patch pockets, notched lapel.      Label reads: Smythe les Vestes. FRC 2012.02.001

The piece currently housed in the FRC was a part of Smythe’s pre-fall 2012 collection and was one of three one-button variations that made-up the season’s line. The blazer has a classic cut and is fastened at the waist with one brown button. Three same-coloured surgeon cuffs also adorn its slightly cropped sleeves. On the front of the jacket, to the right and to the left, two diagonally-cut flap pockets can be found.

FRC_Coats_2012.02.001_Det_11_Web

Detail of jacket’s leather patches on elbows  Smythe les Vestes.                     FRC 2012.02.001

This timeless staple – the jacket – is the pillar of Smythe’s success. The company was founded in 2004 by lifelong friends Christie Smythe and Andrea Lenczner when they discovered a gap in the market to perfect and bring the women’s blazer outside of the office. At the time, 200-dollar statement jeans were having a moment and women needed a third piece to finish off this easy-going look. They believed a jacket was the solution. Evidently, women everywhere agreed. More than 10 years later, Smythe can be found on the racks of high-end retailers like Holt Renfrew, Barney’s New York, Bloomingdales and more.

At its inception, Smythe was the only company who specialized in the one garment category. Before their introduction, shoppers bought tailored jackets as part of a full suit and not a separate. By specializing, they were able to perfect this garment type and reach mass appeal.

Their first collection was sold at Holt Renfrew and was an instant success. Their first shipment included a one-button blazer which become the brand’s foundation. “The one-button blazer was one of the pillars of our very first collection and we really built our brand on that silhouette,” Lenczner explained to me in a personal phone interview.

FRC_Coats_2012.02.001_Det_8_Web

Button detail on black and white tweed jacket with leather patches on elbows, Smythe les Vestes. FRC 2012.02.001

The one-button blazer did not come about without several fittings and challenges, however. Besides a bra, a jacket is the most complicated garment in terms of construction and pattern work. “Part of our challenge was that we really wanted to establish our own fit,” Lenczner says. To explain further, she said:

We were frustrated that we would see this amazing jacket or blazer on a mannequin and then we would go into the store and discover that the whole back of the mannequin was pinned […] So we really challenged our pattern makers to break those rules and to really heavily tailor our garments so that the fit that we saw and wanted for so many years is actually what they received.

FRC_Coats_2012.02.001_BCK_Web

Back of black and white tweed jacket with leather patches on elbows,       Smythe les Vestes. FRC 2012.02.001

They worked with several different pattern makers and went through 20 to 30 different drafts before getting the right fit. The process ended up taking about six months.

The Smythe jacket which now resides in the FRC was modelled off of that first one-button blazer. There have been slight modifications since they first introduced it, such as a minor modification of the lapel width and the sleeve length. Like the first version, the FRC’s rendition also has a double-back vent and a typical menswear inspired print.

FRC_Coats_2012.02.001_B34_Web

Black and white tweed jacket with leather patches on elbows, double vent back, single button closure, patch pockets, notched lapel.                            Smythe les Vestes. FRC 2012.02.001

Adopted from men’s fashion, the tailored jacket for women was not always deemed an appropriate choice for the opposite sex, however. According to Diana Crane, upper-class women first adopted suit jackets as early as the seventeenth century to be worn as part of their riding habits and for walking in the countryside. By the nineteenth century, it was still considered an ‘alternative style’ of dress for women along with ties, men’s hats, waistcoats and men’s shirts. The fashionable style originated in England, and was apparently later adopted by the French. And though by the nineteenth century the suit jacket was considered “the symbol of the emancipated woman”, it was still not appropriate to be worn with trousers (Note 2). Instead in the 1860s and 1870s, women wore tailored but skirted suits modelled after masculine styles (Note 3).

By the 1930s, the ‘mannish trend’ swept all forms of women’s apparel. The heightened popularity of men’s inspired women’s wear was due to women entering the workforce during World War I. Marketti and Angstman explain: “Women adopted tailored clothing to convey a message of ability and professionalism and as a means of communicating the social change of women entering the workforce.” In addition to working, more women participated in sports like cycling and hiking. Women’s magazines such as Vogue declared suits an indispensable and “essential garment.” Popular culture and Hollywood stars helped create an environment in the 1930s where masculine clothing for women was accepted, including the adoption of tailored jackets (Note 3).

The 1970s and 1980s saw a new dress-for-success craze. According to Patricia Cunningham, by 1978, women comprised 41 percent of the work force and the fashion industry took note. Once again, suits and the tailored jacket was reinforced as a sign of power. Women’s magazines and books like John Molloy’s 1977 The Women’s Dress for Success Book promoted the importance of maintaining an appearance of authority in the workplace. The suit jacket was a common clothing item that was promoted as a garment that would help women achieve such a look.

Ironically, in 2004, after decades of media effort to put women in suits and limiting power dressing to the board room, Smythe hit a gold mine when they decided to take the suit jacket out of the workplace and into a contemporary, fashionable world.

Still, just like the fashions of the 1930s that advised women to choose “clothes that would appear neither offensively ‘mannish’ nor dangerously feminine” as a way to “appear professional and avoid unwanted attention” (Note 4), the Smythe jacket also offers both feminine and masculine details. “We love that mix of our fit is really feminine, it’s very tailored to the body, and we love the juxtaposition between a tailored really feminine fit with a menswear driven fabric,” Lenczner explains.

FRC_Coats_2012.02.001_Det_2_Web

Detail of black and white tweed jacket, Smythe les Vestes. FRC 2012.02.001

The houndstooth pattern chosen for this particular jacket appears many times throughout their collections, as well as other typical men-inspired textiles like herringbone, Donegal tweed and pinstripe.

Their pre-fall 2012 collection as well as previous collections are often inspired by fabrics as opposed to a particular theme. “We’re very lifestyle driven so when we design every collection, we come from a lifestyle point-of-view as well as we are inspired by textiles.”

Following the dress-for-success craze of the 1970s, in our culture, blazers and other suit-like jackets are often considered to denote professionalism, seriousness of purpose and formality (Note 5).

For the Smythe designers, the one-button blazer has come to represent something similar:

I think to us it represents confidence [..] Our customer, she’s driven by fashion, she is very conscious of value, you know, she’s not into fast fashion, she is conscious of her body and she wants to show her body off and a customer who likes to show her figure is interested in our line because of the tailoring and because of the fit.

In 2011, Smythe begun introducing other garment types like blouses, pants, and dresses. “There came a time where we just wanted to flex our design muscles and have fun, and introduce new categories, and show people that we can do other things,” Lenczner says.

FRC_Coats_2012.02.001_LBL_Web

Label reads: Smythe les Vestes. FRC 2012.02.001

Still, it is the jacket that continues to define the Smythe brand and is reflected in the name of the company since Les vestes translated from the French means ‘the jackets’. This garment type is the brand’s DNA and is what makes Smythe a truly sought-after name, coveted by celebrities and fashion research collections alike.

Notes:

1. See an earlier post on this blog dated November 8, 2013 called “A Made in Canada Success Story: Smythe Jackets.” 

2. See Diana Crane, “Clothing Behavior as Non-Verbal Resistance: Marginal Women and Alternative Dress in the Nineteenth Century.” Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture 3.2 (1999): 241-45.

3. See Sara Marcketti and Emily Thomsen Angstman. “The Trend for Mannish Suits in the 1930s.” Dress 39.2 (2013): 135-52.

4. Ibid: 138.

5. Monica M. Moore and Gwyneth I. Williams. “No Jacket Required: Academic Women and the   Problem of the Blazer.” Fashion, Style & Popular Culture 1.3 (2014):  360.

Works Cited:

Atkinson, Nathalie. “Full Mettle Jackets; Tired of the Hunt, the Duo Behind Smythe Figured it would be Easier to make their Own Outerwear than to Try to Find it in Stores.” National  Post, September 12,  2009.

Cunningham, Patricia A, “Dressing for Success: The Re-Suiting of Corporate America in the 1970s.” The Berg Fashion Library, 2005. Accessed: 6 Mar. 2016.

Crane, Diana. “Clothing Behavior as Non-Verbal Resistance: Marginal Women and Alternative   Dress in the Nineteenth Century.” Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture  3.2 (1999): 241-68.

Lenczner, Andrea. Personal interview. 11 February 2016.

Marcketti, Sara B., and Emily Thomsen Angstman. “The Trend for Mannish Suits in the 1930s.” Dress 39.2 (2013): 135-52.

Moore, Monica M., and Gwyneth I. Williams. “No Jacket Required: Academic Women and the   Problem of the Blazer.” Fashion, Style & Popular Culture 1.3 (2014): 359-76.

 

Jennifer Braun is a freelance fashion writer from Montreal, currently completing her first year in the MA Fashion program at Ryerson University. When she isn’t writing about the fashion scene, she’s watching Sex and the City or planning her next big story. Follow her on Twitter @justbejealous.

This article was edited and posted by Collection Co-ordinator Ingrid Mida.

 


1 Comment

A Bed Jacket by Mercy: A Tale of Copyright Infringement

By Jennifer Braun

FRC 2015.06.001_right side three quarter view_oweb

Jacket by Mercy, Spring 2008 FRC2015.06.001

The bed jacket, a lightweight coat made to be worn while sitting or reclining in bed, originated in the nineteenth century and was especially popular during the early to mid-20th century (note 1). This type of garment served as a source of inspiration for Canadian designers Richard Lyle and Jennifer Halchuk of the label Mercy (note 2). Their rendition of the bed jacket for spring 2008 –produced in a delicate floral print – was not meant to be worn for warmth in bed, but rather to be worn as a garment of fashion. This jacket is now part of the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection (FRC2015.06.001) and what is especially notable about it is that it became the subject of an international case of copyright infringement.

The infamous Mercy jacket is tea-stained beige cotton voile featuring a vintage red rose print. Lyle and Halchuk sourced the fabric from textile design company Ascher Studio (note 3); the fabric was tea-dyed and custom quilted for the jacket. The lightweight, loose-fitting jacket is waist length with rounded edges at the bottom front, an elastic hem, and an interior drawstring in the back. The ¾ balloon sleeves have elbow dart detailing. An asymmetrical frayed beige silk sash hangs along the front of the jacket and creates a set bow on the right side. Halchuk developed the pattern from scratch and came up with the idea while working on a MAC Cosmetics campaign Danse. Mercy’s Spring 2008 collection featured other garments in the same fabric including dresses and tops. Halchuk reported that the entire collection did well, but the jacket was especially popular. At the time, the Mercy jacket retailed for about $300.

Canadian journalist Nathalie Atkinson noticed a similar jacket in the March 2009 issue of Teen Vogue, where the jacket had been credited to Diane von Furstenberg’s Spring 2009 collection. The jacket also was worn by Jessica Alba on the March 2009 cover of Elle.

jessica-alba-elle-us-march09-subscribers-cover

Although Atkinson recognized that issues of copyright in fashion were systemic, she thought this case was particularly problematic since von Furstenberg was president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America at the time, as well as an active spokesperson on fashion design copyright protection.

In a personal interview with Atkinson in November 2015 (note 4), she revealed to me that a key factor in her decision to pursue this story was because of von Furstenberg’s status: “She was at the time canvasing for this, so it was like caught with the hand in the cookie jar and so it was more the idea – it wasn’t like, I’m going to be the mouth piece for Richard and Jennifer at Mercy to pursue this. It was very much – this is an interesting test to case, to sort of look at these issues…”.

Atkinson observed the small details and design gestures of the Mercy jacket and noticed the similarities in the von Furstenberg copy. “There’s a finger print that a designer has,” Atkinson explained: “[Mercy is] not only a brand that I had covered, but they’re something that I wore, so that sleeve shape in particular, and the way there were like three – I think there were like three stitches to bring the elbow in to give it a balloon […] it was something that I recognized.”

Continue reading


Leave a comment

FRC Team 2015-2016

I am delighted to welcome two work-study students to the FRC team. They are Alys Mak-Pilsworth and Millie Yates. Both are upper year Fashion Design students with full schedules and big dreams, but there is a saying – give a busy person a task to do and there is no doubt that it will get done. Their talents will be used to best effect in helping me enhance the access and profile of the Fashion Research Collection.

Alys Mak-Pilsworth

Alys Mak-Pilsworth

 

Millie Yates

Millie Yates

We have big plans to add more images to the FRC website and create an enhanced social media profile. Stay tuned for exciting enhancements.