Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive


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Assembling the Puzzle of Jack Liebman’s Career

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jack Liebman crepe cocktail dress c.1945 FRC 2014.07.024

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note 7: See note 2.

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

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

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

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

Note 12: See note 5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 


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A Weston & Wells Reversible Plated Bustle

by Christine Gow

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

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Reversible Player Bustle c.1885

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

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

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

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Label on bustle FRC2013.99.001

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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An Ode to Claire McCardell in the object-based analysis of a Red Cotton Dress

By Jenn Bilczuk

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Claire McCardell for Townley red cotton dress c.1940-1949 FRC 2014.07.477

In the 1940’s, Paris was under occupation and designers elsewhere were cut off from their Parisian inspirations. To prevent the demise of the industry, American designers were thrust into a position of fashion authority that had been previously denied to them (Buckland). Key influencers, like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, fueled by economic nationalism promoted homegrown talent in hopes of stimulating American investment in American designers (Buckland). The increased publicity and the changing social landscape of the forties elevated Claire McCardell’s simple yet stylish design into fashion discourse. She emerged as: “refreshing unFrench” (Yohannan).

McCardell designed well cut garments that transitioned into well made mass-produced pieces. Trained in haute couture techniques, McCardell repelled from the frivolity of couture garments – but not without studying every Parisian design she could get her hands on, giving her an impeccable understanding of clothing construction (Robinson, 104). McCardell took inspiration from the needs of the American women that she identified with. During the war, women were interacting with the world in new ways and McCardell was acutely aware of the evolution of the mid-century woman – she aimed to create clothing that was “at once appropriate for the office, cocktail hour and leisure” (Yohannan).

Claire McCardell’s designs were radical in the context of the forties, since they did not feature shoulder pads, back zippers, boning, and the heavily constructed looks of the times (Yohannan). Instead McCardell garments embodied the fundamentals of sportswear as it is known today: offering functionality, quality and practicality, characteristics so entrenched in contemporary fashions that they remain largely “under appreciated and understudied” (Robinson, 100). McCardell created pieces that were fashionable  and durable. Some of her signature elements were derived from the functional characteristics of American working class clothing. For example, her use of cotton, reinforced by classic double stitching from denim work eventually became a design staple (245, Kirkland). Her production of stylish clothing in traditionally non-fashionable fabrics was ground breaking. She preferred wools, jerseys and cottons because of their reasonable price and availability (Kirkland, 252); “effectively ennobling everyday materials by way of thoughtful design and deftly executed construction” (Yohannan).

These design signatures came to be known as “McCardellisms”, distinctive in identifying a garment as her design (Robinson, 110). She made use of techniques from couture production, but only “those that worked within the constraints of mass production and American fashion” (Robinson, 106). Her distinctive use of the bias cut was influenced by the work of Madeleine Vionnet, which she was exposed to during her training years in Paris (Robinson, 105). The McCardellisms were features that integrated functionality into women’s every day wear. She insisted on deep side pockets in every garment, including her evening gowns, as pockets offered “a place to put one’s hands so as not to feel ill at ease or vulnerable’” (Yohannan and Nolf, quoted by Stanfill). As she instructed her models to display her designs with their shoulders leaning back, hips thrust forward, and hands in their pockets, she is credited with creating the modern slouched stance used on the catwalk today (Robinson, 108).

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Front view Claire McCardell for Townley red cotton dress 1940-1949 FRC2014.07.477

The Ryerson Research Fashion Collection has a garment by Claire McCardell : a red cotton below-knee length dress in a white and black trefoil motif, with a shawl collar and short sleeves (FRC2014.07.477). The dress was dated by the donor to the  1940s. In 1940, McCardell began her second chapter with Townley Frocks as the head designer. The label in the dress reads “Claire McCardell Clothes: By Townley”. During her first period designing with the company in the thirties, McCardell’s work was strictly under the Townley label – the company fearing that naming the designer would make McCardell difficult to work with (Kirland. 239). The label change in the forties however only strengthened the relationship between McCardell and Townley, which lasted until her death in 1958.

The dress itself is in remarkable condition – reflecting the designer’s belief that “good fashion somehow earns the right to survive” (Kirkland, 307). Any displays of aging are only visible upon close inspection. Under the collar and inside the pockets, the original darker red colour contrasts the faded red of the exposed fabric, a combination of age and wear. The latter is further displayed in the discolouration visible directly in the underarms and the hem of the skirt which is slightly tattered; seams are starting to separate, the stitches loosening from one another. There are multiple alterations – re-stitching done in red, and eventually in contrasting threads of black and white. The signs of wear and the overall condition signify a beloved dress, one that was worn often but taken care of, supported by the integrity of its production.

The red cotton dress is a modified princess cut, the seams detailed in white contrasting thread – a McCardellism of reimagining classic patterns in modern fashion. The princess cut features continuous vertical panels, shaped to the body through the torso with no waistline seam – rather than a typical bodice and skirt. Alternatively, the red dress has two vertical bust darts that begin near the shoulders and meet the top of the large side pockets, detailed again in white thread; eventually merging into the side seam at the bottom of the pockets. There is a rather large zipper on the left side that was originally red, but has chipped away to reveal silver from use – it’s placement essential to a woman’s ability to dress herself, another McCardellism (Robinson, 125). The center seam mimics the double stitching techniques borrowed from denim work. The dress is cut on a bias with pink tape used selectively along the inner hem, both shoulders, and on the inner right side seam: a signature detail, giving the garment greater movement and elegantly draping on the body.

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Back view of Claire McCardell red cotton dress 1940-1949 FRC2014.07.477 

In 1947, after the war had ended, Dior released the New Look – characterized by its emphasized bust, longer hemline, indented waist and accentuated hips (Charleston). The look contradicted militaristic aesthetics of the period that broadened women’s shoulders and narrowed their hips (McDowell, 70). Comparatively, McCardell’s red cotton dress in the FRC reflects a similar silhouette, leading me to believe that the dress could have been produced in the later years of the 1940s – specifically between the years of 1946-1949. Despite the presence of the aforesaid McCardellisms; the piece conspicuously lacks other specific design details of her pieces in the early forties, such as adjustable waistlines, wraps and spaghetti ties, large belts, and gilt hooks and eyes. While McCardell rarely used zippers after the war, when she did they were a highly visible design detail (Robinson, 125); in this case the red cotton dress features a zipper on the left side, drawing attention with contrasting white thread.

Sally Kirkland, a Vogue fashion editor, recalled a conversation in spring 1946 with McCardell when the designer shared her prediction that the “following spring she thought women were going to want very full and much longer skirts” (271) in response to the silhouettes of the forties and the restrictions enforced during the war. The next spring, McCardell released a collection of dresses with full circle skirts and dropped hemlines – working out “new proportions so that the unaccustomed length and fullness was set off by a snug bias bodice and tiny waist” (Kirkland, 271). The red dress embodies these very features: a narrow fit through the bust, drawing in at the waist, and opening towards the hips; which are further accentuated by the large, rounded pockets on both the left and right side. The back of the dress is embellished with a piercing, almost a gore, and without risking the integrity of waistline, offers additional volume while making the round skirt much fuller. It is also significantly longer than her dresses from earlier in the decade; measuring at 31 inches from the front waist to the hem, and hangs slightly longer at the back measuring 34 inches from waist to hem. The skirt hangs around 10-12 inches longer than previous designs (Kirkland, 271). The dress would fall well below the knee on a wearer between 5’5″ – 5’7″.

All things considered, I believe that McCardell’s 1946 prediction that “fashion would gravitate towards longer lengths, yards of fabric, and rounded narrow shoulders”, manifested itself in the red cotton dress of the FRC, dating it more accurately to the years 1946-1949 (Robinson, 135). While both Dior and McCardell envisioned the emergence of the silhouette, Dior’s dramatic interpretation overshadowed Claire’s much simpler designs. In this one red cotton dress, I see evidence of the difference between the old world of French fashion versus the new American look; the male versus the female designer;  and glamour versus practicality. Her vision developed into a more youthful feminine silhouette “often made more so with a shawl collar”, and produced in practical fabrics as displayed in the red cotton dress (Kirkland, 71); a mainstay in the “wardrobe of college girls, working women and housewives alike” (Yohannan). The red cotton dress of the FRC perfectly embodies Claire McCardell’s approach to dressing the American woman; it harmoniously incorporates function into fashion, moving with the wearer through the day in effortless style.

References

Buckland, Sandra Stansbery. “Promoting American Designers, 1940–44: Building Our Own House.” Twentieth-Century American Fashion. Ed. Linda Welters and Patricia A. Cunningham. Oxford: Berg, 2008. N.p. Dress, Body, Culture. Bloomsbury Fashion Central. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.

Claire McCardell Red Cotton Dress. American. 1940-1949. Ryerson Fashion Research Collection, Toronto. Ryerson University. Web.

Charleston, Beth Duncuff. “Christian Dior (1905–1957).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004. N.p Web 29 Feb. 2017

Kirkland, Sally. “McCardell.” American Fashion: The Life and Lines of Adrian, Mainbocher, McCardell, Norell, and Trigére. Ed. Sarah Tomerlin Lee. New York: Quadrangle/New York Times Book, 1975. 209-316. Print.

McCardell, Claire. What Shall I Wear?: What, Where, When, and How Much of Fashion. N.p.: Simon and Schuster, 1956. Print.

McDowell, Colin. Forties Fashion and the New Look. N.p.: Bloomsbury, 1997. Print.

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion. London: Bloomsbury, 2014. Print.

Mida, Ingrid. Personal Interview. 1 March 2017

Robinson, Rebecca J. “American Sportswear: A Study of the Origins and Women Designers from the 1930’s to the 1960’s.” Thesis. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, n.d. 2003. Web. 7 Mar. 2017

Stanfill, Sonnet. “Curating the Fashion City: New York Fashion at the V&A.” Fashion’s World Cities. Ed. Christopher Breward and David Gilbert. Oxford: Berg, 2006. N.p. Cultures of Consumption Series. Bloomsbury Fashion Central. Web. 28 Feb. 2017

Yohannan, Kohle. “McCardell, Claire.” The Berg Companion to Fashion. Ed. Valerie Steele. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010. N.p Bloomsbury Fashion Central. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.

Jenn Bilczuk is a first-year MA Fashion student at Ryerson University. This post was written for an object-based research assignment in MA Theory II and has been edited for the FRC blog by Collection Co-ordinator Ingrid Mida. 


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Drawing as a Research Tool: Observing The Sleeping Beauty Bluebird Costume

bluebirdfront

Front view of the Bluebird costume. (FRC 2014.08.015A) Drawing by Teresa Adamo 2017.

Observing an historical artifact can be overwhelming at first, especially when presented with a garment that has a large amount of surface details and materials.  Creating observational drawings can be an excellent method for object-based research. As stated in The Dress Detective, “sketching is a method of helping the mind to slow down and, in the process of doing so, take notice of small details” (Note 1).  With this in mind, I attempted to put the technique to use when studying the men’s Bluebird costume from the National Ballet of Canada.

Before diving into the artifact itself, it is important to discuss preparation for drawing in a research setting.  I found it useful to have a few goals in mind before I began drawing.  The following three goals are general prompts that I used to guide my experience, but each individual researcher may have different goals in mind specific to the artifact they are studying.  

  1. The main goal of the observation stage according to Mida and Kim is to ensure that “factual evidence related to the object is retained and recorded” (Note 2). Drawing will help you capture details that could otherwise be missed.  
  2. You are creating a memory aid to help you remember and describe specific elements of the artifact.  Since fashion is a visual medium, visual aids are important to include in any research project.
  3. Drawing should be an engaging experience to help you during the reflection and interpretation stages of your research.  Your sensory and personal reactions will be heightened if you spend time dedicated to the careful observation of the object.  

The use of different materials will affect the outcome of the drawing.  Each medium has its benefits and drawbacks.  Ink creates harsh outlines and it may be more difficult to show three dimensional form, but it is the most useful for capturing small details.  It is the ideal medium when clarity is desirable, and it scans and photographs well.  Pencil is better for shading to show form and texture, but it can be messier and may smudge on the paper.  It can also be more difficult to photograph and scan since graphite becomes shiny as it is layered.  For this example I used acid-free India ink pens, but I would advise using whatever you feel most comfortable drawing with.  You do not necessarily need to purchase expensive equipment, especially if you are just drawing for your own notes.  As Mida and Kim state, “the goal is not to create a work of art, but simply to aid the process of observation.  The sketch might end up being a crude line drawing, but this is a valuable method of recording key information and embracing the Slow Approach to Seeing” (Note 3).

Case Study: Bluebird costume from the National Ballet of Canada

 

Left: Inside view showing hand stitching and finishing.  Right: Back view focusing on placement of applique trim. (FRC 2014.08.015A) Drawings by Teresa Adamo 2017

The Sleeping Beauty has been part of the classical ballet cannon ever since it premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1890 (Note 4).  Marius Petipa created the choreography, and commissioned Pyotr Ilyich-Tchaikovsky to compose an original score for the ballet.  Sleeping Beauty has been part of the National Ballet’s repertoire since its premier in the company on November 26th, 1953 (Note 5).  The performance has gone through several revisions throughout the NBC’s history, but this particular Bluebird costume was designed for the 1972 version, which first premiered September 1st with choreography by Rudolf Nureyev, after Marius Petipa (Note 6).  While the previous performances featured costumes by Kay Ambrose, the designer Nicholas Georgiadis was responsible for the set and costume design of the 1972 production.  This production was a resounding success and boosted the NBC to international fame.  The opening performance at the new Four Seasons Center In 2006 was The Sleeping Beauty, for which the original sets and costumes by Georgiadis were restored (Note 7).

This design features a streamlined silhouette which lies close to the body.  It has fitted set in sleeves and princess seams down the front and back, creating a symmetrical 8-paneled design.  The shell fabric is mauve jacquard with metallic rose gold filaments that create an organic wave pattern. The shell fabric is pilling, most notably on the sleeve and side panels where the fabric was under stress and friction.  The garment opens at center front with hook and bar tape, as well as 6 sew-on snaps.  There is an additional row of single hook and bars, each individually sewn on the front so that the garment has a small amount of adjustability depending on which dancer is wearing it.  Since the sleeves are fitted and only have a 7 ¾” wrist opening, there is a 5” slit which also features hook and bar closures.

bluebirdcuff

Detail of sleeve showing slit, trim and internal construction. (FRC 2014.08.015A) Drawing by Teresa Adamo 2017.

One of the most striking features of this artifact is its three distinct decorative elements: applique, silver trim, and ribbon loops.  Applique arabesques cover the front and back of the shirt.  They are made of yellow fabric with gold metallic thread, and are covered with black hexagonal net, the layers being held together by a dense black zig-zag stitch around the edge.  Some of the black net has ripped from the wear and tear of the costume over time, exposing the yellow fabric.  There is also silver trim in two styles, one with a foliage pattern and another with a fleur de lis pattern.  The thin trim is  ¾” wide.  The large trim is 1 ⅝” at its widest point.  The ribbons are applied as loops to the shoulders, wrists, and bottom hem in a pattern alternating the three colours.  

bluebirdsmalltrimbluebirdlargetrim

Detail of small “fleur de lis” and large “foliage” silver trim. (FRC 2014.08.015A) Drawing by Teresa Adamo 2017.

Switching focus to the inside of the garment, I observed that the visible seams have been finished with a three-thread serger, and the widths of the seam allowances range from 1” at center front to ¼” at the top of the center back.  The center front seam allowance on either side has a ¾” slash at the approximate waist, possible to allow the dancer more movement.  The front panels were also advantageously cut so that the center front is along the fabric selvedge so that it does not have to be finished and saves yardage.  The body has been sewn to a layer of fairly thick basket weave beige canvas, while the sleeves are lined with a lighter plain weave cotton in a similar color.  The lower panel has metallic blue lining which clean finishes the hem, and would look more aesthetically pleasing than the canvas if it were to show during a performance.    

bluebirdclippedseam

Detail of center front seam allowance showing slash and blanket stitch. (FRC 2014.08.015A) Drawing by Teresa Adamo 2017.

After I finished recording all of my observations in writing and drawing, I looked back at the goals of the exercise to judge whether or not they were accomplished.  I do feel that I captured more of the small details that I would not have seen from simply writing my observations.  For example, at first I did not know how to represent the silver trim, so in order to make detail drawings I had to closely look to see that they were made of metallic filaments very tightly wrapped together.  From there, I could find a way to draw them accurately.  I did find that while describing the garment, it was useful to have the memory aid with me to prompt descriptions, especially of the interior of the garment which could easily be overlooked because of the amount of surface detail on this costume.  Although this post will not cover the reflection and interpretation stages of researching an object-based design, it definitely aided in my understanding of the garment’s construction.  

Creating observational drawings can be a great start to object-based research.  Drawing gives you a comprehensive and in depth understanding of the physical properties of the artifact.  It also makes research more memorable and engaging.  Fashion is a visual and tactile industry, so fashion research benefits from an observational method which takes advantage of the same characteristics.

Notes

Note 1: For more information on object-based research and the Slow Approach to Seeing, refer to Ingrid Mida and Alexandra Kim, The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015), 36.

Note 2: Ibid, 28.

Note 3: Ibid, 35.

Note 4: For more information about The Sleeping Beauty, please visit the National Ballet’s Virtual Museum,“The Sleeping Beauty,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed February 28, 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Sleeping-Beauty

Note 5: Ibid.

Note 6: For more information about Nicholas Georgiadis, please visit the National Ballet’s Virtual Museum, “Nicolas Georgiadis,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed February 28, 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/Designers/Georgiadis

Note 7: Ibid.

Bibliography

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

“Nicolas Georgiadis,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed February 28, 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/Designers/Georgiadis
“The Sleeping Beauty,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed February 28, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Sleeping-Beauty


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Making History: A Romantic Tutu

By Allycia Coolidge & Joanna Lupker (Edited by Ingrid Mida)

 

allycia-coolidge-and-joanna-lupker-1845-pas-de-quatre-romantic-tutu

Allycia Coolidge wearing a romantic tutu inspired by the costumes of the Pas de Quatre ballet of 1845 for the Making History Project (Photo by Joanna Lupker)

In our Making History project, we chose to analyze and recreate a Romantic tutu inspired by the Pas de Quatre ballet. This ballet was first performed in London, England during the Romantic era on July 12, 1845 and choreographed by Jules Perrot. This ballet featured four prima ballerinas of the Romantic era: Lucile Grahn, Taglioni, Carlotta, and Fanny Cerrito. They were icons of the time and often appeared in each other’s benefit performances, but this was the first performance to showcase all four leading female dancers in a single ballet.

Prior to the Romantic period, female dancers wore heavy constrictive dresses resembling court fashion that weighed them down and limited their ability to dance. The key change in ballet costuming was the rise of skirt hems, which was seen as quite scandalous at the time (Mida 37). The changes allowed ballerinas to show off their much improved and intricate footwork. This new shortened ballet skirt fell to just below the knee.

The Romantic tutu endures as a classic costume of ballet that continues to be featured in performances of major dance companies around the world. Each element of the costume emphasizes the femininity of the dancer.

When this ballet was presented in 1845, the bodices of the costumes were constructed very similarly to those seen in regular clothing. Like the corsets of the time, they were tight (Bicat), with low cut necklines to put the dancer’s long necks on display (Victoria and Albert Museum). This was further emphasized by sloped shoulders, mirroring the fashions of the period (Cargill 6). The bodice also followed the the 19th-century ball gown style through V shaped waistlines, aligned close to the waist (Mida 37).

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Pas de Quatre (1845) Lithograph of Carlotta Grisi, Marie Taglioni, Lucile Grahn and Fanny Cerrito (Source: The V&A Theatre Museum)

Making

Our recreation of this ballet costume was inspired by the illustration of the Pas de Quatre ballet shown above. Our process included visual analysis of the illustration, research into ballet costumes and fashions of the Romantic period, object-based analysis of the tutus in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection and a visit to the wardrobe department of the National Ballet.

The bodice of the costume is a structured garment resembling the corset worn in the Romantic era. This bodice can lay under or over the skirt depending on the design of the costume. In analyzing the illustrations of the Romantic tutus and bodices worn by the original troupe in 1845, we determined that the bodice should lay on top of the tutu. The bodice was constructed with a center front seam and stylized front princess seams. These seams narrowed toward the center front and formed a point at the waistline. We drafted the pattern for this area by manipulating a petite size eight women’s bodice block. The neckline of the bodice was horizontally lowered and slashed across the top and the waistline angled down toward the center front. We split and rotated the fullness of the waist dart into the shoulder of the bodice in order to create princess seams. We used buttons to fasten the bodice to the skirt since the elastic that would be used by costume departments today had not been invented in 1845.

As the back of the costume was not shown in the illustrations, we inferred the design of the back bodice. Similar pattern drafting techniques were used to alter the back bodice as were used for the front bodice. We chose to use princess seams in the back bodice panels, as it is very uncommon to have princess seams sewn only on the front of a garment. We concluded the bodice had a center back opening in which a line of clasps was sewn. This was also a feature found in each bodice that we examined from the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection and The National Ballet of Canada.

The pattern piece for the sleeve was slashed and spread to create the flowing effect seen in the illustration. Space for gathers and pleats was added into the sleeve pattern and a shoulder strap was drafted to provide support. This design feature prevents the sleeve from falling completely off the shoulder when dancing. The final bodice design has three front seams, two side seams and two back seams, which adds up to eight panels in total.

A Romantic tutu is a tulle skirt that falls to just below the knee. It is made up of several layers of fabric that have been gathered, pleated, or a combination of techniques used to cinch in the fabric at the waist (Fielding). After discussing the options with the head of National Ballet of Canada’s costume department, we chose to gather the waistline since this is a quick method that is suitable for beginners.The tutu was drafted as seven rectangles with a gathering ratio of 3:1. Based on the illustrations, we measured the length of the tutu to fall to just below the knees and used seven layers of tulle to capture the desired level of opacity. We used two pink tulle layers amongst the five other white layers.

We chose a woven white cotton for the bodice paired with white piping and plastic boning. Shiny white polyester organza was used for the sleeves. Polyester tulle was used in white baby pink, and also white with shimmer for the tutu. Webbing and two-holed buttons were used along the waist to attach and detach the bodice from the skirt.

In this project, we learned that the desire for a freer flowing garment to dance in sparked the need and creation of the romantic tutu. Being dancers ourselves, we loved learning about the history and magic associated with this costume. Now we also appreciate the work, time and effort that is required to make the romantic tutu. 

References:

Bassett, Lynne Z. Gothic to Goth: Romantic Era Fashion & Its Legacy. N.p.: Wadsworth Atheneum, 2016.

Bicat, Tina. Period Costume for the Stage. The Crowood Press, 2003.

Binney, Edwin. Glories of the Romantic Ballet. Dance Books LTD, 1985.

Cargill, Mary. “Dance Costumes In The Western Performance Tradition.” Performing Arts Resources 27. (2010): 3-8. International Bibliography of Theatre & Dance with Full Text. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.

Lee, Carol. Ballet in Western Culture: A History of Its Origins and Evolution. Routeledge, 2002.

Looseleaf, Victoria. “The Story of the Tutu: Ballet’s Signature Costume has a Fabled Past and a Glamorous Present”. Oregon International Ballet Academy. June 21 2015.

Martin, David, Gabriel, Norman R, “An ‘Informalizing Spurt’ in Clothing Regimes: Court Ballet and the Civilizing Process.” The Berg Fashion Library, 2001. Web Accessed: 27 Sep. 2016.

Mida, Ingrid. “A Gala Performance Tutu”.  Dress. Vol 42, no 1. 2016.

Victoria & Albert Museum. “Dance Costume Design – Victoria & Albert Museum”. Vam.Ac.Uk, 2016. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/d/dance-costume-design/.

Note from editor:  This Making History project was part of an assignment for Dr. Alison Matthew David’s Costume History class at the Ryerson University School of Fashion. The assignment submitted by Allycia Coolidge & Joanna Lupker was condensed and edited for clarity, and has been posted with their permission.


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A Study of a Ballet Costume from Symphony in C: Part II

Part two contextualizes the artifact in dance history

symphony-in-c-tutu-sketches

 

In this post, I will be going beyond the aesthetic and technical aspects of the tutu and exploring the contextual relevance of this artifact. Costumes are ultimately designed to work harmoniously with the choreography and music of a production, so it is important to understand the background behind the production of the Symphony in C ballet.  

This ballet was created by Russian born choreographer George Balanchine and was first performed as Le Palais de Cristal in 1947, with the name later changing to Symphony in C as it is known now (Note 1). George Balanchine is one of the most influential choreographers of modern ballet.  He, along with Lincoln Kirsten, opened the School of American Ballet in 1934, the American Ballet in 1936, and finally the Ballet Caravan in 1941.  Balanchine was the Artistic Director of the New York City Ballet for over 35 years and was known for his fast, athletic and precise choreography. He also was said to have  demanded perfection and elegance from his dancers. ( Note 2). This particular ballet is based on French composer Georges Bizet’s Symphony in C Major which is often regarded as one of his best works along with the famous opera Carmen (Note 3).  

The original costumes for the ballet’s premiere in 1947 were designed by costume maven Barbara Karinska (1886-1983).  Madame Karinska as she was known to her peers, had a long relationship as a designer for Balanchine and worked with him into her late 70s.  She was a prolific designer who was known and respected for her technical inventiveness and attention to detail. (Note 5)

The National Ballet performed Symphony in C for the first time in 1984 – the year after Karinska died. Like the costumes worn at the New York City Ballet, these tutus would have been worn by multiple dancers over many years.  As New York City Ballet company dancer Deanna McBrearty states, “costumes like the Symphony in C tutus are worn so often, and by so many casts, that they eventually have to be retired…the tutu I originally wore was part of a set that was retired after more than 18 years” (Note 6).  Eventually, the National Ballet wardrobe department had to remake a set of these costumes which were debuted in November 2006 (Note 7).  Continuing to wear Karinska’s costumes pays homage to a great designer, and allows her work to be worn, seen, and appreciated by even more dancers and audiences.

symphony-in-c-tutu-kovaks

Drawing of name tag inside   tutu waistband by Teresa Adamo 2016

The ballet Symphony in C has no plot, so the tutu is non-representative.  The original costume also included a bodice and tutu plate which was taken off the skirt for reuse on other costumes by the Wardrobe Department at the National Ballet .  It does not have to conform to a character, time period, or symbol, hence the pared down design.  Instead, according to the National Ballet “each movement plays inventively with geometrical shapes—squares, diagonals, sculptural groupings —that illustrate the variety of effects possible using a very active and technically adept corps de ballet” (Note 8).  Therefore, Karinska’s design compliments Balanchine’s architectural choreography by letting the beauty of the dancers movement, and music shine. One detail that I immediately noticed upon inspecting the inside of the tutu was that the name of the dancer who wore the tutu has been written directly onto the material beside the garment opening.  This type of tagging is normal practice for ballet costumes and also serves as a record of the dedicated ballerinas who performed while wearing it.

For me, the significance of this tutu within the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection is in its temporal links to Canadian dance history. Symphony in C  first became part of the National Ballet’s repertoire in 1984 – the year after Karinska died – and was performed again in 2006 marking the first mixed program of company’s first season  in their celebrated new venue at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (Note 4).  It is in this way that the tutu can be seen to represent the beginning of a new era for the National Ballet Company.

Throughout the investigation of this seemingly plain tutu, I was frequently surprised by the tangents that the research took.  I learned a great amount about the construction of a tutu, but also much more about dance history than I was expecting.  The tutu has a layered history which is connected to choreographers, dancers, designers, and international ballet companies.

Notes:

Note 1:Note 1: For more information about the National Ballet’s 2006 production of Symphony in C, visit “Song of the Earth and Symphony in C Ballet Note,” The National Ballet of Canada, Accessed January 13 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Archives/Ballet-Notes

Note 2:  Barbara Walczak, and Una Kai, Balanchine the Teacher: Fundamentals That Shaped the First Generation of NewYork City Ballet Dancers (University Press of Florida, 2008) 230.

Note 3: 5. “Georges Bizet” in The Encyclopedia of World Biography,accessed January 12, 2017, http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&u=rpu_main&id=GALE|CX3404700688&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon

Note 4: Ibid.

Note 5: Elizabeth McPerson, “Barbara Karinska,” Dance Teacher, no. 11 (2008): 104-106 accessed January 12, 2017, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/208476633?accountid=13631.

Note 6: 1. Deanna McBrearty, “Company Life: Tutu Symphony,” Pointe 4, no. 3 (2003): Page #, accessed January 12, 2017, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://sEarch.proquest.com/docview/207949163?accountid=13631.

Note 7:  Correspondence with the National Ballet of Canada

Note 8: Ibid.

References:

“Biography.” The George Balanchine Foundation, Accessed January 12th 2017, http://www. balanchine.org/balanchine/01/bio2.html  

“Georges Bizet.” In Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed., 296-297. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 2004. Gale Virtual Reference Library (accessed January 13, 2017). http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=rpu_main&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3404700688&sid=summon&asid=def20395719538750e09f56685f4f849.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=rpu_main&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3404700688&sid=summon&asid=def203957198750e09f56685f4f849.

McBrearty, Deanna. “Company Life: Tutu Symphony.” Pointe 4, no. 3 (Jun, 2003): 70-71. http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/207949163?accountid=13631.

McPherson, Elizabeth. “Barbara Karinska.” Dance Teacher 30, no. 11 (11, 2008): 104-104,106. http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/208476633?accountid=13631.

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

Mida, Ingrid. (2016) “A Gala Performance Tutu,” Dress 42.1: 35-47.

“Song of the Earth and Symphony in C Ballet Note” (2006) The National Ballet of Canada, Accessed January 13 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Archives/Ballet-Notes/song-of-the-earth-ballet-note-(2006).aspx

“The Composition of a Tutu,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed November 18, 2016, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Tutu-Project/The-Composition-of-a-Tutux.aspx

Walczak, Barbara and Una Kai. Balanchine the Teacher: Fundamentals That Shaped the First Generation of New York City Ballet Dancers. University Press of Florida, 2008.

 


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A Study of a Ballet Costume from Symphony in C: Part 1

How a plain white tutu donated by the National Ballet of Canada reveals more than meets the eye.

Part one explores the artifact in detail in order to learn how a classical tutu was made by the wardrobe department at the National Ballet of Canada.

symphony-in-c-tutu-sketchesDrawing by Teresa Adamo 2016
Top and underside views of the Symphony in C tutu.

At first glance, there does not seem to be anything particularly interesting about the classical white tutu laying on the table in the Fashion Research Collection. It is one of several costumes donated to Ryerson by the National Ballet of Canada in 2014. This tutu was worn by a member of the corps de ballet for a production of the Balanchine ballet Symphony in C in 1984. It is of course both delicate and pretty as all tutus are, but nonetheless appears rather plain since the decoration was removed from the skirt for reuse on other costumes by the Wardrobe Department at the National Ballet . Even so, it is compelling to study in order to learn about how classical tutus are made. My research revealed that there is much more history behind this plain white ballet costume after all. This artifact provided me with a learning experience about construction methods which will be discussed in this blog post. A subsequent post will discuss the nature of design aesthetics for dancewear, the dance history surrounding two national dance companies, as well as insight into the influential work of costume maven Madame Karinska.

In general, tutus are made of three main parts, the skirt, the basque, and the bodice. The skirt can be separated further into three pieces; the panty, tulle base, and decorative plate (note 1). This particular artifact (FRC2014.08.033) contains the tulle base and panty. The first thing that one notices is obviously the wide, flat skirt. Interestingly, the skirt is not a perfect circle, but slightly oval in shape. At its widest, the skirt is 30 inches in diameter. The skirt has a hip measurement of 28 inches, but since the foundation is made of stretch material it could fit several sizes.

The fluffy layers of the tulle skirt are perhaps the most iconic aspect of classical ballet costumes. The tulle base for the Symphony in C costume is made up of 12 total layers of fabric. The layers increase in length from the bottom to the top layer, the shortest being one-inch long, and the longest being approximately 8 inches long. The 5 innermost layers are made of soft flexible netting, the next 5 layers are stiff and the netting is slightly coarser (the second layer from the inside being the stiffest tulle used in this tutu). The final 2 layers on top are once again quite fine and soft. In order to hold the layers together there are basting stitches made vertically through all the layers. These stitches having been made with a doubled length of thread. The tacking is applied in order to help control the volume of the tulle and maintain its shape (Note 2).

symphony-in-c-tutu-panty-rufflesDrawing by Teresa Adamo 2016
Detail of innermost tulle layers next to the leg openings on the underside of the tutu.

The volume in the skirt of the tutu is created with a meticulous process of layering tulle. The layers of tulle have been very finely pleated rather than gathered. Each pleat is only ¼ inch wide with a ⅛ inch overlap. These tiny pleats give the impression of gathering or shirring which in actuality would be bulky and difficult to control, and could not give the classical tutu it’s smooth, flat appearance. The seams connecting the panels of tulle to each other are machine stitched and have a seam allowance only ⅛ inch wide. In order to hold a plate-like shape while on a dancer, a wire hoop has been inserted into a channel made by stitching 2 layers of tulle together (Note 3).

The layers of the skirt are attached to a panty which serves as a  foundation. This costume has a panty made of stretchy open mesh; this has discoloured over time from an off white cream colour to a dull beige hue. There is a 6 inch opening at the back of the tutu where the tulle is not sewn shut along the seam allowance so that the dancer is able to step into the skirt. It can then be fastened with 3 sets of hooks and eyes. Raw edges on the inside of the panty are hand finished using a catch-stitch. There is also extra elastic catch-stitched into the panties which are attached at the front of the crotch seam and extend to the back of the panty.  These extra elastics were sewn into the panties when they had stretched out excessively (Note 4). Elastic has also been sewn into channels around the leg openings in order to keep the fit close to the dancer’s body.

symphony-in-c-tutu-panty-cross-section
Drawing by Teresa Adamo 2016
Diagram of extra elastic placement in the panty.

Clearly, this costume is deceptive in its simplicity. The techniques used to make this skirt and plate show an immense attention to detail. Not only is the costume structurally impressive, but certain design features also show concern for the comfort of the dancer. The softest tulle is closest to the legs so the sharp edges of the netting is less abrasive. The extra elastic around the legs makes wardrobe malfunction less likely and would make the dancer feel more confident. The skirt is easy to slip on and fasten quickly which would cut down pre-performance prep time and make quick changes easier. The opportunity to closely study these artifacts provided me with an incomparable learning experience about the construction methods and reasons behind them.

Notes:

Note 1: For more information about tutu construction, visit “The Composition of a Tutu,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed November 18, 2016, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Tutu-Project/The-Composition-of-a-Tutux.aspx
Note 2: Ibid.
Note 3: Ibid.

Note 4: Email correspondence with the National Ballet of Canada

References:

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. (2015) The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion. New York: Bloomsbury.
Mida, Ingrid. (2016) “A Gala Performance Tutu,” Dress 42.1: 35-47.
“The Composition of a Tutu,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed November 18, 2016, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Tutu-Project/The-Composition-of-a-Tutux.aspx