Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive


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Tunic-style Evening Gown with Detachable Hood, c.1970 by Marilyn Brooks

By Ingrid Mida, Collection Co-ordinator.

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Burgundy velour tunic dress with long sleeves and matching detachable hood. Size 9/10, Label: Marilyn Brooks Made in Canada. FRC1998.01.002A+B

This rich toned burgundy velour tunic dress with long sleeves and matching detachable hood was designed by Marilyn Brooks in the early 1970s.  Highly fashionable for the period, but also washable, it would have been suitable as an evening gown. Hooded gowns were popular during this time, and Margaret Trudeau wore a hooded wedding dress that she designed herself for her wedding to then Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau in 1971 (link to image here).

Back of Marilyn Brooks Evening Gown c.1970 FRC1998.01.002A+B

Back of Marilyn Brooks Evening Gown c.1970
FRC1998.01.002A+B

Detail of detachable hood by Marilyn Brooks. FRC1998.01.002A+B

Detail of detachable hood by Marilyn Brooks. FRC1998.01.002A+B

The sheen of the fabric is undiminished and the ensemble is in perfect condition.  The shoulder yoke has horizontal tucks that are not readily visible in the photo. The dress closes at the back with a metal zipper. The label reads: “marilyn brooks, size 9/10, Made in/Fabrique au CANADA CA07455”.  Handwritten in script are the words “Betty Sonsfield 1970”.

Label Marilyn Brooks  FRC1998.01.002 A+B

Label Marilyn Brooks
FRC1998.01.002 A+B

Although Marilyn Brooks does not recall designing this specific dress, she wrote in an email to me on November 1, 2013 that: “The fabric was great and it was washable. Somehow I remember the fabric being made in Canada. It was important to always cut the fabric only one way. The feel of the hand going down….never up.” She also recalled that she had designed some medieval inspired gowns for the department store Simpson’s in the 1970s, but that this dress was not part of that series.

The Marilyn Brooks label was an important part of Canadian fashion history (note 1), providing fashionable and innovative designs for more than 40 years. The collection page on her website reads “The women who wore Marilyn’s designs ran the gamut from twenty onwards, but they were all creative, self-confident women with strong personalities who exude warmth and humour. These intelligent women were looking for ease with innovation and function with whimsy, at a price that immediately said good value! Marilyn’s clothes were known for versatility and easily stood up to the rigors of an active and travel oriented lifestyle.”

Marilyn is now retired from fashion and works as an artist. She is also working on her autobiography, and visited the Ryerson campus last fall to speak to students about her experiences as a designer. I recall feeling her warmth and good humour as she told the many anecdotes from her life.

The Ryerson Fashion Research Collection only has only one other garment from the Marilyn Brooks label, a liliac cotton two-piece top and skirt ensemble from the late 1970s and pre-1983 (FRC1983.04.21A+B). The top has a Peter Pan collar with machine embroidery in a floral pattern and a front button closure as well as a shoulder yoke with ruched detail and a drawstring waist. The skirt is gathered at the waist and buttons at the back. We would welcome donations of any other Marilyn Brooks garments in good condition.

Note 1: In the book “In Style: 100 Years of Canadian Fashion”, Caroline Routh mentions Marilyn Brooks as well as Claire Haddad, Pat McDonagh, Edith Strauss, and Winston as among the “important fashion designers in Toronto in the seventies” (152).


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Evening gowns and Canadian designer Ruth Dukas

by Ingrid Mida, Collection Co-ordinator.

Brocade evening gown by Ruth Dukas, c.1963. FRC2013.02.001

Brocade evening gown by Ruth Dukas, c.1963. FRC2013.02.001

Ruth Dukas (b.1929) is a retired Canadian fashion designer who was once well known for her luxurious beading and embroidery on evening wear in the 1960s. This pale yellow, green and pink brocade evening gown by Ruth Dukas with banded beaded collar and beaded trim down the front of the dress and a bow at the bust-line is lined in silk, and is a recent donation to the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection. Although the Ruth Dukas label was once well known in Canada and the USA, her label is now largely unknown, except amongst those who keep these finely crafted gowns from the 1960s in the back of their closet as treasured memories of a special event – like this dress was for the woman who recently donated it to the FRC.

Ruth Dukas Made in Canada Label

Ruth Dukas Made in Canada Label

Although Ruth Dukas was an award-winning designer who exported her fashions to the United States, little has been written about Ruth Dukas and her place in Canadian fashion industry. In April 2011, I conducted an oral history interview with Ruth for the Royal Ontario Museum archives, supplemented that interview with correspondence with Ruth by email, and also examined newspaper and magazine clippings, photos, letters and telegrams from Ruth’s personal archive. I have also examined a handful of garments designed by her (Seneca College Fashion Resource Centre has several) and also kept in touch with Ruth, who recently shared her personal archive of sketches and other photos with me. I really should write up my research into a proper submission for an academic journal, but in lieu of that, I’ll share some of it here.

Ruth, was the daughter of a sample maker and grew up in Toronto, attending Ryerson Public School and then Central Tech high school from 1942-1946 where she studied art (the painter Doris McCarthy was one of her teachers). Although she had hoped to become a commercial artist, she found work as an embroidery designer on Spadina Avenue and in 1952 started her own business Ruth Embroidery Co. In 1962, she founded a dress manufacturing company called Ruth Dukas Limited located at Adelaide and Spadina.

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Evening wear comprised the majority of the garments. At the time, the styles, according to the book In Style: 100 Years of Canadian Fashion by Caroline Routh, were “relatively austere and surprisingly modest. The strapless fifties gown gave way to more covered, classical, and narrower lines, often in solid colours in finely draped chiffons or simply styles carved in crisper fabrics such as rich brocades. Decolletage and sometimes even the bust-line hardly existed. Neat jewelled edgings and bands were used, often as part of the high-waisted neoclassic style. Evening separates of long skirts and various tops were an acceptable formula.” Designs were exclusive and Ruth estimates that “90% of the work was one of a kind”. She would “not make the same dress for anyone else”. She generally would only make three different colours and three different sizes, but would adapt designs to customize the look by changing the neckline and the sleeve.

FRC_EveDresses_2013.02.001_Det_2_Web

Ruth Dukas label dresses were priced for a well-to-do customer with a price tag of $150-$450 in the 1960s. (In 1969, the average annual expenditure per family on Dresses by Women, 14 years and older, was $46.80). In a full page ad for the department store Simpson’s in the Globe & Mail dated Thursday, September 15, 1966, there is a Ruth Dukas gown described as “C-opulent splendor inflow of ball gown and matching coat of brocade. Lacquer red, extravagantly jewel banded by Ruth Dukas, Size 12, $495”.

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Although she won many awards for her work and sold successfully across Canada and into the USA, Ruth closed her manufacturing business in 1972, and from 1973-1976, Ruth ran a store on Eglinton Avenue West called Ruth Dukas Today. In the years that followed, she also taught fashion design courses at Sheridan College and The Fashion Institute.  She ran the workroom for Jean Pierce, was a buyer and managed stores for Riche, designed knitwear alongside Alfred Sung, was a salesperson and buyer for Alan Cherry. In more recent years, she has devoted her time to oil painting, and the fine detail of her paintings continues to illustrate her meticulous attention to detail.

For further reading:

Routh, Caroline. In Style: 100 Years of Canadian Women’s Fashion. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing Co. Ltd., 1993. Print.

Advertisement for Simpson’s in The Globe & Mail: Thursday, September 15, 1966. Print.


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Evening gowns and Canadian Designer Pat McDonagh

By Ingrid Mida

There are many beautiful evening gowns in the Fashion Research Collection at Ryerson University, with the oldest gown dating back to c.1860.  Wedding gowns, ball gowns and evening gowns might only be worn once or perhaps only a few times, and then stored for many years before the owner is willing to part with them. Special event clothing often makes up a high proportion of study and museum collections, and that is also true at Ryerson.

I want to feature Canadian designers as much as possible on this blog and I have selected two evening ensembles created by acclaimed Canadian designer Pat McDonagh for this post.

Label: Pat McDonagh FRC2013.99.020

Label: Pat McDonagh
FRC2013.99.020

Pat McDonagh was born in England, studied at Manchester University and the Sorbonne, before coming to Canada in the 1970s. According to her website biography, she is known for her “innovative textile techniques and youthful romanticism” and has designed gowns for celebrities and royalty. She is one of the founding members of the Fashion Design Council of Canada and has had a remarkable career as a Canadian fashion designer with 2010 marking her 40th year in fashion. She has won a number of awards including:

American Legend Fur Award
Five World Bureau Awards, 1975
New York Times award for Design Excellence, 1982
Judy Award for Contribution to the Canadian Fashion Industry, 1992
The Majestic Mink Award, 1994
Bata Shoe Museum Best Shoe Award, 2000
Matinee International Award, 2002
NAFA Fur Award, 2002
FDCC Lifetime Achievement Award, 2003

The two gowns by Pat McDonagh that were photographed for the digitization project include: a gold lame two-piece ensemble (FRC2000.04.002A+B) and a white satin ball gown (FRC2013.99.020).

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Gold lame two-piece evening ensemble (FRC2000.04.002 A+B)
Pat McDonagh, c. 1980s.

This shiny metallic gold lame Edwardian style top with puffed sleeves and ruffles with a matching gold lame long gathered skirt by Pat McDonagh captures the essence of the 1980s evening look, which was a blend of decadence and Hollywood glitz.

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Back view Gold lame two-piece evening ensemble
Pat McDonagh, c.1980s (FRC2000.04.002 A+B)

The metallic finish of the lame and the cascade of ruffles would sparkle in the dimmest light.

FRC_EveDresses_2013.99.020_FRT_Web

White satin strapless evening gown with black velvet trim and applique. FRC2013.99.020
Pat McDonagh, c.2000s.

The snow-white satin evening gown with black velvet trim at the bust-line and black velvet applique on the skirt  is another statement piece by Pat McDonagh, but in a quieter and more refined way. Undated in the collection, it probably can be situated as having been crafted in the last decade. It is in perfect condition, and perhaps was worn only once as it is unmarked.

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The black velvet applique is reminiscent of the soutache embroidery on white cotton gowns that was so popular in the 1860s. (See for example the White cotton pique day dress embroidered with black soutache from the Costume Institute at the Met. C.I.60.6.11 A+B recently on display alongside a painting by Claude Monet called “Women in the Garden” from 1866 in the exhibition Fashion, Impressionism and Modernity at the Metropolitan Museum of Art seen in this installation shot).

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Close up of applique detail on FRC2013.99.020

After writing this post, Pat McDonagh corrected my interpretation and told me that this dress was actually designed for “Canada’s first winner of the Rose of Tralee Festival in Tralee Ireland. Contestants of Irish descent come from all over the world to compete for the title of Irish Rose, the dress was prepared with traditional Irish symbols, it is the biggest pageant festival in the world.” This festival takes its inspiration from a 19th century ballad about a woman called “The Rose of Tralee” because of her beauty.

Both evening gowns featured in this post are finely finished, a hallmark of the Canadian label Pat McDonagh.

The FRC also holds another six garments by Pat McDonagh that were not photographed for the digitization project, including:

Ball gown,  hand-painted yellow silk with full skirt, c.2005-2010. (FRC2013.99.010)

Dress, Green, purple, orange and pink hoizontal striped silk chemise dress with short sleeves and V-neck, c.1970s. (FRC1998.04.003)

Evening gown, black floral printed chiffon spaghetti strap dress with blouson top, gathered waist and panelled overskirt, c. 1976-79. (FRC19888.02.008)

Evening gown, gray one-shoulder knit, beaded. c.2000-2010. (FRC2013.02.005).

Evening gown, grey sequined evening dress with train, spaghetti straps with cross-over back, c.2007-2010. (FRC.2013.99.025)

Skirt, Black lace tiered calf length. c.1980s. (FRC2000.04.003).

Additional References:

About Pat McDonagh”. Pat McDonagh n.d. Web, Jan. 2013.

Routh, Caroline. In Style: 100 Years of Canadian Women’s Fashions. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing Co. Ltd., 1993. Print.