Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive


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

By Jenn Bilczuk

frc_dresses_2014-07-477_right_web

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).

FRC_Dresses_2014.07.477_front_watermarked

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.

FRC_Dresses_2014.07.477_back_web

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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A Dissection of a Wool Jacket by Christian Dior for Holt Renfew

By Millie Yates

Dior Jacket Front 2013.99.007

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

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

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

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

Collar and button detail FRC2013.99.007

Collar and button detail FRC2013.99.007

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

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

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

Dior Jacket, FRC2013.99.007

Dior Jacket, FRC2013.99.007

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Notes on Comparable Garments in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

By Millie Yates

Dior Jacket Front 2013.99.007 Photo by Jazmin Welch

Dior Jacket Front 2013.99.007 Photo by Jazmin Welch

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

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

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

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

Sleeves and pocket detail on Dior jacket FRC2013.99.007

Sleeves and pocket detail on Dior jacket FRC2013.99.007

 

Collar and button detail FRC2013.99.007

Collar and button detail FRC2013.99.007

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

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

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

Back of Dior Jacket 2013.99.007

Back of Dior Jacket 2013.99.007 Photo by Jazmin Welch

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

Label inside Dior Jacket 2013.99.007  Photo by Jazmin Welch

Label inside Dior Jacket 2013.99.007
Photo by Jazmin Welch

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

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

Sketch of button and fabric by Millie Yates 2015

Sketch of button and fabric by Millie Yates 2015

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

Sketch of jacket collar by Millie Yates 2015

Sketch of jacket collar by Millie Yates 2015

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

Sketch of jacket front by Millie Yates 2015

Sketch of jacket front by Millie Yates 2015

Sketch of jacket back by Millie Yates 2015

Sketch of jacket back by Millie Yates 2015

 

Edited by Ingrid Mida, Collection Co-ordinator


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Opening the door to the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

By: Ingrid Mida, BA, MA. Collection Co-ordinator

We invent nothing, we always start from something that has come before . Christian Dior

Detail of Art-Deco inspired beading on black chiffon Flapper style dress, c.1925. FRC2003.10.002

Detail of Art-Deco inspired beading on black chiffon Flapper style dress, c.1925.
FRC2003.10.002

Historic garments can inform and inspire the present, offering up design potential for reinterpretations of styles of the past or serving as evidence of how fashion was worn and lived for material culture studies. Seeing a dress in a photo is a very different experience than feeling the weight of the fabric in hand, examining the details of cut, construction and embellishment, considering the relationship of the garment to the body or searching for evidence of how  the garment was worn, used or altered over time.

The Ryerson Fashion Research Collection is a repository of several thousand garments, accessories, furs, and fashion ephemera acquired by donation to the School of Fashion since 1981. For several years, this collection lay dormant behind an unmarked door …. that is until I wedged it open just a little.

Over the past 18 months, I have been working to make this collection accessible for students, faculty, and visiting researchers. During that time I have re-discovered garments that document aspects of the history of Canadian fashion since 1860 as well as garments designed by international designers like Christian Dior, Valentino and Balenciaga.

FRC_2pcEnsembles_1992.01.019_A+B_LBL_Web

BALENCIAGA Label, FRC1992.01.019

With the support of Dr. Lu Ann Lafrenz, we were awarded a Learning and Teaching Grant to digitize some of the key pieces in the Collection. Each piece was chosen by me and is important in its own way, either because of the provence, the label, or its social history. This past summer, about 100 pieces were photographed by a team of two students. Restrictions in budget meant that we were not able to photograph some of the older or more fragile pieces that would have required considerable extra work to mount and/or conservation work to protect, but hopefully that will happen in due course.  

Detail of silk kimono, c.1930s. FRC2013.03.005. Gift of Anne Callahan

Detail of silk kimono, c.1930s. FRC2013.03.005.
Gift of Anne Callahan

Although my work to re-establish the Collection is far from complete, the door has been opened a crack, and I hope to eventually open up the door up all the way, offering access to the many beautiful artifacts therein – whether you are on campus or on the other side of the world. I have posted a selection of items already on Pinterest and encourage you to visit or follow me on Twitter.

At the present time, access to the facility is by appointment only, but I welcome your questions and comments any time.

Over the course of the next year, this blog will serve as a window into the Collection. I will feature items here, offering additional descriptive information which might not be visible in the photos as well as contextual material and links to other research. With each post, the door will open just a little wider….

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Ingrid Mida, Collection Co-ordinator

This project has been sponsored by a grant from the Learning & Teaching Office at Ryerson University.