Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive


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Elite Syncopations Leotards: Part Two, The Mens Corps Costume

Part two focuses on two unfinished costumes which reveal more about the painting and construction methods of the Elite Syncopations outfits.

Initially I was going to focus only on the Shy Girl costume, however when dress historian and curator Ingrid Mida turned my attention to some other artifacts in the research collection, I found there was more to explore about these costumes.  The National Ballet also donated yardage of uncut fabric which had been prepared for the an Elite Syncopation Corps Man leotard, as well as the same leotard which appears to have been partially sewn.  These two artifacts allow us to see steps of the construction process, giving us a glimpse of behind-the-scenes methods used by the wardrobe department.

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Uncut yardage for corps man (2014.08.052).  Drawings by Teresa Adamo.

Beginning with the uncut yardage, faint pencil markings can be seen denoting the outline of the costume and around the checkered pattern.  There is a dotted line around its perimeter which is presumably the cut line.  Seam allowance is not marked, but would likely be ¼” as it was with the Shy Girl costumes.  As Bell states in her article The Art of the Costumes (for the National Ballet’s Elite Syncopations), “The designs are hand – painted onto the tights using pigment mixed with a glue binder” (Note 1).  The brushstrokes can clearly be seen occasionally going outside the lines in several places.  Seeing these individual markings, there is a strong impression left from the painter and reinforces the hand made aspect of costumes.

Bell summarizes how the garments are finished after the paint has been applied.

The painted tights are then carefully removed from the stretcher, wrapped in tissue and carefully folded so that no colour touches the unpainted portions, or no design touches another. The tights are put into a special basket and steamed in a huge steamer for several hours to set the paint. This process may have to be repeated several times when one colour goes over another. The costumes are gently washed in cold water to clean and set the dyes. Finally, the buttons and bows are sewn on as necessary. Each costume takes about 18 hours to complete.  (Note 2)

Compared to making a tutu,which takes at least 120 hours of skilled labour to complete, leotards are a much smaller time commitment for the wardrobe department (Note 3).  However, I think that to regard this number in isolation belittles the skill and confidence it would take to paint the designs considering the permanency of the paint magnified by the number of colours on each costume.  Similarly to the Shy Girl costumes, these incomplete artifacts present some questions of their own.  Could they have possibly just been test samples for the wardrobe department?  Or was there a mistake with the paint that simply could not be approved?  On the uncut yardage, some colour is bleeding out from around each coloured square, and the green checks also have a splotchy, uneven look to them, so it could be assumed that the colour fastness of the paint may have been a problem.

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Right: Cut leotard for corps man (2014.08.053).  Drawings by Teresa Adamo

As for the pattern layout, the garment retains its center front and center back seams, but like the Shy Girl tights, the seams on the legs have been moved to the center back of the leg.  A zipper would have presumably been installed in the center back seam.  The front and back torso is attached as one piece from approximately the about the hip to the ankle, but has a side seam from under the arm to the hip area to account for some shaping around the torso.  It is also important to note that the pattern appears relatively small, but the material’s degree of stretch would have been taken into account when drafting the pattern.

At this point, we have a strong idea of what the Elite Syncopations costumes look like and how they were made.  Through the Shy Girl dresses and tights, we have discovered how we can get much more information about an artifact by looking at similar or even “identical” artifacts and comparing their minute differences.  By looking at the Corps Man costumes, we gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of hand craftsmanship.  When viewed together, these six artifacts reveal much more about the artistry and labour behind the Elite Syncopations costumes than we could hope to gain by looking at one in isolation.   

Notes

Note 1: Karen Bell, “The Art of the Costumes (for the National Ballet’s Elite Syncopations)”. Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada 28, no.1 (1993): 19, accessed July 17, 2017,http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/224893640?accountid=13631.

Note 2: Ibid.

Note 3:  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

Bibliography

Bell, K. (1993). “The Art of the Costumes (for the National Ballet’s Elite Syncopations)”. Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada 28, no.1 (1993): 19. Accessed July 17, 2017.http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/224893640?accountid=13631.

“Alumni Where are They Now?,” The National Ballet of Canada. Accessed July 17 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Meet/Alumni/WATN

“Ian Spurling; Obituary.” Times (London, England), Apr. 15, 1996, p. 21. Academic OneFile,go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=rpu_main&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA115106285&it=r&asid=5d8bbb8ec92dea1882c9c96030f75b2b. Accessed 17 July 2017.

“Elite Syncopations & Song of a Wayfarer & Chroma Ballet Note” (2012) The National Ballet of Canada. Accessed July 17 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Archives

/Ballet-Notes/elite-syncopations-ballet-notes-(2012).aspx

Elite Syncopations ; the Judas Tree ; Concerto. Film. Opus Arte.

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

“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

 


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Elite Syncopations Leotards: Part One, The Shy Girl Costumes

Part One provides a detailed observations of two seemingly identical dresses with their accompanying tights.

Within the Ryerson Fashion Research collection, there is a group of quirky outfits that stand apart from the other classical and romantic ballet costumes.  The Elite Syncopation costumes donated by the National Ballet of Canada are colourful, spunky, and appealing.  These garments have a completely different visual language than the costumes from Symphony in C and Sleeping Beauty that I have previously studied, and so sparked my interest in this energetic ‘leotard ballet’.  I have carefully observed two identical dresses and their coordinating tights, as well as a corps men’s costume in various stages of the construction process.  While each of these artifacts are compelling on their own, it is only when viewed together that the artistry and labour behind the Elite Syncopations costumes can be fully appreciated.  Part One recounts observations and comparisons of two Shy Girl costumes and.

Elite Syncopations DressShy Girl Todd costume, front view (2014.08.041) Drawing by Teresa Adamo

The ballet costumes are based on the original designs by Australian designer Ian Spurling (1937-1996) who created them for the Royal Ballet’s premiere of Elite Syncopations in 1974.  The FRC received two of these Shy Girl costumes, and taking a close look at the similarities and subtle differences reveals another layer of their story.  I have confirmed that this design was referred to as the “Shy Girl” costume due to the handwritten label found sewn to the seam allowance on the center back inside the costume.  Furthermore, the dancers’ names found written in permanent marker on off white twill tape sewn on the inside next to the National Ballet label prompted me to refer to 2014.08.040 as the “Salas” costume and 2014.08.041 as the “Todd” costume.  Je-an Salas was a soloist with the company and as of 2014 is the resident dancer with the ballet from (Note 1).  I suspect that the “Todd” being referred to is dancer Deborah “Todd” Thompson, as she was with the company from 1978-1988 and so would fit in the timeline of this costume’s use (Note 2).  

EliteSyncBackShy Girl Salas costume, back view (2014.08.041) Drawing by Teresa Adamo

This design features a long sleeved leotard with a high collar, and short circle skirt with panties underneath.   The silhouette is reminiscent silhouette of a figure skating costume.  The skirt allows for lots of swinging flirtatious movement.  After the silhouette, the next most noticeable aspect of the costumes is the graphic quality of the lines and colors decorating the fabric.  Spurling used vivid magenta, purple, ocean blue, emerald, and even bright scarlet.  There is a beautiful ombre starting as off white at the shoulder and gradually darkening to pink, magenta and finally plum at the wrists.  The Salas costume has much brighter colours when compared to the Todd costume, and the shapes and lines are more crisp.

Another striking feature of the Elite Syncopations  costumes is that they are painted in a trompe l’oeil style.  Black outlines give the impression of the dancer wearing a dress with thin straps over a the long sleeved shirt.  To further the illusion, the “dress” was painted slightly more pink than the “shirt” which was left white.  The sharp graphic quality to the design is also seen in the repeating motif of circles and waves on the body and along the skirt.  The circles on the skirt are consistent and perfectly round, suggesting they may have been applied with a stamp.  The repetition of waves and circles create a rhythm around the body contributing to a sense of movement.

As for the construction of these garments, they are machine stitched with either small zig zag or small overlock stitch about ¼” wide for all seams with the exception of the National Ballet and name tag labels which were sewn by hand.  While on the Todd skirt, zig zag stitching attaching the skirt to the leotard is clearly visible on the outside, the Salas skirt has been set in the seam giving it a cleaner appearance.  The leotards are made with center front, center back, and side seams.  Having multiple seam lines means that the costume will contour to the body better.  They could also potentially be used for adjustability of fit, as each of the original designs were fit specifically for each dancer (Note 3 article).  The hem of the skirts is left unfinished on both dresses, as the knit will not unravel and avoid having a slightly bulkier seam which would weigh the skirt down and change its movement.  On both costumes there is a zipper at center back with a hook and eye set above it.  Salas uses a plastic zipper, whereas Todd has a metal one.  One interesting detail on the Todd costume is the appearance of a slit 3” into the skirt, possibly for a longer zipper to be installed but which was then closed at some point.  

As with many of the National Ballet costumes, these costume endured years of wear and tear during performances.  In general, there are minor tears and small fabric pulls on the costumes but both are in fair condition which suggests that the wardrobe team were knowledgeable and skilled at constructing the leotards.  Signs of wear on both of them are in similar places which is to be expected, as the dancers would be performing the same choreography.  There is pilling on the inside of the arms, and the underarm seams are pulling.  

EliteSyncTightsShy Girl Tights Front and Back, ‘Salas’ Pair (2014.08.040) Drawing by Teresa Adamo

While doing intermediate research about the costumes, I came across a video of the Royal Ballet performing Elite Syncopations recorded in 2010.  I immediately noticed that the Shy Girl costume would have been worn with green tights decorated with hearts. (Note 4)  Luckily, the FRC had both pairs of tights corresponding to the dresses.  Once again, the tights can be differentiated by their name tags.  The name Mawson appears beside Todd but has been crossed crossed off.  

The tights are decorated by rows of painted hearts down the center front and back.  There is a slight stylistic change between the costumes since the Salas tights have 8 hearts while the Todd tights have 9.  The colour and crispness is again different on each of the tights which is consistent with the corresponding leotard.  Though both are turquoise green with bright yellow-green hearts, the Todd tights have faded.  You can clearly see the brushstrokes outlining the faded and blotchy hearts.  They are both constructed with a crotch seam as well as seams along the back of each leg and ending under the toes.  The feet are fully enclosed meaning that they are worn inside the pointe shoes.  They both have elastic waistbands though Todd’s waistband is completely enclosed with a self fabric casing while Salas is simply attached with a zigzag stitch.  

As one would expect, it is easy to see how the tights have worn particularly on the feet and ankles.  The soles are quite dirty and discoloured and appear brown rather than green.  The center back seam on the ankle area appears to have been repaired at some point as one can clearly see this area was reinforced white thread.  Additionally, the Todd tights have some curious orange streaks all over them, which could have transferred from another costume during use or storage.  The elastic on the Salas waistband has lost its elasticity and seems quite loose, while the Todd costume seems quite taught.

In conclusion, having two sets of dresses and their accompanying tights to study allowed for a more complete understanding of the Elite Syncopations costumes.  Being able to study two duplicate costumes was an exercise in spotting small differences.  Even though they appear to be “the same” artifact, they are still individual, which speaks to the nature not just of hand painted costumes such as these, but of all hand made objects.  In turn, the differences between them also raises more questions about the objects.  Given the subtle changes in design and finishing, I speculate that wardrobe department looks critically at their work and adjusts accordingly to make better costumes when they were remade around the year 1998 (Note 6).  Perhaps they were not given complete details from Sperling and the Royal ballet about construction and had to come to their own conclusions, or they simply adapted them to their own particular methods.   

Part two focuses on two unfinished costumes which reveal more about the painting and construction methods of the Elite Syncopations outfits.

Notes

Note 1: “Alumni: Where are They Now?,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed 17 July 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Meet/Alumni/WATN.  

Note 2: Ibid.

Note 3: Karen Bell, “The Art of the Costumes (for the National Ballet’s Elite Syncopations)”. Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada 28, no.1 (1993): 19, accessed July 17, 2017,http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-pr

oquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/224893640?accountid=13631.

Note 4: Elite Syncopations ; the Judas Tree ; Concerto. Film, Directed by Acosta, Carlos, Leanne Benjamin, Yuhui Choe, et al. Opus Arte, 2010.

Note 5: Note 3

Note 6: Ibid.

Bibliography

Bell, K. (1993). “The Art of the Costumes (for the National Ballet’s Elite Syncopations)”. Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada 28, no.1 (1993): 19. Accessed July 17, 2017.http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/224893640?accountid=13631.

“Alumni Where are They Now?,” The National Ballet of Canada. Accessed July 17 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Meet/Alumni/WATN

“Ian Spurling; Obituary.” Times (London, England), Apr. 15, 1996, p. 21. Academic OneFile,go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=rpu_main&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA115106285&it=r&asid=5d8bbb8ec92dea1882c9c96030f75b2b. Accessed 17 July 2017.

“Elite Syncopations & Song of a Wayfarer & Chroma Ballet Note” (2012) The National Ballet of Canada. Accessed July 17 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Archives

/Ballet-Notes/elite-syncopations-ballet-notes-(2012).aspx

Elite Syncopations ; the Judas Tree ; Concerto. Film. Opus Arte.

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


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

By Amanda Memme

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

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

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

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

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

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

E.J._Lennox_1885

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

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

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

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

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

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Inside of top hat 2014.07.091 A, Photo by Amanda Memme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curator’s Note:

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

Works Cited:

Eggebeen, Janna. Personal Interview. 9 March 2017.

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

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

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

Mida, Ingrid. Personal Interview. 27 February 2017.


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A Study of a 1940s Cocktail Dress by Jack Liebman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

Note 6:  See note 5.

Note 7: See note 1.

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

Note 9: See note 8.

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Analysis of a Frock Coat by Rei Kawakubo Part II

by Jordan Nguyen 

frc_coats_2006-01-023_bck_web

Women’s frock coat by Rei Kawakubo Commes des Garcons, ca.1990  FRC2006.01.023

In Part I of this analysis, I considered the construction of the frock coat. Part II will offer reflection and interpretation of this garment in terms of Rei Kawakubo’s continuing influence in design. Japanese design aesthetics, gender neutrality, and feminist interpretations.

As Kawakubo was never trained as a designer, she was able to envision fashion from an unrestricted perspective and was able to “break the mold of conventions that define a fine quality garment” (Kawamura 134). Her unconventional approach to design required collaboration between herself and her seamstresses who were taught how to sew together complicated pattern pieces and garments (Kawamura 133). This conflicted with traditional standards of construction but nonetheless contributed to the designer’s creative design process which challenged her workers. While western styles embraced form-fitting silhouettes that accentuated the contours of the body, Japanese aesthetics rejected this (Kawamura, 137). Kawakubo traces one of her fundamental influences to kimonos which are “geared towards a contourless body” (Kawamura 137). The oversized silhouette of the garment conceals the body in modesty rather than displaying sexuality. This value is evidently seen applied to the length of the frock coat which ends at the knee as well as the narrow depth of the collar.

Western theory suggests that fashion changes in women’s dress occur as a result of “shifting erogenous zones” which entails women to uncover different parts of the body selectively in order to attract men” (Tortora et al. 5). The kimono acts adversely, showcasing femininity in an understated demeanor. Kawakubo states that she “designs for strong women who attract men with their minds rather than their bodies” (English 73). With a greater interest in reconstructing proportion, space, and volume (English 76), Kawakubo sought to question the Western fashion formality.

FRC_Coats_2006.01.023_B34_Web

Women’s frock coat by Rei Kawakubo Commes des Garcons. C. 1990.             FRC 2006.01.023

Certain features of the coat design suggest a concurrent theme in Kawakubo’s work: gender neutrality. The designer’s applied concept of a frock coat to womenswear blatantly rejects the extravagantly feminine and body-conscious fashions of the decade. Kawakubo translated the style into a statement womenswear piece that demonstrates the fluidity of gender as well as challenges gender-specified fashion. The monochromatic colour of the tailcoat presents the 1990s woman in a new light that defies stereotypical perceptions of women in fashion. The placement of the cut-out suggests a certain sensuality to the garment but also serves as a paradox to the rest of the garment which embodies a formal and dominant presence. The design was viewed as impractical and unconventional, but the designer had different goals in mind, ones that would launch a new avant-garde view of fashion on the restricted and traditional 1980s Paris stage.

FRC_Coats_2006.01.023_FRT_Web

Women’s frock coat by Rei Kawakubo Commes des Garcons. C. 1990.             FRC 2006.01.023

The boxy and oversized silhouette of the tailcoat induced radical criticism in response to the masculine figuration it created which was not embraced in the period. The tailcoat features large shoulder pads which broaden the dimension of the garment (See Figure 16). Its front closure is “buttoned from left to right, comme des garçons” (Fukai et al. 161), which conflicts with traditional closures on women’s clothing. Kawakubo’s work was seen as a form of anti-fashion when it was introduced to the Paris runways, and the concepts of minimalism, intended imperfection in design, spontaneity, reconstruction, and deconstruction in design seemed foreign and inaccessible. The spaciousness of the garment was also an unfamiliar aspect in comparison to other fashions of the period. Kawakubo considered the functional quality of the garment and created a fit that would accommodate for movement and ease. This consideration is linked to the practical importance of kimonos in which they were worn to live in. Their genderless appearance and equated elements of design are associated with the unisex nature of Kawakubo’s designs. The designer once mentioned, “it is the space between the fabric and the body that is most important” (English 72). Her directives and influences in fashion were much different than those of other designers who presented at Paris fashion week. Kawakubo’s approach to womenswear blurred the lines of gender and sexuality in an industry that was quick to mark gender difference (Entwistle 135), and denote what constituted as high-fashion.

The issues that the Japanese feminist movement brought to attention factored into the influences that Kawakubo used to redefine women through her visual conceptions. The movement sought for emancipation and equality between genders in terms of education and employment. Efforts were made to advance women’s studies as well as counter the sexism apparent in the mass media (English 69). From changing “women’s consciousness of themselves as women…to seeking visible changes in social institutions” (English 69), feminism was calling for reform in societal perceptions and regulations. In her designs, Kawakubo commented on the Western representation of the body and its concept of sartorial beauty. Fashion’s seemingly superficial image was confronted by the psychologically complex creations of the Japanese designer who implemented meaning and narrative into her work. Kawakubo uses fashion as a means to propel women into states of independence, dignity and strength.

The designer claimed, “fashion design is not about revealing or accentuating the shape of a woman’ body, its purpose is to allow a person to be what they are” (Kawamura 137). The black frock coat extends beyond a fashionable garment in the way that it reflects these powerful qualities in a woman of fashion. This is a matter of enclothed cognition in which clothing influences the way people feel and act in reponse to the “symbolic meaning of the dress and the physical experience of wearing that dress item” (Johnson et al. 28). This intuitive approach of implementing meaning into fashion was seen as avant-garde. A term commonly associated with the designer, Kawakubo’s work complied with its three qualities in definition: work such that “redefines artistic conventions, utilizes new artistic tools and techniques, and refines the nature of the art object” (Kawamura 130). In the innovative design and construction of the garment, its use of an experimentally produced gold-polyester-wool-fused textile, along with its mindful and historical associations, Kawakubo’s tailcoat can be classified as an avant-garde garment from the 1990s.

Upon my analysis of the garment in the Ryerson FRC, the tailcoat seemed to evoke a sense of mystery. I felt a tension between hard austerity and delicate fragility while examining the design. It was an emotional response and led me to research about the designer’s background and historical influences which contributed to its creation.

Kawakubo was born on October 11, 1942 in the post-war period. It was a time when Japan was beginning to emerge beyond the destruction of its country. Due to the colonization by Americans, many Japanese traditions of life were discarded. Instead of opting to modernize traditional Japanese dress, natives were forced to adapt to more Western ideals of fashion. Kawakubo’s work incorporates stylistic influences from traditional Japanese fashion with efforts to “re-instill a respect for traditional cultural traits” (English 69). Such can be noted in the silhouette of select designs which replicate or are based on the kimono. The tailcoat embodies this quality in its boxy, loose-fitting, and flared figure.

The modern appearance of Rei Kawakubo’s black tailcoat from the 1990’s to the current era is no coincidence. The designer captured the zeitgeist, “spirit of the times” (Tortora et al. 7) much earlier than other designers could have foretold. Oversized and boxy silhouettes have seemed to become a global trend and is celebrated widely today as an alternative look to stereotypically feminine fashion styles. Kawakubo paved the way for further experimentation with gender-neutral dress and creativity in design. Her shows continue to shock fashion press, and her designs leave fashion experts puzzled and perplexed. In continuing to reinvent the future of fashion at the age of 74, Kawakubo states, “we must break away from conventional forms of dress for the new woman of today” (Mears, 100). Her influence in the world of fashion is undeniable and just as the black tailcoat created a radical impact in the early 1980s, her innovative creations continue to challenge the conventions of beauty and design.

Works Cited

Bane, Allyne. Tailoring. New York City: McGraw-Hill, 1968. Print

English, Bonnie. “Japanese Fashion Designers: The Work and Influence of Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo”. London: Berg, 2011. Bloomsbury Fashion Central. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.

Entwistle, Joanne. The Fashioned Body. 1st ed. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000. Print.

Fukai, Akiko, Catherine Ince, and Rie Nii. Future Beauty. London: Merrell, 2010. Print.

Garber, Megan. “Why Women’s Shirt Buttons are on the Left and Men’s are on the Right”. The Atlantic. N.p., 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

Johnson, Kim, Sharron J Lennon, and Nancy Rudd. “Dress, Body and Self: Research In The Social Psychology Of Dress”. Fashion and Textiles 1.1 (2014): 1-24. Web. 18 Nov. 2016.

Kawamura, Yuniya. The Japanese Revolution In Paris Fashion. Oxford [England]: Berg, 2004. Print.

Mears, Patricia. “Exhibiting Asia: The Global Impact of Japanese Fashion In Museums And Galleries”. http://www.tandfonline.com/. N.p., 2008. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. The Dress Detective. 1st ed. York [Ontario]: Bloomsbury, 2015. Print.

Pamela Roskin. “Kawakubo, Rei.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.

Tortora, Phyllis G and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume. New York, NY: Fairchild Publications, 2010. Print.

This post was written by Jordan Nguyen for FSN302 and has been edited by Ingrid Mida, Acting Curator FRC. This coat was also featured in the case study of a Man’s Evening Suit in The Dress Detective (see Figure 9.17 p.155-157). 


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An analysis of a woman’s frock coat by Rei Kawakubo Part 1

By Jordan Nguyen

The following object analysis will focus on a black women’s frock coat by Rei Kawakubo dating from the early 1990s (FRC2006.01.023). Upon first glance, the garment appears ordinary and minimalistic in its design. The lengthened overcoat bears no features which demand imperative attention, and it seems undistinguishable from current times. It is only upon further examination that one takes note of the subtle details and design choices utilized by the designer. Exploration will reveal Kawakubo’s trademarks in fashion creation, her conceptual approach, and her values which link to her sense of self. Placing the garment in its historical context will also trace back to the major impact Kawakubo created in the fashion industry at the time of her arrival in Paris – 1981 – and her continuing influence in design. Japanese design aesthetics, gender neutrality, and feminist interpretations will be discussed.

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This analysis has been divided into two posts. The first post will focus on the aesthetics and construction of the garment (the description phase of object-based analysis as per Checklist 1 of The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion.

The frock coat is made of a black wool fabric with an incorporated gold metallic polyester weave. Kawakubo is noted for creating innovative textiles that combine natural and artificial fibres as well as for using modified production methods (Kawamura 134). A raised diagonal grain is evident in the textile which creates a visual glimmering effect. The fabric is of a heavier weight and holds a crisp edge. The coat’s exceptional condition may be attributed to the durability of the wool blend as it shows very few signs of wear. As a whole, the garment appears to have maintained its potent black colour. Kawakubo’s design features a two-piece lapel collar, slightly-flared straight sleeves, a welt pocket on the left breast, two flapped pockets on each side of the coat, a back cut-out, and a four-button front closure.

The coat contains several labels: a “Rei Kawakubo” label, a label for “COMME des GARÇONS CO.,LTD.” – the name under which Kawakubo’s brand was marketed; a tag indicating size medium marked “M”; contents and care tags, and a Ryerson FRC label. The text on the contents label has visibly faded. It contains both English and French, and its backside also includes Japanese text. Visual symbols are evident which indicate care instructions. It can be noted that although the fabric features a blend of wool and polyester, the tag states that the garment is made of 100% wool. The coat is in pristine condition.

Additional design components are observed on the coat. The collar’s left lapel contains an unpierced buttonhole without a corresponding button on the right lapel. The sleeves contain fake plackets which emerge from one of the seams of the sleeves and appears as flaps containing two buttons. Upon lifting the flaps of the side pockets, a button is evident which secures the interior of the pocket closed.

In examining the interior of the coat, the back neck facing contains a band feature above the brand label allowing for it to be hooked on to a hanger. The entire garment is lined in black polyester fabric including the pockets and the sleeves. The center back seam of the lining features a back pleat; this pleat allowance accommodates for freedom of movement in the shoulder area (Bane 300). Hand stitching has been used to clean finish the hem of the garment as well as to secure the lining to the sleeve armholes. In all other areas, machine-stitching has been implemented for efficiency, consistency, and durability.

It is in the examination of the construction and tailoring of the garment that we see traces of the innovative essence of Rei Kawakubo. Merging traditional techniques and Japanese avant-garde aesthetics, the garment creates an innovative boxy and oversized silhouette while maintaining a semi-fitted form. The tailoring of the torso is executed with princess lines – “shaped seams which serve the function of darts” (Bane 103). Following the curves of the body, the seams run from the armhole to the hem of the coat. Towards the bottom, the princess lines fold into the flare points of the garment and transition into a less fitted silhouette.

Complexity is evident in the manner in which the seams coincide with design elements on the coat. The rounded seams of the princess lines are interrupted by a welt pocket on the left breast as well as the flap pockets on the sides. The side seams of the garment also end after they approach the flap pockets from the armhole. This indicates that Kawakubo’s design contains many more pattern panels than a traditional overcoat. An additional panel next to the side seams continues the front of the garment to a partial amount on the back before it ends and makes way for perhaps the most interesting feature of the garment – the back cut-out. Creating a long rectangular void, it is clean finished with a yoke and creates the appearance of two panels on the sides of the garment which extend to the front body of the tailcoat.

In considering the sleeves, instead of a singular seam connecting to the side seam of the coat, two seams appear on both sides of where one would normally appear. This innovative construction method allows for shaping in the sleeve’s silhouette. The interior lining of the coat reveals the different pieces and panels of the garment based on the seam delineations. Its assembly would have required careful planning in the order of operations when sewn in order to ensure that all of the raw seams would be hidden. Finishings have been applied neatly in consideration of the complex structure of the garment which is disguised in its black entirety.

Works Cited

Bane, Allyne. Tailoring. New York City: McGraw-Hill, 1968. Print

English, Bonnie. “Japanese Fashion Designers: The Work and Influence of Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo”. London: Berg, 2011. Bloomsbury Fashion Central. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.

Entwistle, Joanne. The Fashioned Body. 1st ed. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000. Print. F

ukai, Akiko, Catherine Ince, and Rie Nii. Future Beauty. London: Merrell, 2010. Print.

Garber, Megan. “Why Women’s Shirt Buttons are on the Left and Men’s are on the Right”. The Atlantic. N.p., 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

Johnson, Kim, Sharron J Lennon, and Nancy Rudd. “Dress, Body and Self: Research In The Social Psychology Of Dress”. Fashion and Textiles 1.1 (2014): 1-24. Web. 18 Nov. 2016.

Kawamura, Yuniya. The Japanese Revolution In Paris Fashion. Oxford [England]: Berg, 2004. Print.

Mears, Patricia. “Exhibiting Asia: The Global Impact of Japanese Fashion In Museums And Galleries”. http://www.tandfonline.com/. N.p., 2008. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. The Dress Detective. 1st ed. York [Ontario]: Bloomsbury, 2015. Print.

Pamela Roskin. “Kawakubo, Rei.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.

Tortora, Phyllis G and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume. New York, NY: Fairchild Publications, 2010. Print.

Part II will be posted later this week and continue the analysis.

This post was written by Jordan Nguyen for FSN302 and has been edited by Ingrid Mida, Acting Curator FRC. This coat was also featured in the case study of a Man’s Evening Suit in The Dress Detective (see Figure 9.17 p.155-157).