Tag Archives: Betty KIrke

Biased in Favor of Vionnet and Sandra Ericson, Part 1

 

Back of a gown by Vionnet, 1932. Photos: Metropolitan Museum

Back of a gown by Vionnet, 1932. Photos: Metropolitan Museum

I can’t look at 1930’s fashions without being constantly reminded of the genius of Madeleine Vionnet. She was a successful couturier in the 1920’s, when fashions were mostly tubular, falling with the straight of the grain, but it was Vionnet’s exploration of fabrics used on the bias — which allows woven fabric to stretch — that is, for me, the “look” of the thirties.

Dresses that cling to every curve and pour over the body like water . . . .

Vionnet bias silk and metallic lame gown, 1936. Photos: Metropolitan Museum.

Vionnet bias silk and metallic lame gown, 1936. Photos: Metropolitan Museum.

Diamond-shaped bias panels caressing the hips . . . .

Butterick suit pattern 4176. Delineator, Dec. 1931.

Butterick suit pattern 4176. Delineator, Dec. 1931.

“Mermaid gowns” that glide over the hips and flare near the hem . . . .

Butterick patterns 4093 and 4097; Delineator, Oct. 1931.

Butterick patterns 4093 and 4097; Delineator, Oct. 1931.

Jean Harlow in a slinky halter dress . . . .  All show the influence of Madame Vionnet.

In November, 2010, I attended a lecture on the techniques of Madeleine Vionnet given by Sandra Ericson, who runs the Center for Pattern Design. It was one of the best organized presentations I have ever heard — packed with information, and illustrated with slides and with half-scale and full scale Vionnet reproductions that Ericson had made. (Yes, we were allowed to touch them and examine them.)

As a member of an organization of costumers who work in professional, educational and community theatres, I took plenty of  notes and shared them with members who couldn’t attend. I will post them in Part 2 of this series.

One of the things Ericson said about Vionnet’s draping technique (there is more about it in Betty Kirke’s book,  Madeleine Vionnet) was a real  “light bulb goes on over my head” moment for me.  Actually, since I had been draping and drafting patterns for 30 years at that point, I should probably call it a “Well, Duh!” moment.

Butterick evening gown 3696, with square bias panels over the hips. Delineator, February 1931.

Butterick evening gown 3696, with square bias panels over the hips. Delineator, February 1931.

Ericson (and Betty Kirke before her) pointed out that Madeleine Vionnet cut geometrically. Vionnet based her cutting on circles, squares, triangles, rectangles, and especially on the quadrant (quarter) of a circle. Her early 30’s dresses were cut on the straight, seamed on the straight grain, and worn on the bias. [More about that later.] Some of her loveliest bias gowns were based on a quarter circle, slashed to create a V neckline or an armhole, with triangular inserts, or were formed from four identical pattern pieces, often cut as rectangles, stitched on the straight, worn on the bias.

Nightgown by Vionnet, 1930. The quadrant has been slit at the top and sides, and triangles inserted at the sides. Photo: Metropolitan Museum.

Nightgown by Vionnet, 1930. The quadrant has been slit at the top and sides, and triangles inserted at the sides. Photo: Metropolitan Museum.

I think these concepts are worth writing about here.

Forgive me if I seem to be stating the obvious to some readers; I never took a sewing class until I started my MFA program. My Girl Scout leader taught us how to operate a sewing a machine and use a commercial pattern; after that, I learned mostly from making commercial patterns and following the instructions. So I knew enough to pay attention to “straight of grain” and “bias grain” when cutting out a pattern; I knew what the words meant, but not how they affected the outcome. It wasn’t until grad school, when I started draping fabric on a professional dressmaker’s mannequin (the kind that costs hundreds of dollars) that I had a clue.

The Basics of Fabric Grain (we’ll get to Vionnet in a minute…)

Everything that follows applies to simple, woven fabrics, not to knits or stretch fabrics.

Fabric is woven with vertical threads and horizontal threads, which wrap around the vertical threads at the sides — this is called the selvage (selvedge in the UK). The straight grain of the fabric runs parallel to the selvage and at a right angle to the selvage ( the cross grain.) If you draw a line from the top left corner of a square of fabric to the bottom right corner of a square of fabric, that line follows the bias grain.

The important thing about the bias is that it stretches. If you pull on a square of fabric with a hand at each side, or a hand at top and bottom, it doesn’t stretch much. But if you take hold of two opposite corners and pull, the fabric will stretch. That is why “bias tape” stretches, and bias cut skirts mold to the body.

bias x str grain

The Magic of Draping

Suppose that you have cut a simple skirt out of muslin. It has just a back and a front, and each is a quarter of a circle, with a slightly curved line at the waist.

skirt front

skirt front (quarter section — “quadrant” — of a circle)

If you pin the skirt front to a mannequin and pull the center of the waistline up just a half inch or so, an amazing thing happens:

Raising the center of the waist just a small amount will change the way the skirt hangs.

Raising the center of the waist just a small amount will change the way the skirt hangs.

The sides will move closer together, and the fullness of the skirt, which was evenly distributed, falls toward the center, directly under the place where you raised the waist.  Keep this in mind when looking at 1930’s dresses. The tiniest “tweak” at the waist will determine where the folds congregate — to the center, to one side, etc.

Front of skirt raised quarter circle088

 

A godet (a wedge of fabric usually shaped like a pie slice) is typically a section of a circle.  Often a godet  is inserted between two straight-of-grain panels, where it falls into evenly distributed folds like these:

Godets in 1930's dresses: Butterick 4222 (1931,) 4456 (1932,) and 5447 (1934)

Godets in 1930’s dresses: Butterick 4222 (1931,) 4456 (1932,) and 5447 (1934)

But, in the godet at the left, below, and the skirt at the right, the fullness has been “tweaked” to force the folds away from the center front. The fabric has been lifted a bit at the points of the yoke.

The godet of Butterick 4341 (left) and the entire skirt front of Butterick 4333 (right) have their folds falling from a point of suspension. February 1932.

The godet of Butterick 4341 (left) and the entire skirt front of Butterick 4333 (right) have their folds falling from their points of suspension. February 1932.

Playing with fabric’s behavior and making discoveries like this is one of the joys of draping.

Vionnet Influence, Butterick Pattern

In this evening ensemble from 1932, Butterick mentions the influence of Vionnet. Because the fabric has a vertical stripe, we can see the grain very clearly. The dress is cut on the lengthwise grain, following the selvage. The godets are cut on the cross grain. And the jacket hangs on the bias.

Butterick evening pattern 4546, Delineator, June 1932.

Butterick evening pattern 4546, “Floating Power,” Delineator, June 1932.

1932 june p 66 4546 vionnet jacket

Here is a later wrapped jacket by Vionnet in the Metropolitan Museum collection.

Cut Cut and Sew on the Straight Grain; Wear on the Bias

Another of those “Well, Duh!” moments for me.

BUtterick pattern for 1931. Vionnet Gown dated 1932. Gown photo: Metropolitan Museum.

Butterick pattern for 1931. Vionnet Gown dated 1932. Gown photo: Metropolitan Museum.

To illustrate “cut and sew on the straight, wear on the bias,” I’m rotating that Butterick evening gown 45 degrees.

The panels of the gown are sewn on the straight grain and worn on the bias.

The panels of the bodice are cut and sewn on the straight grain and used on the bias in the finished dress.

This beautifully made early 1930’s dress was butchered by having one sleeve torn off.  Luckily a collector recognized its quality (the squares were hand-stitched together!)

Vintage bias silk dress. ON the right, I removed the confusing shadow.

Vintage bias silk dress made with squares of fabric stitched together with fagoting. On the right, I removed the confusing shadow.

It is a bias-cut dress, and flows over the figure, clinging to every curve. But it was made of squares cut on the straight grain:

Squares with the seam allowances folded under and connected with fagoting.

Squares with the seam allowances folded under and connected with fagoting.

Before being made into a dress, the stitched-together squares were tilted 45 degrees:

black squares in position on dress

Now the dress has bias stretch in two directions.

Detail of black silk bias dress.

Detail of vintage black silk bias dress.

Detail of fagoting, which allows the undergarment to show through. Vintage black silk dress in private collection.

Detail of cross-stitch fagoting, which allows the undergarment to show through. These loose seams allow even more stretch. Vintage black silk dress in private collection.

In the words of the old gravestones: “Go thou, and do likewise.” Play with fabric. Experiment with bias. ( It’s O.K. to use a sewing machine!)

More about Sandra Ericson’s brilliant lecture on Vionnet  in Part 2.

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Filed under 1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Dresses, Resources for Costumers, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns

Day Dresses for November, 1934

Butterick dress patterns for "High Noon," November 1934. Nos. 5961, 5955, and 5857.

Butterick dress patterns for “High Noon,” November 1934. Nos. 5961, 5955, and 5857. From The Delineator magazine. Photographer not named.

High Noon

“If you sit in the lobby of any smart luncheon place at high noon, you’ll see these smart women come in. The one who wears a tailored tweed dress, 5961 [left], with careful details — small collar, pockets, buttons, pleats, stitching.  The one who wears a black wool dress, 5957 [right], with slits in the streamline skirt and a shining satin sash.  The one who wears a bright crepe dress, 5955 [center], punctuated at neckline and wrists with black. There’s a look of Jodelle about the lovely, simple lines. . . . Cheney fabric. Delman shoes. Lilly Daché hat. Furs from Jaekel.”

Butterick 5961

Butterick pattern No. 5961, Nov. 1934, Delineator magazine.

Butterick pattern No. 5961, Nov. 1934, The Delineator magazine.

I confess that this is my favorite. It has so many great details, including that yoke extending into sleeves; the intriguing pocket shapes, copied on the skirt; and the big button accents. On the other hand, matching the large-scale plaid was undoubtedly easier for the illustrator than it would be for the home stitcher!

1934 nov high noon 5961 left top

“5961:  The kind of tailored clothes that came out of Paris are the kind with interesting details — stitching, slot seams, amusing pockets, slit skirts. As Agnes-Drecoll uses details, we used them in this plaid wool dress. For 36 (size 18), 3 yards, 54-inch wool.  Designed for 12 to 20; 30 to 42 [inch bust measure.]”

Not what we think of as a 'slit skirt' today: Butterick #5961, 1934.

Not what we think of as a ‘slit skirt’ today: Butterick #5961, 1934. It wouldn’t make walking much easier….

Butterick 5955

Butterick pattern No. 5955, with Lilly Dache hat. November 1934 Delineator magazine.

Butterick pattern No. 5955, with Lilly Dache hat. November 1934 The Delineator magazine.

“As Jodelle grows familiar, you recognize the simplicity of her lines. Like our dress with its convertible collar, they suit everyone. . . . Designed for sizes 12 to 20; 30 to 40 [inch bust measure.] “

Butterick pattern No. 5955, Delineator, Nov. 1934.

Butterick pattern No. 5955, The Delineator, Nov. 1934.

That’s certainly an interesting sleeve (although likely to swoop into the soup at lunch). The article gives no alternate view to explain how the collar is “convertible.” Here’s a closer look at the Lilly Daché hat, with its brim of pleated velvet:

Black velvet hat from Lilly Dache. 1934.

Black velvet hat from Lilly Dache. 1934.

I had to increase the contrast to show the hat details. According to Lizzie Bramlett, writing for the Vintage Fashion Guild, Lilly Dache’s first hat under her own name was also made of velvet. Fashion trivia fact: “In 1958 Daché hired Halston as a hat designer.”

Butterick 5957

Butterick pattern 5957, Delineator magazine, Nov. 1934.

Butterick pattern 5957, The Delineator magazine, Nov. 1934.

“5957  A new French house called Robert Piguet slit the skirts of trim wool dresses and filled them in with pleats. We make a dress like that and tie shiny satin around the waist. . . . Designed for sizes 12 to 20; 30 to 40 [inch bust measure.] ”

SLit with pleats in the style of Robert Piguet, 1934. The Delineator.

Slit with pleats in the style of Robert Piguet, 1934. The Delineator.

Writing for the Vintage Fashion Guild, emmapeelpants says that the house of Robert Piguet, founded in 1933, was “the training ground for Dior, Bohan, Galanos, Balmain and Givenchy. ” That’s quite an alumni group! Like Butterick No. 5961, this dress has broad shoulders and a yoke, which makes the upper body look wider (and the hips narrower by comparison. Also notice how much the length of the thigh is exaggerated in this fashion illustration.) 1934 nov high noon right 5957 thigh lengthThe finishing touch on this dress (described in the copy as “a black wool dress,” but illustrated in red) is an exceptionally long rhinestone dress clip at the neckline, added in the illustration to continue the vertical CF seam. 1934 nov high noon right dress clip

1930s rhinestone dress clip from RememberedSummers.

1930s rhinestone dress clip from RememberedSummers.

I thought this vintage clip was long — over 2 inches — but it’s nowhere near as long as the one illustrated. The collar of #5957 would look quite different without that big piece of jewelry.

Not Quite Designer Fashions

You’ll notice that all three patterns are described with reference to specific Paris designers, but none of them claims to be an exact copy of a Paris design. “As Agnes-Drecoll uses details, we used them in this plaid wool dress.”  “There’s a look of Jodelle about the lovely, simple lines.” “Robert Piguet slit the skirts of trim wool dresses and filled them in with pleats. We make a dress like that . . . .” The Butterick Publishing Company maintained an office in Paris, partly for the purpose of reporting on the latest fashions. Back in the 1920s, it was raided by the French police on behalf of Madeleine Vionnet; they indeed found evidence that her dresses were being copied in the workshop. Vionnet sued. (Source: Betty Kirke’s brilliant book Madeleine Vionnet.)

 

 

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Filed under 1930s, Hats, Not Quite Designer Patterns, Vintage Accessories, Vintage patterns

When Is a Designer Pattern Not a Designer Pattern?

A recent blog on Pattern Vault showed Schiaparelli patterns from Authentic Paris Pattern Company that did not use phrases like “after Schiaparelli” or “Schiaparelli-influenced,” which are usually indicators that the pattern has been adapted from an original design, with varying degrees of participation or permission from the designer – sometimes, none.  Betty Kirke’s extraordinary book, Madeleine Vionnet, tells us that:

“In 1922, [Vionnet] brought action against Butterick Publishing Company, claiming infringement of pattern rights. Police raided the Paris branch of Butterick and found a staff of designers converting her dresses into patterns.” (Kirke, p. 221)

[Five years later, Vionnet and Butterick were apparently on very good terms, since she even wrote an article for Butterick’s magazine, The Delineator, in 1927.]  Nevertheless, over the years, Vionnet filed many other lawsuits in an attempt to prevent manufacturers from selling unauthorized copies of her designs.

Is This Dress a Lanvin Designer Pattern?

This dress pattern, Butterick # 5870, was featured in Delineator magazine in August, 1934.

Photographed by Arthur O’Neill, Delineator, August 1934

Photographed by Arthur O’Neill, Delineator, August 1934

1934 aug p 62 Lanvin dress pattern #7870 text

This caption does not use any of the usual ‘hedge words’ like ‘after Lanvin,’ ‘inspired by…,’ ‘in the manner of…’; it says “Jeanne Lanvin’s button-down-the-back dress, sensation of the Paris openings.” Does that mean Lanvin authorized this pattern?

Is This Coat a Schiaparelli Designer Pattern?

Earlier that year, in March, 1934, Butterick coat pattern # 5576 appeared under the headline “The Schiaparelli Wind Blown Coat.” 1934 march schiaparelli coat #5576 koret bags top page

1934 march p 17 no caption schiaparelli coat #5576The caption, however, says “This is Schiaparelli’s newest silhouette. Even in the calmest weather the forward streaming revers indicate high March winds blowing from the rear.” 1934 march p 17 caption schiaparelli coat #5576Questions arise: This may be a Schiaparelli silhouette, but is this a pattern authorized by Schiaparelli? Is it an exact copy? Is it based on a sketch of a coat by Schiaparelli, or on a toile supplied by her? I can’t tell. [A toile is a prototype garment made of inexpensive cloth, from which a pattern for the real garment  is taken.]

Is This Dress a Schiaparelli Designer Pattern?

Butterick pattern # 5874, Delineator, Sept. 1934

Butterick pattern # 5874, Delineator, Sept. 1934

This dress pattern, Butterick # 5874, is presented in the same way as the Lanvin dress above, and in the very next issue of the magazine, September, 1934. But the headline and the caption use the words “in the manner” of Schiaparelli, which not quite the same as ‘Schiaparelli’s Tweed Dress.’

Photographed by Arthur O’Neill

Photographed by Arthur O’Neill

1934 sept p 17 tweed dress in manner of schiaparelli text

Vogue Designer Patterns

Vogue, Butterick, and McCall’s are now all one big company. The company history on their website  tells us that:

“While Vogue Pattern Book featured “couturier” patterns as early as 1937, these patterns were not exact reproductions of actual styles. But in 1949, Vogue Patterns announced “A New Pattern Service—Paris Original Models Chosen From The Collections.” The cover of that year’s April/May pattern book showed photographs of the styles chosen from the eight featured countries [couturiers?], among them Balmain, Schiaparelli, Lanvin, Jaques Fath.

“It was the first time originals from the Paris couture had been duplicated in pattern form. Vogue Patterns became the only pattern company licensed to produce designs from the world [sic] leading couturiers, establishing a precedent which continues today.”

And yet, The Pattern Vault has Authentic Paris Patterns that say “This pattern reproduces exactly the original garment of this design made in Paris by Schiaparelli.”  Sarah at Pattern Vault also has copies of the Authentic Paris Pattern Company booklets for sale on her Etsy store, so it is possible to read the articles in them. (I haven’t – I just discovered them.)  Until some scholar finds copies of the licensing agreements from all the pattern companies, we’ll just have to hope that the designers were participating and being recompensed. I’d welcome comments — I really don’t know the answers to the questions I’m raising.

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Filed under 1930s, Not Quite Designer Patterns, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage patterns

Shoes from Paris, 1928, Part 2: Netch et Bernard (and Vionnet)

Shoes from Paris to Wear with the New Winter Frocks, Delineator, Oct. 1928

Shoes from Paris to Wear with the New Winter Frocks, Delineator, Oct. 1928

Netch and Bernard (and Madeleine Vionnet) Part 2:  

In a previous post about Shoes from Paris to Wear with the New Winter Frocks, from Delineator magazine,  October, 1928, I described the shoes by Ducerf Scavini pictured on the left hand page.  This post is about the right hand page, with shoes by Netch et Bernard.  [Vionnet married Netch (Captain Dimitri Netchvolodoff) in 1923.]  Netch et Frater shoes can be seen in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, but I haven’t found any references online to Netch et Bernard.  The Delineator article was written by Marie Beynon Ray.  Her chief point was that “Many American manufacturers still continue to copy the most bizarre and striking of the French designs, and to cheapen and debase the finer ones,” resulting in a “popular misconception of French chic.”

The French Revolution in Shoes

“Ten – a dozen years ago – a shoe was merely a utility, a high boot, buttoned and laced, in brown or black leather, sturdily made to do the heaviest service of any article in the entire wardrobe…. Then came the French revolution in shoes – daytime shoes cut like evening slippers, made of the lightest and most perishable of leathers, and frankly proclaiming themelves articles of luxury…. American manufacturers, missing the spirit of French innovation, seized upon its most superficial characteristics, and produced abortions and eccentricities. The most startling and bizarre styles of the third-rate Parisian bottiers who cater to American gullibility were generally selected as models by manufacturers instead of the restrained and elegant but far less noticeable designs of the master craftsmen; and America was swept by a tidal wave of bad taste in footwear. These snub-nosed, be-ribboned, and be-jazzed atrocities were made and sold by the millions in America….”

The Truly Smart Frenchwoman’s Shoes

The truly smart Frenchwoman’s shoes are designed “to finish the foot inconspicuously and in perfect harmony with the costume…. Her preferred footgear for evening is a plain beige satin slipper or one matching the color of her gown or her other accessories….1928 oct paris shoes article p 118 rt big Netch et Bernard Netch et Bernard’s model, labeled Q on these pages, may appear a bit unusual, … as far as any really smart Frenchwoman will ever go on the road to eccentricity; and when you consider that this evening slipper can be made inconspicuously in flesh colored crêpe de Chine, piped with flesh colored kid, to be worn with matching stockings… you will admit that there is nothing bizarre about it.”

Ten Netch et Bernard Shoes, Fall of 1928

There are several pairs of shoes in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection signed Netch and Frater, and dated to the 1930s,  but I haven’t found any references to Netch et Bernard. Perhaps the company reorganized between 1928 and 1930, or perhaps Delineator Magazine was in error.  Shoes Q and S, which the article decribes as “a bit unusual,” must have been influential, since they appear to be the ancestors of many shoes familiar to vintage dealers.  The Met’s collection reminds us of the glorious colors possible.Netch et Bernard K to N

K. Saddle strap shoe. This is dark brown with darker saddle of unborn calf.

L. One-strap shoe for daytime. Beige and brown kid with woven beading.

M. High-cut pump, brilliant and dull in black patent kid and antelope.

N. Evening pump. Rose-beige satin and gold kid – cut out in ladder design.Netch et Bernard O  to P

O. High-cut slipper of two smart leathers, black patent kid and black lizard.

P. Pump with triangles of gold and silver kid on black patent leather.Netch et Bernard Q to T

Q. Sandal of vermillion crêpe de Chine with bands of silver kid for trimming.

R. Mule of gilded wood. The straps are silver kid encrusted with gold triangles.

S. Evening sandal. A simplified model in flesh crêpe and colored kid.

T. Laughing mask mule. Soft bright blue kid with gold piping and lining. [Viewed from the front, this mule would bear the mask of comedy! In profile, it shows one eye and half of the smiling mouth.]

Netch et Bernard: The Vionnet Connection

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

“One model, lettered Q and S…may appear… not ornate, but a bit unusual…. Doubtless the design was inspired by the beautiful triangular and V shaped motifs which Madame Vionnet uses so ubiquitously, for the Netch of Netch et Bernard is Madame Vionnet’s husband, and his shoes, shown in conjunction with Vionnet’s dresses, are frequently inspired by her designs…. In many of the models, a touch that is purely classical or geometrical indicates the intention of this bottier to harmonize his shoes with the costumes designed by Vionnet, a feature of which the chic woman may well take advantage.” Although Netch is not often mentioned in connection with Vionnet, Betty Kirke’s Madeleine Vionnet, an extraordinary book, confirms that Netch and Vionnet were married in 1923, and that, “after they married, he supplied the shoes for her salon.” (p. 135)  They separated in the 1930s and were divorced in 1943.  Monsieur Bernard remains a mystery to me.  Here is the relevant text, from Delineator Magazine, October, 1928, page 129:1928 oct paris shoes contd small

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Shoes, Vintage Accessories