Tag Archives: Mainbocher

Andre Collection at NY Public Library Digital Collections

Andre Studio Collection: Reefer Coat design by Pearl Levy Alexander, 1939. Copywight New Your Public Library.

Andre Studio Collection: Reefer Coat design by Pearl Levy Alexander, 1939. Image Copyright New York Public Library.

Andre Studios in New York was a business which produced sketches of French couture, with variations for the American market, selling the sketches to clothing manufacturers from about 1930 on. A collection of 1,246 Andre Studios sketches from the 1930’s is now available online from New York Public Library and from the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA.)  The name on most of the sketches is Pearl Levy Alexander, and that is the best online search term.

NOTE: please do not copy or republish these images; their copyright belongs to the New York Public Library and they have been made low resolution as required by NYPL.

An excellent article about the Andre collection can be found here as a pdf. (The name of the article’s author is missing!) It explains how (usually unauthorized) sketches of couture wound up in the hands of dress manufacturers, to be copied or modified as they worked their way down the economic scale, eventually reaching the cheapest parts of the mass market.

In fact, Pearl Levy Alexander signed/designed many hundreds of sketches which included Andre Studios’ suggested modifications and variations of current designs.

The designs in the Andre Collection may include adaptations suitable to the American market, but some have attributions to known couturiers — e.g., “Import R” was their code for Patou —  as on this red wool siren suit (for wearing in air raid shelters) designed by Jean Patou in 1939.

Andre Studio's sketch of a red wool

Andre Studios’ sketch of a red wool “siren suit” by Patou. 1939. “R” was the import code used for Patou. Image Copyright New York Public Library.

You can recognize Andre’s “Import Sketches” of original couture because they were done in black and white; the modified designs, suitable for U.S. manufacture, are more elaborate drawings and use some gouache — white or colored watercolor. This “black marocain” suit is an actual sketch of a Chanel model; in the lower right corner you can see “Spring/Summer 1938; Import Code J = Chanel.”

This sketch says “Designed by Pearl Alexander” but acknowledges that it is “after Molyneux” — not an exact copy.

This boxy coat with construction details is Alexander's modification of a Molyneux design. Copyright NYPL, Andre Collection.

“Boxy coat after Molyneux” 1940, designed by Pearl Alexander, is Alexander’s modification of a Molyneux design. Image Copyright NYPL, Andre Collection.

On the other hand, this suit, dated 1/30/39, simply says it is designed by Pearl Levy Alexander. The sketch is highlighted with white opaque watercolor (gouache) and has a pink hat and blouse.

This black and white sketch is a 1938 suit by Schiaparelli (Import Code AO):

Andre Studio sketch of an original Schiaparelli Suit, with a note about the embroidery. Copyright New York Public Library.

Andre Studios’ sketch of an original Schiaparelli suit, with a note about the embroidery. (1938) Copyright New York Public Library.

If you are looking for designs by particular couturiers, look at the last two images in the collection. They are lists of designers’ names; the “Import Key” for Spring/Summer 1938 is a long list of designers whose work was sketched for Andre’s manufacturing customers, including Chanel, Heim, Lanvin, Vionnet, Nina Ricci, Redfern, Mainbocher, Patou, Paquin, Schiaparelli, Worth, and many less remembered designers, like Goupy, Philippe et Gaston, Bernard, Jenny, et al. You can see it by clicking here.  A search for these individual names may (but may not) lead to a sketch. (There’s also an Import Key for 1939-40.)

Mainbocher design, Andre Studio Sketch. Copyright New York Public Library.

Mainbocher design, 1938; Andre Studios Sketch. Image Copyright New York Public Library.

World War II momentarily cut off free access to Parisian designs, and this particular NYPL collection of sketches ends in 1939-40. However, Andre Studios continued to produce sketches into the 1970’s.

Three Sources for Andre Studios Research

In addition to the portion of the Andre Studios collection donated to New York Public Library — over 1,200 sketches made available online — the Fashion Institute of Technology (NY) and the Parsons School of Design also received parts of the collection of Andre Studios’ sketches and scrapbooks, photos, news clippings, etc., which were donated by Walter Teitelbaum to (and divided among) all three institutions.

The Parsons School has information about its Andre Studios collection here, including this sketch of four coats designed by Dior in 1953. Parson also supplies information about other places with Andre Studios and Pearl Alexander archives.

FIT has not digitized its part of the collection, but researchers can visit it. For information, click here.

Bonus: More Thirties Designs in the NYPL Mid-Manhattan Collection Online

Image from New York Public Library's Mid Manhattan Collection. Copyright NYPL.

Image from New York Public Library’s Mid-Manhattan Collection. Copyright NYPL. “Dormoy’s Frock, Agnes hat, Chanel, Molyneux, Mainbocher.”

Another, completely different collection of fashion sketches from the 1930’s — many in full color — can be found here, at the NYPL digital collection, in the Mid-Manhattan Collection. [Note, when I asked it to sort “Costumes 1930s” by “date created,” images from 1937 came before images from 1935, so don’t assume it’s chronological.]

Nevertheless, if you explore the alphabetical list at the left of the Mid-Manhattan Collections page, scroll down, down down under Costume, and you’ll find many images by decade, before and after the nineteen thirties! I was surprised by this 1850’s bathing costume cartoon:

Morning, Noon and evening dress for a

Morning, Noon and evening dress for a “Watering Place.” Image copyright New York Public Library.


Filed under 1830s -1860s fashions, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, Bathing Suits, Exhibitions & Museums, Resources for Costumers, Sportswear, Swimsuits, Vintage Couture Designs

Fashion Illustration vs Fashion Reality, 1934

In the 1930s, some magazines that sold patterns, like Butterick’s Delineator, tried to modernize by running more photographs and fewer drawings of their products. Sometimes the collision between the unrealistic “fashion figure” of the early thirties — impossibly long, impossibly hipless — and the way the clothes would look on a real woman was pretty jarring.

Tailored Daytime Dresses, Butterick patterns 5914 & 5907. Oct. 1934. From The Delineator.

Tailored Daytime Dresses, Butterick patterns 5914 & 5907. Oct. 1934. From The Delineator. Illustrator is Myrtle Lages or Lageo.

Butterick evening dresses, No. 5913, on left, is after Mainbocher. Sizes 12 to 20, 30" to 44". The Delneator, Oct. 1934.

Butterick evening dress, No. 5913, on left, is “after Mainbocher.” Sizes 12 to 20, 30″ to 44″. The Delineator, Oct. 1934. These floor length dresses make the models look taller and thinner, but not much like the illustrations.

The evening gown models in the photograph do not have the narrow waists or exceptionally long thighs of those in the drawing, although they do have the sense not to stand “flat on” to the camera.  (Fashion tip: a slenderizing vertical belt buckle, like the rhinestone one on the left, draws our eyes to the center of the body rather than its width. Even so, her waist still looks thick.) Pattern companies were well aware that a woman’s hips are usually larger than her bust or shoulders; they just didn’t draw them that way.

This juxtaposition of a fashion drawing and a pretty, live model shows how impossible the ideal was:

Butterick coat pattern No. 5899 and Butterick tunic dress pattern 5882. Oct. 1934, The Delineator magazine.

Butterick coat pattern No. 5899 and Butterick tunic dress pattern 5882. Oct. 1934, The Delineator magazine.

In this particular layout, the photographic model is wearing the same hat as the drawn one — as if to suggest that the coat illustration was true to life.

Three views of the black felt feathered hat. Oct 1934.

Three views of the black felt feathered hat by Lilly Dache. Oct 1934.

The dress and coat below appeared in the same article, and showed another feathered hat in a photograph and in two drawings beside it. The Lilly Daché hat fares better than the live model.

"The famous butcher boy dress" (Butterick pattern No. 5609) and coat pattern 5901. October 1934, The Delineator.

“The famous butcher boy dress” (Butterick pattern No. 5609) and coat pattern 5901. October 1934, The Delineator.

“A belted and buttoned coat of black tweed flecked with rose, with scarf collar and cuffs of Hudson seal and the famous butcher boy dress of Howlett and Hackmeyer ashes-of-roses velveteen — worn with black fabric beret, kid bag, kid and suede oxfords, and beige suede gloves. Coat and dress are designed for Junior Miss sizes 12 to 20, 30 to 38 [inches bust.]”

Butterick pattern #5854, "after Lyolene." September 1934, The Delineator.

Butterick pattern #5854, “after Lyolene.” September 1934, The Delineator. Photo by Arthur O’Neill.

The model in this brown tweed plaid dress is wearing low-heeled shoes, which make it even more necessary for her to turn her hips to one side and conceal their width with her hands and purse. Those gigantic cuffs are a distraction, but the large collars of the 1930s are very useful in balancing a woman’s hips with a mass of lighter color to draw our eyes up toward the face and to widen the shoulders.

Three Butterick dress patterns from September 1934. From left, Nos. 5854, 5852, and 5874. The Delneator.

Three Butterick dress patterns from September 1934. From left, Nos. 5854, 5852, and 5874. The Delineator. The pose of the figure in green is very similar to the live model’s, who looks thick-waisted by comparison. The vertical line of buttons running all the way down the back of the black dress is very slenderizing. (But probably not nice to sit on!)

Of course, by 1934 shoulder pads were also in use to ensure that women’s shoulders looked wider than their hips, and shoulder pads got progressively bigger throughout the 1930s.

The Rule of Thumb

In case you haven’t studied both fashion illustration and life drawing (drawing from a live, nude model) — artists, as distinct from fashion illustrators, start with the fact that a normal human being is usually about seven or seven and a half “heads” high.   That is, if you hold out your arm with a pencil or brush in it and use your thumb to measure off the height of the model’s head, that “head” becomes the unit of measurement for the rest of the body. To make the three dimensional body look graceful when reduced to two dimensions, artists usually elongate the legs a little, so ‘realistic’ figure drawings are based on an eight head figure:

An eight head figure from Walt Reed's figure drawing book, The Figure.

An eight head figure from Walt Reed’s figure drawing book, The Figure.

On a standing model, the distance from the top of the head to the bottom of the torso is about four heads, and so is the distance from there to the heel. The legs equal half the body. I love this memorable illustration from Jack Hamm’s book, Drawing the Head and Figure:

Jack Hamm's version of the "eight head figure." From Drawing the Head and Figure.

Jack Hamm’s version of the “eight head figure.” The figure on the right measures seven and a half heads. From Drawing the Head and Figure.

Most of the added length is in the leg.  You can see how the eight head figure (AC) on the left compares with a more truthful — but chunky looking — seven-and-a half head figure (BD) on the right.

But fashion illustrations usually start at “nine heads” and “editorial” fashion illustrations are often eleven heads tall. There is no way an average woman, (5′ 4″ to 5′ 8″) with the measurements a pattern company gives as normally proportioned (say, 36-28-38) can ever look like the drawing on the front of the pattern envelope. That is why models kept getting taller and thinner; only a very tall, thin person can come close to matching the illustrated ideal. fashion  illus Myrtle Lages

You can see that the lower part of the body in these fashion illustrations is much more than half of the whole. Just for fun, I played with this illustration and the photo of two women in evening gowns from the top of this post. [Correction on 2/25/15: the adjusted figure below is based on the suit on the left, above, #5914, not the evening gown.]

shortened fashion drawingIn the illustration above, I took the extra length out of the legs. [I eye-balled it, so it still looks like a fashion illustration. Old habits….] comp model with legs addedOn the right is the photograph of the model. Her skirt is the same length in both images — I just added some legs under it so she looks taller (I also adjusted the flare, but not the length, of the skirt.) If you cover the legs with your thumb, you can see that this is the same picture.

Of the two drawing books mentioned above, Jack Hamm’s (available in paperback) is more useful to the fashion illustrator or costume designer. Originally published in 1963, the faces look dated, but there is a simplified guide to the 12 most common fashion models’ poses that can be a help when you’re doing dozens of costume sketches. He also covers feet (in high heels and men’s shoes) and the way fabrics behave. Walt Reed’s book is aimed at life drawing students (no clothing is discussed), but his lessons on head positions & features — and his emphasis on male and female models and models of various ages — is another handy reference when you don’t have a model to work from. [Costume designers rarely have a model, and we do have to draw more men than women.]



Filed under 1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Hats, Vintage patterns

Late 1930s Hat Styles

Two views of a twisted felt  hat

This twisted and skewered felt hat, from a private collection, has no label, but it seems like the logical (or illogical) result of hat patterns and illustrations from the late 1930s.

Here are three hats shown with couture collections in February, 1936.

Sketches of Paris Couture, Woman's Home Companion, February 1936

Sketches of Paris Couture, Woman’s Home Companion, February 1936

The designers are, left to right, Mainbocher, Worth, and Molyneux. Fourteen months later, similar styles were available to home stitchers in a Butterick pattern.

Butterick Hat Pattern #7852: Four Hat Styles

Butterick # 7852, Butterick Fashion News, May 1938

Butterick # 7852, Butterick Fashion News, May 1938

“All in one pattern, you will find the four important hats of the season – the pill-box, the draped turban with height, the drapable, cone-shaped hat, and the brimmed bonnet. Designed for 21 ½ to 23 inches head. 25 Cents.”

Except for the pillbox hat (top left), three have pointed or flattened cone shapes, which had been appearing at least since 1936.

Ad, January 1936, and Pattern Illustration, December 1936, WHC

Ad, January 1936, and Pattern Illustration, December 1936, WHC

Here are several other cone hats, from 1937:

Two Views, Pattern Illustration, Woman's Home Companion, October 1937

Two Views, Pattern Illustration, Woman’s Home Companion, October 1937

The version above is made from black Persian lamb. (Woman’s Home Companion, October of 1937)

1937 may illust pointy hat

This black felt cone hat in the illustration above is from a story in Woman’s Home Companion, May, 1937.

December 1937, Woman's Home Companion

December 1937, Woman’s Home Companion

This green draped hat appeared in a pattern illustration, Woman’s Home Companion, December 1937. It looks as though it might be an asymmetrical bow, but it is very similar to the draped cone hat in pattern # 7852, seen from a different angle.two draped cone hats

Finally, the draped and skewered cone hat illustrated on the left, below, from October, 1936, is only a little less extreme than the draped and skewered cone hat we started with:two draped and skewered cone hatsThe one on the right ties behind the head. The one on the left seems to depend on magic… or a thin elastic band.


Filed under 1930s, Accessory Patterns, Vintage Accessories, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns

Fashionable Dress Patterns for Women of All Sizes, 1932

Eight Butterick patterns, June 1932

Eight Butterick patterns, June 1932

New Styles, June 1932

A Delineator page illustrating eight warm weather patterns for June, 1932, mentions several new trends – long, full sleeves, fitted above the wrist, cape sleeves, jacket dresses, Schiaparelli pink…. The dresses all show that the dropped waist of the 1920s  is not only gone, but replaced by a fitted, belted waist that is a little higher than the natural waist, usually with a blouson, rather than a darted, bodice. The jacket of #4593, however, “has this year’s new fitted look.” Even the Great Depression didn’t stop fashion; the bottom of the page says:June, 1932 bottom center p 69

Paris Designs Become Dresses for Ordinary Women

"Lanvin Stripes"

“Lanvin Stripes”

Famous designers are alluded to, but the designs are not actually attributed to them:“Vionnet was the first to drape necklines.” (# 4572) “Lanvin and Mainbocher used cape sleeves.” (# 4584) “It was Lanvin who started this fashion of stripes combined with plain color,” (# 4576) and “Schiaparelli pink” is suggested for the jabot of # 4542. “A famous name sponsors the three-quarter sleeves and wide revers” of # 4593.

Fashions for Larger Women in the Early 1930s

Although the illustrations all show a tall, slender model, five of these designs are for large women, and they are not singled out. All 8 designs were available in size 44 [i.e., for a 44 inch bust measurement], but # 4585 and # 4576 ran to size 48″, and three, # 4572, # 4593, and # 4582 are specifically recommended as slenderizing, reducing the hipline, etc. Those three patterns were sized for women up to a 52 inch bust. One pattern, #4585, is “Specially becoming to short women,” although no adjustments in length are mentioned. The smallest dresses are for a 30″ bust.

Patterns for sizes 48 to 52

Patterns for sizes 48 to 52

Eight Styles for Summer, 1932

Here are all 8 patterns and their descriptions:

#4602, sizes 30 to 44"; #4585, sizes 34 to 48"

#4602, sizes 30 to 44″; #4585, sizes 34 to 48″

# 4602 “Sheer jacket frock”:  The new full-at-the bottom sleeves are, nevertheless, tight at the wrist, and graceful as you can see.  As for the dress, its sleeves are capes. [See back view] The fabric – the big fabric for summer jacket dresses, is semi-sheer crêpe – plain or printed. This dress is designed for sizes 12 to 20; 30 to 44.

# 4585 “high tied”:  There are simpler ways of reducing your hipline than dieting and exercising. One of them is the clever hip yoke of this frock.  Its sleeves follow the mode in a manner of their own. Specially becoming to short women. Designed for 34 to 48.

#4572, size 36 to 52"; #4542 for sizes 32 to 44"

#4572, sizes 36 to 52″; #4542 for sizes 32 to 44″

# 4572 “because it’s becoming”: Vionnet was the first to drape necklines. We favor this one because it is becoming to everybody. Two more reasons why this dress is a find for the larger woman are – the sleeves, full enough to be smart but not enlarging, and the yoke, cut to reduce the hips. Designed for 36 to 52.

# 4542 “with Schiaparelli pink”:  Pink is the new accessory color– a nice soft easy-on-the-complexion pink…. for the jabots if the rest of the costume is of navy blue, which it is almost sure to be this season. This is one of the… jacket dresses that Paris has sent….Designed for 32 to 44.

#4584, sizes 30 to 44"; #4593, sizes 36 to 52".

#4584, sizes 30 to 44″; #4593, sizes 36 to 52″.

# 4584 “shoulder capes”: Lanvin and Mainbocher used cape sleeves and so did almost every other dress-maker. Of course nothing could be more perfect for this cool, summery frock of chiffon. It’s young looking but any age can wear it. Designed for sizes 12 to 20; 30 to 44.

# 4593 “the jacket urge”: Here’s something to satisfy that jacket dress urge. A famous name sponsors the three-quarter sleeves and wide revers. It’s slightly shorter than last year’s jacket and it has this year’s new fitted look.  The frock specializes in slenderizing lines. It is designed for sizes 36 to 52.

#4576, sizes 34 to 48"; #4582, sizes 36 to 52"

#4576, sizes 34 to 48″; #4582, sizes 36 to 52″

# 4576 “Lanvin stripes”:   It was Lanvin who started this fashion of stripes combined with plain color. And the smart place for them is in blouses. It’s “blouse” in name only here, however, for this is a dress with a jacket – easier on the figure than the costume of skirt, blouse and jacket. Designed for 34 to 48.

# 4582 “lace for the face”: The unsymmetrical dress is the one that does the most for the larger figure. In the first place, it’s interesting, in the second, it’s reducing. We added the lace at the neckline for face flattery. The most slenderizing fabric for this is chalky semi-sheer crêpe. Designed for 36 to 52.


Filed under 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Not Quite Designer Patterns, Vintage patterns, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes