Tag Archives: USITT Costume Commission

Musings: John Oliver on the Cost of Cheap Fashion, plus Bertrand Bonello’s Movie Saint Laurent, and TuTu Makers

1936 january Delineator stitcher and cat

Sunday afternoon I saw Bertrand Bonello’s movie Saint Laurent at the SF International Film Festival, then came home to John Oliver’s scathingly funny report on multi-million dollar clothing labels (GAP, H&M, Walmart, Forever 21, et al.) and their lack of oversight on the sub-sub-contractors who make it possible to sell a new dress for less than $5, often using child labor. Click here to read an article about the show and to watch the Youtube video.

John Oliver Tackles Child Labor

John Oliver’s report was almost 18 (truth telling) minutes long; if you feel the urge to fast forward, don’t miss minutes 14-till-the-end, when he stages a fashion show — all items priced, as are the cheapest possible foods the models are carrying. If you don’t know how it’s made, and you don’t know who actually made it, whether the kitchen is clean, or what the ingredients are — would you eat it? Knowing it was made as cheaply as possible, with no regulation or supervision, by desperate people? Oliver wants us to think about fashion that way.

Bertrand Bonello’s Film About Saint Laurent

I know relatively little about the life of Yves Saint Laurent, but I enjoyed Bonello’s  two and a half hour biographical film, Saint Laurent.  It is not to be confused with another biographical film, Yves Saint Laurent by Jalil Lespert, released in 2014, or the documentary L’Amour Fou.

You can see the official trailer for Bonello’s Saint Laurentclick here, then click “Watch Trailer.”

The film’s director and co-writer, Bertrand Bonello, was present at the screening, along with actor Gaspard Ulliel, who played Yves Saint Laurent in the movie. Aside from the superb production values, I enjoyed the way the movie avoided moralizing — or underlining ideas — and left me thinking about the main character for hours afterward. It follows YSL chiefly through the period 1967 to 1977, with another actor playing him in old age.

Early in the film, we get a notion of the enormous pressures created by success — the more successful he is, the more work he has to do, to inexorable deadlines, even though he was emotionally very fragile even before his success. But this information is imparted almost in passing, as we get a glimpse of the actual work in a great couture house (and as he tries to sketch a collection while listening to his schedule for months to come.)

At the end, the question is unresolved:  Would his genius have been even greater without the drugs and alcohol? Or did they somehow contribute to his creativity? If he had been happy and healthy, what might YSL have created?

Q and A about Saint Laurent

The question and answer session after the screening was especially interesting, because, although I relished all the YSL designs that appeared in the movie, I was especially in awe of the superbly tailored suits Gaspard Ulliel wore. Costume designer Anais Romand didn’t just have to recreate accurate period clothing, she had to coordinate it with the progress of the character and the moods in each scene. (Ulliel not only resembles YSL, he captures his apparent shyness and charm — and misery.)

According to director Bonello, the current YSL company could not (or did not) give permission to use actual YSL runway garments, so the movie company had to set up a couture workroom and spend four months re-creating all those pieces of couture. (Ulliel said that visiting the workshop helped him understand a great deal.)

More astonishing to me was Ulliel’s explanation that one of the greatest collectors of Yves Saint Laurent memorabilia owns many of his suits, and let them be used for the filming. (After seeing Ulliel completely nude in the movie, it was hard to believe that suits custom made for YSL, who at one point in his youth weighed less than 100 pounds, could fit the actor so perfectly, and I cringed at the thought that they must have been altered, at least slightly!) Ulliel commented on his surprise at how differently suits from the 60’s and 70’s fit, compared to modern men’s suits. He said he loved how easily and freely his arms moved [in a vintage, European-tailored suit. Yes, the higher and tighter the armhole, the better you can move your arms — the opposite of the looser, American, “Brooks Brothers” fit.]

You can read an interview with Costume Designer Anais Romand – discussing House of Tolerance, another Bertrand Bonello film, set in the 1890s. There are many photos — note, nudity is involved. The film Saint Laurent also carries a warning for full frontal male nudity, sex scenes, and drug and alcohol abuse. “Rated R for graphic nudity/strong sexual situations, substance abuse throughout and some language.”

As I mentioned, the Saint Laurent film is two and a half hours long — but I wasn’t bored for single instant:  A rich experience.

Shortage of Skilled TuTu Makers?

Newsweek magazine reported that Ballet and Opera companies are running out of skilled stitchers: click here.  Do read all the comments from skilled costume technicians!

A costumers’ group I belong to exchanged several mails, pointing out that the article exemplifies the confusion most people (including the Newsweek writer) have between the worlds of retail fashion and theatrical costuming — and suggesting that finding skilled costume technicians isn’t difficult — if you pay them according to their specialized skills and training, and don’t expect them to come from a school of retail fashion. You can find university programs in Costume Design and Technology all over the U.S. at the USITT website, Costume Symposium. Click here.



Filed under 1960s-1970s, Menswear, Musings, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

CoPA: The Commercial Pattern Archive

All three of these undated patterns were dated to 1974 using the CoPA Sample data search. What a great reminder that 1960s styles influenced fashion well into the 1970s!

All three of these undated patterns were dated to 1974 using the CoPA Sample data search. What a great reminder that 1960s styles influenced fashion well into the 1970s!

If you are interested in costume history or vintage sewing patterns, you will probably enjoy a visit to this amazing website. The Commercial Pattern Archive (CoPA) is a searchable database — with pictures — of more than 56,000 vintage patterns.  It gives you access to vintage patterns from several collections:  46,500 patterns from the 1840s through 2000 in the collections of the University of Rhode Island; plus many patterns from the Kevin L. Seligman Collection at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) (18,000 items!)  and patterns from individual collections and other museums. More patterns are being scanned and added regularly.

Parallel Worlds with a Common Interest in Fashion History: Collectors, Costumers, and Theatrical Designers

The CoPA site is a project of the Costume Commission of the USITT. (The United States Institute for Theatre Technology.) Theatre Technology isn’t just about lighting instruments and scenery materials; over the years, the Costume Commission — people who design and build costumes and teach costume history, etc. — has become its largest (and a very active) division. As a former member (now retired) of the USITT, I’d like to introduce the resources of USITT to members of the Vintage Fashion Guild, costume re-creators, vintage collectors and other researchers. We all have a lot in common!

You Can Sample CoPA Searches: Give It a Try!

UPDATE 1/24/2018: Since this post was written, the CoPA site has changed; according to Joy Spanabel Emery, whom we all need to thank for her work on this project, the full benefits of the site are now available without a paid subscription! You can now search by pattern number, and have access to the entire online archive. You do need to subscribe. And, if you use this site, a donation would help to keep it being enlarged and maintained.

She wrote, “Since the CoPA database is now available at no cost, the Sample option is no longer necessary. At present an enrollment form is necessary for access. The from can be downloaded from the website…. We are now relying even more heavily on volunteers and financial donations to the Joy Spanabel Endowment Fund at the Rhode Island Foundation.

I urge you to try this amazing archive of vintage patterns! The Log In page will allow you to download the subscription form. Click here.

[DELETED: Although you may want to subscribe in order to make full use of the scanned patterns and the entire CoPA collection,  you can access sample searches by clicking here. LINK IS DEAD ] There is a lot of information available to anyone — for free. If you want an overview of patterns and fashions from, say, 1920 to 1929, just scroll down to 1920 and then hold Shift as you scroll to 1929. If you want to see every sample in that time period, leave all the other settings on “Any.” If you want to limit your search to a certain type of garment (e.g. bathing suits) or a specific designer, or just one pattern company, or a keyword (e.g., “halter,” “corset,” or “pedal-pushers,”) that is also possible. If you want to search the whole archive, select all the Collections, the same way you select a range of dates.  DELETE: You can do repeated sample searches for free. CoPA says this gives just a sample of the collection, but I was able to date five of my undated Vogue designer patterns in a few minutes. (They happened to be included in the collection. However, you can also use the search to place your pattern within a number sequence, even if you don’t locate that specific pattern.)

It is now (2018) possible to search for a specific pattern number from most companies.

REVISED 1/24/18; SEE ABOVE or CLICK HERE for the new, 2018 CoPA Home page. If you want to take advantage of the entire collection and be able to see images of the pattern pieces as pictured on the envelope, so that you can drape a version of the pattern on a mannequin, you will need to subscribe, but the subscription only costs about $10 a month (Minimum of 4 months. There are Group Subscription Rates, too. See below.) REVISED: 11/6/18: Membership is FREE! However, donations will help to continue expansion.

Explore the CoPA Site for More Great Information

Read about the history of  CoPA site at PROJECT.  ON the 2018 site: ABOUT US or NEWS .

The FAQ explains how the patterns were dated and answers other Frequently Asked Questions about the archive. INSTRUCTIONS will help you to use the search engine and to print images. [Note: The USITT member who showed me this site says that MAC users sometimes have problems; the sample search works wonderfully with my PC.]  PARTNERS  is especially interesting because it lists several other pattern collections in the United States, Canada, and England, with summaries of their specialties, plus contact and visiting information. Some of these collections are represented in the CoPA Archives. You may discover a collection near you; for example, the Sterling Historical Society in Sterling, MA has “a good representation of very early Butterick patterns and papers.” The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has 18,000 patterns and pieces of fashion ephemera that belonged to USITT member Kevin L. Seligman. These collections can be visited by appointment. [Note: some of the Partners information is being revised. CoPA is an active, growing database.]

More Information about the Commercial Pattern Archive

Here is some other information from Joy G. Emery at the University of Rhode Island, who has been working on the CoPA project for many years:

“All proceeds from the subscriptions are used to pay student assistants working in the archive. In addition to the patterns we have an extensive collection for fashion and tailoring materials that are available to visiting researchers.
“Unfortunately subscribers can’t search with a specific pattern number. But looking at the pattern company and year(s) (determined by the style of the fashion), it is easy to determine what year the specific pattern number was issued.
“We don’t include separate numerical lists of each pattern company’s numbers. However, there is an option to view a list of 200-plus company numbers for the patterns in the Archive by hiding the images.
“Questions about group membership – and any other questions regarding the database or archive can be referred to  jemery@uri.edu .”

Book to Watch For: A History of the Paper Pattern Industry

A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution, by Joy Emery, will be published at the end of May by Bloomsbury.  This should be of great interest to collectors and fashion historians. Thanks to Joy for sharing all this information in her book and on the CoPA Database, for generously including her own pattern collection in the database, and for her help in checking this post for accuracy.



Filed under Dating Vintage Patterns, Exhibitions & Museums, Resources for Costumers, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage patterns