Billie Blair

February 27, 2014 § 3 Comments

Billie Blair on the cover of Interview magazine, August 1974

Billie Blair on the cover of Interview magazine, August 1974. Image via Lipstick Alley.

Born in Flint, Michigan, Billie Blair (b. 1946) worked as a model at the Detroit Auto Show before becoming one of the highest-paid fashion models of the 1970s. Moving to New York City, she got a job at Halston and soon found success as an editorial and runway model. Blair was among the African-American models at the historic 1973 fundraising event, Le Grand Divertissement à Versailles, known today as the Battle of Versailles. (The event was the subject of a recent documentary by Deborah Riley Draper, Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution [2012)].)

Billie Blair in Halston, 1979

Billie Blair in Halston, 1979. Image via Pinterest.

Billie Blair may be seen on a number of Vogue designer patterns from the mid-1970s. Here she wears a tweed skirt suit and pussy-bow blouse by Oscar de la Renta; this design was marked as ‘suitable for knits’:

Billie Blair models a 1970s Oscar de la Renta suit and blouse pattern - Vogue 1163

Vogue 1163 by Oscar de la Renta (1975) Image via PatternVault on Etsy.

Stan Herman designed this casual hooded top, skirt, and pants. The illustration shows some American Hustle-worthy aviator shades:

Billie Blair modelling a 1970s Stan Herman pattern - Vogue 1169

Vogue 1169 by Stan Herman (1975) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Here Blair wears a girlish, vintage-style ensemble by Nina Ricci, a cream-coloured dress with matching cape:

Billie Blair models a 1970s Nina Ricci cape and dress pattern - Vogue 1175

Vogue 1175 by Nina Ricci (1975) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

From Jean Patou, this maxi dress may date to the period when the young Jean Paul Gaultier was assistant designer. Blair brings out the glamour of this haute couture loungewear:

Billie Blair models a 1970s Jean Patou loungewear pattern - Vogue 1344

Vogue 1344 by Jean Patou (1975) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

In Vogue Patterns‘ 1975 holiday issue, Jerry Hall wears the Patou dress while Blair models an off-the-shoulder party dress in an editorial devoted to evening sparkle (the headline reads, “Be a Star the Vogue Way”):

Designer evening wear Billie Blair Vogue Patterns November December 1975

Vogue Patterns, November/December 1975. Image via eBay.

Here she models a fabulous, evening-length Dior caftan with piped neckline:

Billie Blair models a 1970s Christian Dior caftan pattern - Vogue 1346

Vogue 1346 by Christian Dior (1975) Image via Etsy.

This Nina Ricci separates pattern includes a poncho with shirttail hem, convertible collar, and big patch pockets:

Billie Blair models a 1970s Nina Ricci pattern - Vogue 1376

Vogue 1376 by Nina Ricci (1976) Image via Betsy Vintage.

Blair is the model on this rare pattern by Sonia Rykiel, Vogue 1378—check out the matching coral sandals:

Billie Blair models a 1970s Sonia Rykiel pattern - Vogue 1378

Vogue 1378 by Sonia Rykiel (1976) Image via Etsy.

Billie Blair’s commanding presence and approach to modelling as performance don’t seem too unusual today. But she was unconventional for the time, and even felt the need to under-report her age when she first became famous. A 1974 profile of Blair in People magazine says she is 22 years old and remarks on her size 9 feet. (In a letter to the editor, a high school classmate wondered how Blair had stayed 22 when her peers were 28.) She continued modelling into her thirties—here she appears in a dynamic 1978 Vogue shoot by Andrea Blanch:

Billie Blair, Renée King, Toukie Smith, Iman, Alva Chinn, and Dana Dixon in Vogue, December 1978

Billie Blair, Renée King, Toukie Smith, Iman, Alva Chinn, and Dana Dixon in Vogue, December 1978. Photo: Andrea Blanch.

DVF Wrap Dress 40th Anniversary

January 14, 2014 § 10 Comments

Diane von Furstenberg on the cover of Vogue Patterns, September/October 1976

Vogue Patterns, September/October 1976. Image via Musings from Marilyn.

Diane von Fürstenberg’s wrap dress celebrates its 40th anniversary this month. The famous dress, which officially made its debut in January, 1974, is being fêted with Journey of a Dress, an exhibition of 200 wrap dresses at the Wilshire May Company building in Los Angeles:

DVF 40 - Journey of a Dress

Image via DVF.com.

Mannequins in wrap dresses at Journey of a Dress

Photo: Getty Images via Vogue.com.

Von Fürstenberg relaunched her label in 1997 after realizing that her vintage wrap dresses were enjoying a new popularity among young women. The advertising campaign for the relaunch shows Danielle Z. in different wrap dresses, including this leopard print version (click the image for a style.com article with slideshow):

Diane Von Furstenberg advertising campaign, 1998

Diane Von Furstenberg advertising campaign, 1998. Model: Danielle Zinaich. Image via style.com.

Vogue Patterns introduced Diane Von Furstenberg patterns with great fanfare in the fall of 1976. The designer herself modelled a wrap dress on the magazine cover, and there was even a special sew-in label and tie-in with Cohama fabrics. (More on the fabrics at The Vintage Traveler.)

Diane von Furstenberg for Vogue Patterns printed label

Diane Von Furstenberg for Vogue Patterns printed label. Image via Etsy.

The punning headline of the 1976 magazine feature, “The Princess and Her Prints,” refers to her first marriage to Egon von Fürstenberg, of the Prussian princes of Fürstenberg (she capitalized the ‘von’ for her label):

The Princess and Her Prints - Vogue Patterns, fall 1976

“The Princess and Her Prints…” Vogue Patterns, September/October 1976. Image via myvintagevogue.

Vogue’s Diane Von Furstenberg patterns included several wrap dresses. The 1970s patterns were all in the Very Easy Vogue line, and most were for stretchable knits.

The long-sleeved Vogue 1548 may be worn in two ways, forward or backward. The young Renee Russo is the model:

1970s Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress pattern - Vogue 1548

Vogue 1548 by Diane Von Furstenberg (1976) Image via Etsy.

Karen Bjornson models Vogue 1549, a wrap dress with buttoned cuffs and optional collar. This design also works for woven fabrics:

1970s Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress pattern - Vogue 1549

Vogue 1549 by Diane Von Furstenberg (1976) Image via eBay.

The following year Vogue Patterns released a half-size version for petites, Vogue 1679. The first set of patterns was photographed by Chris von Wangenheim:

Chris von Wangenheim photos of Vogue 1548 in a 1976 Vogue Patterns editorial

Vogue 1548, Vogue Patterns, September/October 1976. Photos: Chris von Wangenheim. Image via myvintagevogue.

Chris von Wangenheim photos of Vogue 1549 and 1550 in a 1976 Vogue Patterns editorial

Vogue 1549 and 1550, Vogue Patterns, September/October 1976. Photos: Chris von Wangenheim. Image via myvintagevogue.

Here’s the back-wrap view of Vogue 1548 on the cover of the December catalogue:

1970s back-wrapped DVF wrap dress on the cover of Vogue Patterns' holiday catalogue

Vogue Patterns catalogue, December 1976. Image via Vogue Patterns.

Vogue 1610 may be made sleeveless or short-sleeved with faux cuffs. I’ve made this for Naomi, and it’s incredibly versatile:

1970s Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress pattern - Vogue 1610

Vogue 1610 by Diane Von Furstenberg (c. 1977)

Vogue 1853 has full, cuffed sleeves in a choice of long or elbow length. Christie Brinkley modelled the long-sleeved version:

1970s Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress pattern - Vogue 1853

Vogue 1853 by Diane Von Furstenberg (c. 1978) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Vogue 2517, a colour-blocked, front-wrapped dress designed for two colour contrasts, was photographed by Patrick Demarchelier. (This one is technically a mock-wrap dress.) The model is Gunilla Lindblad:

1980s Diane Von Furstenberg mock-wrap dress - Vogue 2517

Vogue 2517 by Diane Von Furstenberg (1980) Image via Rusty Zipper.

Tara Shannon models Vogue 1486, an ’80s wrap dress with pleated skirt, shaped hemline, and dolman sleeves:

1980s Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress pattern - Vogue 1486

Vogue 1486 by Diane Von Furstenberg (1984) Image via Etsy.

Discussions of the DVF wrap dress always seem to centre on questions of contemporary femininity. Even the promotional bio on the envelope flap promises dressmakers they’ll “feel like a woman”:

DIANE VON FURSTENGERG said "Feel like a woman...wear a dress! Then, she proceeded to design the kind of wonderfully wearable dresses that make you want to wear her dresses, night & day! Vogue 1610 flap

This Vogue Patterns editorial photo of the Vogue 1610 wrap dress similarly promotes the idea of femininity in the workplace. With the caption “Soft Dressing for Hard Schedules,” it shows Karen Bjornson, glasses in hand, being delivered flowers at the office:

Vogue Patterns 1977

“Soft Dressing for Hard Schedules,” Vogue Patterns, 1977.

I was tickled to learn that Amy Adams wears three Diane Von Furstenberg dresses in American Hustle—two vintage and one contemporary. Apparently David O. Russell was obsessed with the green print version worn by von Fürstenberg on the cover of Newsweek, and costume designer Michael Wilkinson was able to source the vintage original for the film (see Financial Times story with slideshow here, or click the image for a Variety costumes story with video):

Amy Adams wears a green and white DVF wrap dress in American Hustle

Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) in American Hustle (2013) Image via Variety.

Have you sewn from a Diane Von Furstenberg pattern?

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