Mad Men Era 8: McCall’s New York Designers

April 14, 2014 § 1 Comment

Jane and Roger at the Drapers' party, Mad Men season 5, episode 1-2

Jane and Roger Sterling (Peyton List and John Slattery) in Mad Men, season 5. Image via AMC.

With Mad Men entering its final season, my Mad Men-era series concludes with two posts on fashion designers whose work became available to home sewers in the mid-Sixties. (Browse the series by clicking the Mad Men era tag, or start at the beginning.)

Before the Vogue Americana line there was McCall’s New York Designers’ Collection. In the fall of 1965, McCall’s introduced a new pattern line: New York Designers’ Collection plus 1. (The “plus 1” refers to one foreign designer, Digby Morton; later, as McCall’s added designers to the line, it became “New York Designers’ Collection Plus.”)

The Fall/Winter 1965 issue of McCall’s Pattern Fashions & Home Decorating introduced readers to the new designers. According to the catalogue, the new line featured “the most outstanding fashions of seven leading American designers and one famous London couturier” (click to enlarge):

Meet McCalls New Designers 1965

Meet McCall’s new designers. McCall’s Pattern Fashions & Home Decorating, Fall-Winter 1965–66.

The original list of designers consisted of Larry Aldrich, Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass, Laird-Knox, Digby Morton, Originala, Mollie Parnis, and Pauline Trigère, whose agreement with McCall’s dated to the mid-1950s. (Trigère was already featured in an earlier Mad Men era post.) Later additions would include Anne Klein, Jacques Tiffeau, and Rudi Gernreich.

This post looks at three of the best-known American designers in McCall’s new line: Bill Blass, Geoffrey Beene, and Anne Klein.

Bill Blass

Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Bill Blass (1922-2002) showed an early talent for fashion design, studying briefly at Parsons before enlisting in the U.S. military in 1942. After the war he returned to New York to work in the fashion industry; by 1959 he was head designer for Maurice Rentner—then a conservative, established Seventh Avenue label. (McCall’s patterns credit the designer as ‘Bill Blass for Maurice Rentner, Ltd.’) In 1970 he purchased the company and renamed it Bill Blass Ltd. Blass was known for his sophisticated but youthful designs favoured by high society. He retired in 1999.

McCall’s 8927 is an asymmetrical, sleeveless shift dress with applied bands and an inverted pleat on the left-hand side:

1960s Bill Blass dress pattern - McCall's 8927

McCall’s 8927 by Bill Blass (1967) Image via Etsy.

Geoffrey Beene

Born in Louisiana as Samuel Robert Bozeman Jr., Geoffrey Beene (1924-2004) trained at the Traphagen School of Fashion in New York and École de la Chambre Syndicale in Paris, where he also apprenticed with a tailor. Returning to New York, he worked at Harmay and Teal Traina before founding his own company in 1963. Beene was renowned for his innovative, modern designs, as well as his iconoclasm.

Veronica Hamel models McCall’s 1028, a dress cut in seven panels with seven-eighths kimono sleeves and triangular, bias collar:

McCalls 1028 (1968)

McCall’s 1028 by Geoffrey Beene (1968) Image via Etsy.

Anne Klein

Born in Brooklyn as Hannah Golofsky, Anne Klein (1923-1974) also trained at the Traphagen School of Fashion. The pioneer in American sportswear worked in petites and juniors before founding Anne Klein and Company in the late 1960s. Her final collection was completed by Donna Karan, who had begun work at the company in the summer of 1967 as Klein’s intern.

McCall’s 1020 is a sleeveless shift dress with angular armholes and fabulous standing (and convertible) collar. The model is Hellevi Keko:

McCalls 1020 (1967)

McCall’s 1020 by Anne Klein (1967) Image via MOMSPatterns.

All three New York designers would later make the switch to Vogue Patterns: Blass in 1967, Beene and Klein in the 1970s.

Next: Butterick’s Young Designers: Mary Quant, Jean Muir, and Emmanuelle Khanh.

Tennis, Anyone?

June 25, 2012 § 8 Comments

art deco tennis illustration McCall Style News May 1928

McCall Style News, May 1928.

Wimbledon kicks off today. In honour of the world’s oldest tennis tournament, here’s a selection of patterns for playing the most fashionable sport.

Tennis Vogue June 1927 cover by Harriet Meserole 15 July 1927 US edition

Vogue UK, late June 1927. Illustration: Harriet Meserole. Image via G1Art.

Modern tennis fashion really got underway in the 1920s, when tennis became a popular leisure activity and couturiers like Chanel, Patou, and Vionnet designed tennis wear to meet the demand for fashionable luxury sportswear. (For more on ’20s tennis fashion see the Voguepedia article Tennis Dressing.)

Typically, sewing patterns for tennis outfits show a woman holding a tennis racquet. The Deco cover of the McCall Style News shown at the top of this post portrays McCall 5277 as a dress for tennis, but the pattern envelope doesn’t advertise its suitability for sports. The illustration simply shows a day dress with the skirt pleated in front; the handkerchief collar and scarf girdle are optional:

McCall 5277 1920s tennis dress McCall's catalogue illustration

McCall 5277 (1928) in the McCall’s catalogue, 1930. Image courtesy of echopoint.

In the early 1930s, sports dresses had lower hemlines, but could be worn unbuttoned in the back, like this McCall’s sports dress from 1933:

McCall 7663 early 1930s sports dress for tennis

McCall 7663 (1933) Sports dress. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

This pattern was illustrated on the cover of the Spring 1934 McCall Fashion Book:

Cycling and tennis ensebles on the cover of McCall Fashion Book, Spring 1934

McCall Fashion Book, Spring 1934.

(Catalogue image courtesy of Judy Yates of Vintage4me2.)

Playsuits and shorts became fashionable tennis wear after American tennis champion Alice Marble wore shorts to a professional match in 1932. These McCall’s sports separates include a tennis outfit with high-waisted shorts:

McCall 9180 1930s Slacks, shorts, and shirt pattern for tennis

McCall 9180 (1937) Slacks, shorts, and shirt. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Lauren of Wearing History has made the McCall 9180 trousers; you can see a photo by clicking the pattern image.

The ‘masculine’ shorts trend continued into wartime, which also saw a return to the sports dress. This Advance tennis dress has a front zipper and inverted pleat, and includes panties for underneath:

Advance 2754 WW2 1940s day or tennis dress and panties pattern

Advance 2754 (c. 1941) Day or tennis dress and panties. Image via Vivian Belle Vintage.

In the postwar period tennis dresses or skirts, pleated or plain, became the standard tennis wear. The silhouettes reflected current trends, but with higher hemlines, as with this tennis dress with pleated skirt and cinched waist:

McCall 7170 1940s tennis dress and shorts pattern

McCall 7170 (1948) Tennis dress and shorts. Image via eBay.

This Vogue tennis dress is a shorter version of the day dress also included in the pattern (check out the vintage camera):

Vogue 9101 1950s tennis dress and shorts pattern

Vogue 9101 (1957) Dress and shorts. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Tennis hemlines are rising with these Vogue sports separates, which include a sleeveless blouse, shorts, and tennis skirt:

Vogue 9771 late 1950s blouse, skirt and shorts pattern

Vogue 9771 (1959) Blouse, skirt, and shorts. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

More perky pleats on this early 1960s tennis dress from McCall’s:

McCalls 6825 1960s tennis dress and panties pattern

McCall’s 6825 (1963) Tennis dress and panties. Image via Etsy.

The popularity of tennis in the 1970s prompted the release of a wide variety of tennis patterns, for dresses, visors, and even racquet covers and other accessories. Vogue Patterns licensed tennis wear from Anne Klein, Penfold, and Anne Klein for Penfold (illustrated on the June 1976 news cover here). These Vogue Patterns magazine covers show an Anne Klein tennis outfit in action and Regine Jaffrey modelling a Vogue tennis shirt and visor:

Vogue Patterns magazine April/May 1973 Anne Klein tennis cover

Vogue 2841 by Anne Klein on the cover of Vogue Patterns magazine, April/May 1973. Image via Etsy.

Model Regine Jaffrey in a tennis shirt and visor, Vogue Patterns magazine Spring 1975

Vogue Patterns, Spring 1975. Model: Regine Jaffrey. Image via eBay.

Butterick licensed designs by women’s tennis champion Chris Evert, including this pattern for a tennis dress, briefs, and visor:

Butterick 4688 1970s Chrissie Evert for Puritan Fashions pattern for tennis dress, briefs, and visor

Butterick 4688 by Chrissie Evert for Puritan Fashions (c. 1977). Tennis dress, briefs, and visor. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Karen Bjornson models this Penfold set consisting of a sleeveless tennis dress, t-shirt, shorts, and wrap miniskirt:

Vogue 1635 1970s tennis dress, t-shirt, shorts, and wrap skirt pattern

Vogue 1635 (c. 1977) Tennis dress, t-shirt, shorts, and wrap skirt. Model: Karen Bjornson. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

It’s interesting how the history of women’s tennis wear is a history of female athletes pushing the envelope: from May Sutton Bundy’s rolled-up sleeves, in 1905, and Suzanne Lenglen’s higher hemlines, to Alice Marble’s shorts and Serena Williams’ recent subversion (with hot pink briefs) of the rule of Wimbledon whites. (See a Guardian Wimbledon slideshow here and Vogue’s tennis slideshow here.) Women’s tennis fashions insist on femininity while offering an escape from modesty.

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