Clash of the Titans: Goddess Gowns

February 20, 2013 § 14 Comments

Oscar season is upon us, and that means goddess gowns. Goddess gowns usually share elements of classical drapery and the simple construction of the toga and chiton. Here’s a selection of patterns for Greco-Roman-inspired evening wear.

This 1920s evening dress from the House of Worth features elegant back drapery, with a beaded appliqué holding more drapery at the left hip:

1920s Worth evening dress pattern - McCall 4854

McCall 4854 by Worth (1927) Evening dress.

The illustration for this 1930s Lanvin ‘scarf frock’ plays up the classical mood with a fluted pedestal and ferns:

1930s Lanvin evening gown illustration in McCall Style News, January 1936. Image via eBay.

McCall 8591 by Lanvin (1936) McCall Style News, January 1936. Image via eBay.

This late 1940s one-shouldered evening dress has a long panel that can be worn belted in the back or wrapped around the bared shoulder:

1940s one-shouldered evening dress pattern - McCall 7862

McCall 7862 (1949) Evening dress.

Toga-like drapery distinguishes these short, Sixties evening dresses by Pauline Trigère and Jacques Heim:

Pauline Trigère 1960s evening dress pattern - McCalls 6599

McCall’s 6599 by Pauline Trigère (1962)

1960s Jacques Heim evening dress pattern - Vogue 1333

Vogue 1333 by Jacques Heim (1964) Image via the Blue Gardenia

This late ’60s Yves Saint Laurent evening dress has a classical simplicity, with the bodice gathered into a boned collar:

1960s Yves Saint Laurent evening dress pattern - Vogue 2093

Vogue 2093 by Yves Saint Laurent (1969) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

This Pucci loungewear has culottes on the bottom, but still has that ‘goddess’ flavour (modelled by Birgitta Af Klercker):

1960s Pucci loungewear pattern - Vogue 2249

Vogue 2249 by Pucci (1969) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Angeleen Gagliano models this mid-Seventies Lanvin evening dress and toga:

1970s Lanvin evening dress and toga pattern - Vogue 1147

Vogue 1147 by Lanvin (1975) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

This Pierre Balmain evening ensemble, modelled by Jerry Hall, shows a more literal interpretation of classical dress:

1970s Pierre Balmain evening dress and cape pattern - Vogue 2015

Vogue 2015 by Pierre Balmain (1979) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Finally, this jersey gown with beaded waistband, from Guy Laroche by Damian Yee, is an example of the recent trend for goddess gowns:

2008 Guy Laroche pattern - Vogue V1047

Vogue V1047 by Guy Laroche (2008) Evening dress.

(From the Spring 2007 Laroche collection, the pattern is still in print.)

Goddess” was the theme of the 2003 Costume Institute exhibit; the catalogue, Goddess: The Classical Mode (Yale UP, 2003) is still available.

Caped Crusaders: Vintage Cape Patterns

September 25, 2012 § 7 Comments

Originator 299, a 1950s cape pattern

Originator 299 (c. 1952) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

The cape trend of the last two years shows no sign of abating. (Read a Fashionising post about the trend here.) In terms of sewing patterns, Donna Karan’s V2924 was ahead of the trend (see Erica B’s version here) and this fall we have V1322 by DKNY. Paco Peralta has several cape designs available including the sculptural Funghi. In vintage reissues, Butterick has re-released some vintage cape patterns in their Retro line: B6329 (from 1935) and B6411 (a reissue of Butterick 4570 from 1948).

I often find myself reaching for the vintage version of a current trend, and I’ll have a cape project to share with you soon. While looking for the right pattern, I was struck by the variety of cape designs over the decades. Here’s a selection of vintage cape patterns from the Twenties to the Eighties.

1920s

Two 1920s patterns in my collection have capes with interesting details. This mid-Twenties pattern for a dress by Renée also includes a cape with button/strap closure:

1920s cape and dress pattern, McCall 4134, "Original Creation by Renee Paris"

McCall 4134 by Renée (1925)

And I still love the pointed yoke of this Miler Soeurs cape (see my grey version here):

1920s cape pattern, McCall 4459 by Miler Soeurs

McCall 4459 by Miler Soeurs (1926)

1930s

The Thirties were a good decade for capes. This 1936 copy of McCall Style News shows a matching cape and dress ensemble:

McCall 8629 illustration, February 1936 McCall Style News cover

McCall Style News, February 1936. Image via Etsy.

Sewing bloggers’ 1930s capes show how contemporary these vintage outerwear styles can look today. Debi’s mid-Thirties cape pattern has a similar look to the ensemble illustrated above, but with a false front creating the illusion of a matching jacket. Click the image to see her finished version:

1930s cape pattern, McCall 8501

McCall 8501 (1935) Image via My happy sewing place.

Puu’s late ’30s cape has a high-collared yoke, arm slits, and rounded, gathered shoulders (click the image for her construction post and see the finished version here):

1930s cape pattern, Simplicity 2522

Simplicity 2522 (c. 1938) Image via puu’s door of time.

1940s

The fashion for capes continued into the Forties. The decade’s strong-shouldered silhouette is visible in these two cape patterns from my collection. The first, from the early ’40s, has a pronounced, boxy shape and optional broad stand-up collar:

Early 1940s cape pattern, McCall 4134

McCall 4134 (1941)

The second cape shades into New Look sleekness, with a narrower collar and lower hemline:

Late 1940s cape pattern, McCall 7179

McCall 7179 (1948)

1950s

In the Fifties, capes showed a de-emphasis on the shoulders and a fullness that carries over to the early ’60s. Vogue 1089 by Robert Piguet is actually from 1949; I thought it might really be a capelet, but the envelope description calls it a “flared cape with diagonal double-breasted closing below soft shaped collar”:

1949 cape and dress pattern, Vogue 1089 by Robert Piguet

Vogue 1089 by Robert Piguet (1949) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Here’s an illustration of the Piguet ensemble by Bernard Blossac:

Bernard Blossac illustration of a cape by Robert Piguet, 1949

Bernard Blossac illustration of a cape and dress by Robert Piguet, 1949. Image via Hprints.

This mid-Fifties cape by Jacques Fath has big, buttoned cuffs at the arm vents. The shaped collar is part of the suit underneath:

1950s cape pattern, Vogue 1358 by Jacques Fath

Vogue 1358 by Jacques Fath (1956) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

1960s

The Sixties were another good decade for capes. On this Vogue Pattern Book cover, Wilhelmina Cooper exemplifies the “thoroughbred look” of Fall 1963 in a tailored yellow cape:

Wilhelmina Cooper models a yellow cape on the cover of Vogue Pattern Book, October/November 1963.

Vogue Pattern Book, October/November 1963. Model: Wilhelmina Cooper. Image via flickr.

This elegant cape by Nina Ricci has a wide shawl collar and is shaped by released inverted darts. The model is Maggie Eckhardt:

1960s cape and dress pattern, Vogue 1217 by Nina Ricci

Vogue 1217 by Nina Ricci (1963) Image via Etsy.

Astrid Heeren models this fabulous mod cape by Pierre Cardin:

Mod 1960s cape pattern: Vogue 1722 by Pierre Cardin

Vogue 1722 by Pierre Cardin (1967) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

This late ’60s design by Pucci is modelled by Birgitta af Klercker and was photographed in Rome at La Cisterna:

Late 1960s cape pattern, Vogue 2231 by Pucci

Vogue 2231 by Pucci (1969) Image via Etsy.

1970s

As the Seventies progressed, capes generally kept their collars, but gained a new fluidity. This mid-Seventies Halston “poncho-cape” has a collar and button front, but is reversible:

1970s cape pattern, McCall's 3966 by Halston

McCall’s 3966 by Halston (1974) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

This late ’70s Chloé design by Karl Lagerfeld, featuring Jerry Hall, includes a three-quarter length, circular cape with pointed bias collar. The cape gets its strong shoulders from an inside button and tab at each shoulder:

Late 1970s cape ensemble pattern, Vogue 2020 by Chloé

Vogue 2020 by Chloé (1978) Image via PatternVault on Etsy.

1980s

In the Eighties, fluidity gained the upper hand, as seen in these full, collarless, and unstructured capes by Yves Saint Laurent:

1980s cape pattern by Yves Saint Laurent, Vogue 2790

Vogue 2790 by Yves Saint Laurent (c. 1982) Model: Terri May.

Late 1980s cape by Yves Saint Laurent, Vogue 2163

Vogue 2163 by Yves Saint Laurent (1988) Image via Etsy.

Would you wear a vintage cape, or do you prefer the cape’s more recent incarnations?

Mondrian! Vogue 1556 by Yves Saint Laurent

April 15, 2012 § 12 Comments

Vogue 1556 by Yves Saint Laurent

Vogue 1556 by Yves Saint Laurent (1966) Model: Merle Lynn. Photo: Richard Dormer. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Vogue 1556, a shift dress by Yves Saint Laurent, is a design from the Fall 1965 ‘Mondrian’ collection. (See my post on the Mondrian collection patterns here.) Of the five designs Richard Dormer photographed for the February/March 1966 issue of Vogue Pattern Book, Vogue 1556 is the only one shown in colour, showing off the Florence Knoll chair in the background. When I found a copy of the pattern in my size, it went to the top of my to-sew list.

The envelope description reads: One-piece dress. Shift dress with wide contrasting yoke and hem band has long sleeves slightly gathered into contrasting band cuffs. The original was made in four-ply silk crêpe from Onondaga.

The dress can be made in cocktail or evening length. I decided to make the cocktail-length version illustrated on the envelope back, a monochrome dress with sequin contrast:

Sequin contrast dress illustration Vogue 1556 back 1960s

Vogue 1556 (1966) Illustration from envelope back.

I found a black wool crêpe and Bemberg lining at Designer Fabrics, and some fabulous square-sequinned fabric on sale at Fabricland. The pattern went together like a dream. The only adjustment I made was to let the hips out a bit and widen the hem band accordingly. Luckily the hem and sleeves were just the right length without any adjustment. Underlining gives the dress that typical Sixties weight; I also used the Bemberg lining to underline the sequin fabric, but I think it could have benefited from something a little heavier.

The dress fastens in the back with two separate closures: a lapped zipper for the body of the dress and buttons or snaps for the yoke. I had a lot of fun putting in my first lapped zipper. The pattern gives special instructions for the sequinned version of the dress: snaps for the upper back instead of buttons. I recommend using sturdy snaps—the light ones I used are prone to popping open.

As special fabrics go, sequins are fairly high-maintenance. The sequins needed to be removed from all seam allowances and their attaching threads caught by the stitching. This could be challenging when hand-sewing the backs of the contrast bands, but the results are worth it, I think.

Readers of We Sew Retro may have seen the photos of Vogue 1556 that Naomi took for my interview back in December. Since the original Vogue Pattern Book Yves Saint Laurent editorial was shot in the Knoll showroom in Paris, I arranged to photograph my Vogue 1556 dress in Knoll’s Toronto showroom. The new showroom is in a converted warehouse in Liberty Village (more details on the LEED-certified space here). It was a pleasure to spend a winter afternoon in their industrial space full of Knoll textiles and furniture:

Vogue 1556 by Yves Saint Laurent, Knoll Toronto

On a wall near the entrance is a quote from Florence Knoll on architecture and interior design (I’m sitting on an Eero Saarinen Womb chair):

Vogue 1556 by Yves Saint Laurent with Knoll chair

We couldn’t leave without photographing the dress beside a Florence Knoll lounge chair:

Vogue 1556 by Yves Saint Laurent with Florence Knoll lounge chair

We took too many photos of Knoll chairs to include here, but here’s just one more:

Vogue 1556 by Yves Saint Laurent, Knoll Toronto

We loved this textiles display featuring upholstered dots:

Vogue 1556 by Yves Saint Laurent with Knoll textiles

This last photo was taken by the showroom entrance:

Vogue 1556 by Yves Saint Laurent with Knoll sign reflection

A big thank you to the Knoll staff for welcoming us into their showroom. Special thanks to photographer and friend Rachel O’Neill for her fantastic work.

Helmut Newton for YSL Rive Gauche, 1991

March 15, 2012 § 1 Comment

Detail from Helmut Newton ad campaign for Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche FW 1991

I love finding pattern designs in ad campaigns. Vogue 1016 by Yves Saint Laurent is a long-sleeved, full-skirted formal dress with a dramatic décolletage and optional stretch-lace camisole:

Vogue 1016 (1992)

Vogue 1016 by Yves Saint Laurent (1992) Dress and camisole. Image via PatternVault on Etsy.

The news from Paris that season was lower hemlines, with pleated skirts and tartans at Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche. (See Bernadine Morris, “Review/Fashion; New Tricolor in Paris: Stars and Stripes.”)

The late, great Helmut Newton photographed the Vogue 1016 dress for the Rive Gauche Fall 1991 advertising campaign:

Yves Saint Laurent ad campaign Helmut Newton autumn 1991

Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Fall 1991 campaign. Photo: Helmut Newton. Image via jalougallery.com.

(You can see more campaign photos in the August 1991 issue of L’Officiel—scroll about one-third down. Further 1991 campaign images by Newton may be seen in Paper Pursuits’ archive.)

Newton’s photograph shows a woman standing in the well-appointed bathroom of a Parisian hotel. (Another campaign photo shows Karen Mulder in the parking garage.) She wears the long-sleeved version of Vogue 1016, sans cami and done up in black Bucol silk. The dress is worn with big, dramatic accessories: a collar, ear clips, and a pair of gold (!) booties. On a shelf before the mirrors are two glasses of red wine; written in lipstick on one mirror is the message ‘ADIEU ET MERCI, SUSAN.’ Although the model’s elaborately coiffed head is turned away from the camera, she looks back out at us from the inscribed mirror.

The photo’s grand hotel setting and atmosphere of bad-girl mischief are pure Helmut Newton. (On the photographer and his work see Lindsay Baker, “Helmut Newton: A Perverse Romantic.”) Some might relegate its subject, the Vogue 1016 dress, to a period of post-Eighties decadence, but the interplay between photographer and designer is interesting. The two had a long-standing professional relationship, and Anna Wintour, quoted in Helmut Newton’s WWD obituary, hints that Newton’s photos of Yves Saint Laurent’s work could be as influential as the work itself. Does Newton’s photograph colour our view of Vogue 1016?

Mondrian!

January 9, 2012 § 14 Comments

Yves Saint Laurent sketch of Mondrian and Pop-art dresses

Image via Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent.

Yves Saint Laurent’s Fall/Winter 1965 collection, inspired by the abstract paintings of Piet Mondrian and Serge Poliakoff, included one of the most iconic garments of the twentieth century: the ‘Mondrian’ dress. David Bailey photographed the multicolour Mondrian dress for the cover of Vogue Paris’ 1965 September issue, and Saint Laurent’s Mondrian designs spawned countless knockoffs, including sewing patterns and knitting patterns. Today, Yves Saint Laurent Mondrian dresses may be viewed in museum collections such as those of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (On the construction of the Mondrian dress and on fashion inspired by modern art, see the posts by Couture Allure and oh mighty!)

Mondrian dress, Vogue Paris, September 1965

Vogue Paris, September 1965. Photo: David Bailey. Image via Rachel Wells on tumblr.

In early 1966, Vogue Patterns introduced Yves Saint Laurent with five pieces from the “Mondrian et Poliakoff” collection. The designs were photographed in mid-century splendour at Knoll International, Paris by Richard Dormer. The first page of the Vogue Pattern Book editorial shows model Merle Lynn standing before a 1954 Florence Knoll lounge chair:

1960s Yves Saint Laurent shift dress Vogue 1556 photo Vogue Pattern Book

Vogue 1556 by Yves Saint Laurent. Vogue Pattern Book, February/March 1966. Model: Merle Lynn. Photo: Richard Dormer.

Vogue Patterns chose a simple, red-accented Mondrian dress for the highly sought-after Vogue 1557:

1960s Yves Saint Laurent Mondrian dress photo in Vogue Pattern Book

Vogue 1557 by Yves Saint Laurent. Vogue Pattern Book, February/March 1966. Photo: Richard Dormer.

The photos of Vogue 1567, a dress and coat, show a 1955 Tulip Chair by Eero Saarinen (hair by Alexandre of Paris):

1960s Yves Saint Laurent dress Vogue Pattern Book

Vogue 1567 by Yves Saint Laurent. Vogue Pattern Book, February/March 1966. Model: Merle Lynn. Photo: Richard Dormer.

And the last page of the editorial shows what looks like one of Knoll’s signature textile wall panels:

1960s Yves Saint Laurent suits Vogue Pattern Book

Vogue 1569 and 1571 by Yves Saint Laurent. Vogue Pattern Book, February/March 1966. Photos: Richard Dormer.

The pattern envelopes show different, colour images from Dormer’s shoot. Here is Vogue 1557 (see Paco Peralta’s blog posts here and here for more images):

Vogue 1557 Yves Saint Laurent Mondrian dress pattern

Vogue 1557 by Yves Saint Laurent (1966) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

The description reads: One-piece dress. Sleeveless shift has narrow, contrasting inserts around the hem, down center back, and crossing high in front to create a yoke.

Richard Avedon photographed Jean Shrimpton in this Mondrian dress for his final issue at Harper’s Bazaar:

Richard Avedon photo of Jean Shrimpton in Yves Saint Laurent Mondrian dress, Harper's Bazaar, October 1965

Harper’s Bazaar, October 1965. Model: Jean Shrimpton. Photo: Richard Avedon. Image via tumblr.

Irving Penn photographed Veruschka in the same dress for Vogue U.K. (via Magdorable; see her recent post for more photos):

Veruschka in Mondrian dress Irving Penn Vogue U.K. Sept 1965

Vogue U.K., September 1965. Model: Veruschka. Photo: Irving Penn.

You can see a photo of Veronica Hamel in the same dress here. (Thanks to Paco Peralta for alerting me to these last two images.)

The Vogue 1567 envelope gives a better view of the Tulip Chair:

Vogue 1567 1960s Yves Saint Laurent dress and coat

Vogue 1567 by Yves Saint Laurent (1966) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Here’s the description: One-Piece Dress and Coat. High-waisted dress has contrasting bodice with high band collar, a button-trimmed inset, and sleeve banding to match gathered skirt. Self belt. Long sleeved, double-breasted coat with yoke seam has wide, button-trimmed belt and pockets in seams. Trim stitching.

And the bold teal of the wall panel may be seen on Vogue 1569 (I haven’t been able to find a pattern image for the fifth pattern, Vogue 1571):

Vogue 1569 1960s suit and blouse pattern by Yves Saint Laurent

Vogue 1569 by Yves Saint Laurent (1966) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

The description reads: Suit and Blouse. Long sleeved, slightly fitted jacket has wide hem band and optional purchased or self belt. Trim stitching. Tuck-in blouse has high shaped neckline, squared-off armholes, and welt pockets. Gathered skirt has pockets in seams and optional purchased or self belt.

Vogue 1557 and 1569 were both featured on the cover of the Vogue Patterns counter catalogue (photos via eBay):

Vogue Pattern Catalog February 1966 Mondrian dress Yves Saint Laurent

Illustrations of Vogue 1557 were also commissioned for the monthly Vogue Pattern Fashion News (more illustration scans posted by Damn Good Vintage—click the image for the post):

Vogue Pattern Fashion News February 1966

Vogue Pattern Fashion News, February 1966. Image via the Vintage Goddess blog.

Although Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian collection was inspired by modern art, Vogue Patterns’ editorial at Knoll situates pieces from the collection in the context of modern design. The editorial is interesting, both for how it frames the designer’s garments and how it ignores his celebrity. The designer’s name is prominent on the news booklet and first counter catalogue—arguably more overtly promotional publications. But the name Yves Saint Laurent is not included on the magazine’s cover or even mentioned in the Editor’s letter; there’s no photo, no bio like those we see in later decades. The emphasis is firmly on the designs and their place in contemporary visual culture.

Next: My version of Vogue 1556.

I Heart Disco

August 22, 2011 § 4 Comments

From McCall’s 4046 by Halston (1974).

This week, some favourite disco patterns!

The term ‘disco’ is a little nebulous. Disco music was popular from the mid-1970s to about 1980. Its huge popularity led to an anti-disco backlash that’s come to be symbolized by Disco Demolition Night, a.k.a. the ‘Disco Riots,’ which took place in the summer of 1979 (see Jo Meek, “Earth, Wind and Pyre,” and Joe Lapointe, “The Night Disco Went Up in Smoke”). Studio 54, the famous New York City nightclub that effectively stands for disco hedonism today, was open from 1977 until 1986. In this slideshow, you can see Andy Warhol partying at the club with Bianca Jagger, Liza Minelli, and Halston, as well as Diana Ross, Deborah Harry, and even a young Tom Ford.

For the purposes of this post, I’m going by my personal definition of disco style: glam evening wear that’s more party girl than society doyenne, all from the mid-’70s to the early ’80s. As I edited down my initial list I found the best designs shared elements like fluid draping and halter necks or one-shouldered bodices. Also, of the seven patterns, three are jumpsuits or give the impression of being a jumpsuit. Here’s my disco patterns best-of, ordered chronologically:

1. Vogue 2870 – Lanvin, 1973. Modelled by Karen Bjornson. Bjornson, who is virtually ubiquitous on later ’70s Vogue Patterns, was Halston’s house model. The (fantastic) photo makes the design look like a jumpsuit, but the pattern is actually for evening separates: palazzo pants with no side seams and a halter top with a wide midriff band that gives a cummerbund effect.

Vogue 2870 by Lanvin (1973) Evening top and pants. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

2. Vogue 2014 – Givenchy, 1978. Modelled by the young Gia Carangi, the late, queer supermodel who was brought back to the spotlight by the HBO movie Gia starring Angelina Jolie. This gorgeous evening dress has a crisscrossed halter neck and calls for an eighteen-inch tassel down the back. I have this one in my collection and plan to make it sometime in a silk or viscose jersey, but I think I need to learn to make tassels first.

Vogue 2014 by Givenchy (1978). Evening dress for stretch knits. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

3. Vogue 2173 – Chloé, 1979. No disco collection could be complete without this design by Karl Lagerfeld for Chloé. The one-shouldered evening dress comes with a reversible contrast shawl. I don’t know why, but to me this is the perfect late seventies-early eighties colour combination.

1970s Chloé evening dress pattern - Vogue 2173

Vogue 2173 by Chloé (1979). Evening dress, tie, and shawl. Image via momspatterns.

4. Vogue 2307 – Givenchy, 1979. Modelled by Tara Shannon. Another beautifully fluid Givenchy design, with the asymmetrical, one-shouldered bodice balanced by draping at the opposite hip. This is another one in my collection; I have a length of deep purple chiffon (originally used in a Hallowe’en costume) that’s just enough to make the cocktail version, but I haven’t yet found the occasion where I could get away with that much purple chiffon.

Vogue 2307 by Givenchy (1979). One-shouldered cocktail or evening dress. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

5. Vogue 2313 – Yves Saint Laurent, 1979. Modelled by Tara Shannon. A fabulous opera coat and evening dress ensemble with tie-halter and bow bodice. I love the sorbet colours, graphics and over-the-top drama of this pattern.

Vogue 2313 by Yves Saint Laurent (1979). Evening dress and coat. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

6. Vogue 2375 – Gianni Versace, 1980. Not a true jumpsuit as I thought (thanks, Dustin!) but a halter neck top and pants with tapered legs, side draping and matching jacket. Check out the illustration’s matching sandals and tone-on-tone, contrast satin cummerbund.

Vogue 2375 by Gianni Versace (1980) Jacket, top, and pants. Image via eBay.

7. Vogue 1014 – Yves Saint Laurent, circa 1982. My notes say this is a top and pleated harem pants but, as the photo shows, it definitely has a jumpsuit effect when made in a single fabric and worn with the top tucked in. It’s interesting to see cuffed and pleated harem pants in the wake of the recent draped harem pants trend. Are we having a disco moment?

Vogue 1014 by Yves Saint Laurent (c. 1982). Top and harem pants. Image via eBay.

YSL Wedding Dress (or, Adventures in Tartan)

August 15, 2011 § 8 Comments

Last year I made my own wedding dress using an Yves Saint Laurent pattern. Vogue Patterns magazine recently published a photo:

Vogue Patterns, June/July 2011. Photo: Jon Thorpe.

(Hat by Emilliner by Emily Clark. Read her fabulous millinery blog here.)

A similar shot won our photographer Jon Thorpe an ISPWP award for Best Bridal Party Portrait. (Congrats, Jon!) Our wedding was also featured on The Wedding Co. blog in June. But you’re here about the dress…

I didn’t set out to make my own wedding dress; I had been looking into custom work or something off the rack. When both of these options fell through I decided to make up a pattern in my stash, Vogue 1894 by Yves Saint Laurent:

Vogue 1894 Yves Saint Laurent pattern evening or cocktail dress

Vogue 1894 by Yves Saint Laurent (1996) Evening or cocktail dress

Technical drawing for Vogue 1894

Here’s the envelope description: Misses’ Dress: Close-fitting, slightly A-line or slightly flared, lined dress, above mid-knee or floor length, has bust pads, foundation with inside belt, front slit and side zipper. Recommended fabrics: velvet, wool crepe, silk-like crepe. Unsuitable for obvious plaids.

**Update: The Vogue 1894 design is from Yves Saint Laurent’s Fall/Winter 1996-97 ready-to-wear collection—you can see a runway photo here (Corbis photo here).

Our friend, fashion designer and bespoke tailor Ray Wong of RayW, was making my wife’s dress. She wanted a wool tartan for it, so the three of us spent a Saturday afternoon browsing swatch books at two of the Toronto area’s Scottish shops, Cairngorm Scottish Imports and The Scottish Company. At The Scottish Company one of the mannequins caught our eye: it was wearing a kilt of grey tartan which the friendly staff told us came from a mill named House of Edgar. Among the loose swatches they brought out was a black-on-black tartan called Dark Island. Here’s a photo of the Dark Island fabric:

Black Dark Island tartan by House of Edgar. Image via mackenziefrain.com.

A tone-on-tone tartan like Dark Island is known as a ‘shadow’ tartan or solid sett tartan. (‘Sett’ refers to the pattern of a tartan.) The production process for Dark Island is really interesting: according to the Scottish Tartans Authority page for this tartan, “An ecru (white) yarn has been woven on a Jacquard loom with the sett being formed by stitches other than 2/2 twill and then the finished fabric has been piece-dyed black. The sett is highlighted because of the differing light reflecting qualities of the stitches.”

Despite my pattern’s warning about the unsuitability of plaids, I couldn’t think of a better choice, and we decided to order House of Edgar fabric for both our wedding dresses. Unfortunately I couldn’t find anyone in Canada who actually maintained stock of House of Edgar fabric. After corresponding with a number of merchants, including Kitchener’s Keltoi Gaelic Clothing and Jacobite re-enactment suppliers Mackenzie Frain, the most economical option proved to be ordering direct (through the House of Edgar retail site, tartankilts.com). Soon we had a courier package from Perth, Scotland containing several kilograms of wool fabric.

I’ll say right now that any credit for the fit must go to Ray, who very generously finished my dress for me at the last minute. I made a muslin in a size 12 (which should have been my bust size) but it was just enormous; I think I must have gone down a size or two for the final version. The foundation was a lot closer to the right fit. I got as far as having all the separate elements—dress, lining, and foundation—ready before I handed everything over to Ray, who handled the dress’ final assembly and hemming the day before the ceremony. (Eternal thanks, Ray!)

I read everything I could find on tartan matching before daring to cut into my Dark Island fabric. I ended up using a technique I first learned of from the Selfish Seamstress (read her blog post here): cutting one set of pieces from a single layer of fabric, then flipping the pieces and using them to cut out the second set. The dress is underlined with silk lining from King Textiles, which gave each piece a luscious drape. To match a tartan perfectly at the seams, The Vogue Sewing Book recommends a basting technique called slip basting… but I just crossed my fingers and basted very carefully before doing the machine sewing. I’m really happy with the results.

House of Edgar tartan swatches and the Vogue Sewing Book (1970).

The pattern called for a boned foundation with inside belt and bust pads. This meant I needed spiral steel boning and boning tips, wire cutters, and pliers to fit the tips to the boning. (I got my boning and tips from Leather & Sewing Supply Depot Ltd. in Toronto’s garment district.) I found the boning didn’t handle well with the wire cutters and ended up using our bolt cutters instead. I love the mini-arsenal of hardware and tools that goes into making this kind of evening wear.

The foundation is basically an inner bustier consisting of two layers of lining, an extra-long side zipper, and boning inserted into ribbon casings. The inside belt is an attached length of grosgrain ribbon that fastens on the side with hooks and eyes. The bust pads were sewn from layers of fleece machine-sewn together, then encased by hand in lining fabric. Here’s a photo of the finished underpinnings:

Foundation with inside belt and bust pads, Vogue 1894.

Without further ado, I’ll close with some wedding photos showing the finished dress. Here’s a closeup of those bodice points:

Finished bodice, Vogue 1894. Photo: Jon Thorpe.

Despite the front slit, the weight of the dress meant it tended not to show my shoes, so our photographer kept asking me to flash them:

Wedding shoes revealed! (Camilla Skovgaard shoes.) Photo: Jon Thorpe.

This shot shows the tartan matching best, as well as Ray’s fantastic dress for my wife, Naomi:

Left: Vogue 1894; right: dress by Ray Wong. Photo: Jon Thorpe.

Finally, here’s a shot from the ceremony showing the dress at rest:

Photo: Jon Thorpe.

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