James Galanos: McCall’s Patterns

November 27, 2016 § 4 Comments

Gold and black metallic evening gown built over a pellon and black silk taffeta by James Galanos, 1954

Metallic evening gown by James Galanos photographed at the Costume Institute, 1954. Image: Bettmann / Getty.

James Galanos died last month. He was 92. According to his obituary in the New York Times, Galanos authorized only two licenses: furs and fragrance. But he also licensed commercial sewing patterns—first with McCall’s, and later with Vogue Patterns. This post looks at Galanos’ 1950s patterns with McCall’s.

Jean Patchett photographed by Nina Leen in Galanos, 1959

Jean Patchett in Galanos, Life magazine, February 23, 1959. Photo: Nina Leen. Image: Life archive.

Born in Philadelphia to Greek parents, James Galanos (1924-2016) was a graduate of the Traphagen School of Fashion. He worked with Hattie Carnegie, Hollywood costume designer Jean Louis, and Robert Piguet before founding his own, LA-based label in 1951. He retired in 1998, the year after LACMA mounted a retrospective of his work. Galanos won the devotion of celebrities and socialites with his virtuoso technique and flawless craftsmanship.

Galanos label

Image: the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

1950s

McCall’s introduced designer exclusives by “James Galanos, brilliant young star of American fashion” with two patterns for winter 1956-57. The Galanos designs—full-skirted formal gowns in two lengths—were prominently featured in the holiday issues of McCall’s Pattern Book and the company’s monthly news leaflet.

Clothes to make you beautiful this Christmas: Galanos gown McCall's 3895 on the cover of McCall's Pattern Book, Winter / Holiday 1956-57

McCall’s 3895 by Galanos on the cover of McCall’s Pattern Book, Winter 1956-57. Image: eBay.

"Holiday news: Galanos designs for McCall's" - illustration of McCall's 3894 and 3895, 1956

“Holiday news: Galanos designs for McCall’s.” McCall’s news leaflet, December 1956.

According to the news leaflet, McCall’s 3894 is “a fabulous ball gown to make in brocade.” The molded bodice is a trademark Galanos touch:

1950s James Galanos evening dress pattern McCall's 3894

McCall’s 3894 by Galanos (1956) Image: the Vintage Pattern Wiki.

McCall's 3894 by Galanos in McCall's Pattern Book, 1956

McCall’s 3894 by Galanos in McCall’s Pattern Book, Winter 1956-57. Image: eBay.

McCall’s 3895 is a bow-trimmed evening gown. As the leaflet notes, “Beautifully low-cut in back, it can be cocktail length.” Recommended fabrics included heavy satin, peau de soie, brocade, and taffeta:

1950s James Galnos evening dress pattern McCall's 3895

McCall’s 3895 by Galanos (1956) Image: eBay.

A Galanos design in the McCall's catalogue, February 1957

A Galanos design in the McCall’s catalogue, February 1957. Image: Etsy.

In spring, 1957, McCall’s released two more Galanos patterns: the lavishly full-skirted McCall’s 4045 and 4046.

1950s Galanos evening dress and petticoat pattern McCall's 4045

McCall’s 4045 by Galanos (1957) Image: eBay.

Here, the back bodice extends into a front yoke. The skirt and petticoat were to be made in organdy, nylon, or silk organza:

1950s Galanos evening dress and petticoat pattern McCalls 4046

McCalls 4046 by Galanos (1957) Image: eBay.

The new Galanos patterns were promoted in the March issue of McCall’s magazine (“Galanos designs: Black-and-white for summer evenings”) and in the company’s “Make the Clothes that Make the Woman” advertising campaign.

"Make the Clothes that Make the Woman - with exclusive McCall's patterns by Galanos, Givenchy, Trigère, Sybil Connolly, Emilio of Capri!" McCall's 4046 by Galanos

“Make the Clothes that Make the Woman” advertisement featuring McCall’s 4046 by Galanos, spring 1957.

In the Summer 1957 pattern book, the designs are illustrated in green linen and flower-embroidered organdy:

James Galanos patterns illustrated in McCall's Pattern Book, Summer 1957

James Galanos patterns illustrated in McCall’s Pattern Book, Summer 1957.

Today, Galanos’ McCall’s patterns are quite scarce. Perhaps customers balked at the extravagant yardage: the skirt for one dress took over 20 yards of narrow fabric. Galanos’ work with sheer layers continued into the following decade, as seen in this 1961 editorial by Gordon Parks:

"Full-length evening dress is draped in pink and rose with a light orange hem. Like most Galanos styles, this one is deceptively simple but it is intricately and artfully constructed so that it is not bulky despite the amount of chiffon used -- 75 yards in all." Life, April 14, 1961.

Gloria Vanderbilt in a chiffon evening dress by Galanos, Life magazine, April 14, 1961. Photo: Gordon Parks. Image: Shrimpton Couture.

Next: James Galanos’ Vogue patterns.

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