Mad Men Era 8: McCall’s New York Designers

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.

Lauren Hutton

Lauren Hutton with horse, Vogue Pattern Book Winter 1968
Lauren Hutton in Vogue Pattern Book, Winter 1968. Photo: Ray Solowinski.

This week my new series on fashion models and sewing patterns continues with the great American model, Lauren Hutton. (See the first instalment, on Gia Carangi, here.)

World traveller, former Playboy Bunny, and daredevil Lauren Hutton (b. 1943) is an iconic figure in late Sixties and Seventies fashion. (Read Voguepedia’s bio here.) She was also a pioneer in transforming modelling into a lucrative career, signing the first exclusive, six-figure, annual cosmetics contract (with Revlon) in 1973. Hutton returned to modelling in her forties, so hers is still a familiar face, even for those who weren’t around for her early work. Recently she has been coming up as a forerunner for the current trend for gap-toothed models.

In the late 1960s, around the time her modelling career was taking off, Hutton did some work for McCall’s and Vogue Patterns. She posed for a few McCall’s New York Designers patterns that were released in 1967, including these designs by Larry Aldrich and Jacques Tiffeau:

McCall's 1018 by Larry Aldrich
McCall’s 1018 by Larry Aldrich (1967) Image via Etsy.
McCall's 1021 by Jacques Tiffeau
McCall’s 1021 by Jacques Tiffeau (1967) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

In the same year Hutton also modelled for Vogue patterns. Here she opens a two-page feature introducing Bill Blass to the new Vogue Americana line:

VPB Intl Winter 1967
An Introduction to Bill Blass: Lauren Hutton models Vogue 1830 in Vogue Pattern Book, Winter 1967. Photo: Marc Slade.

Hutton appears on two more Bill Blass designs released in early 1969:

Vogue 2099 by Bill Blass
Vogue 2099 by Bill Blass (1969) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.
Vogue 2100 by Bill Blass
Vogue 2100 by Bill Blass (1969) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

I also found two editorials featuring Hutton in a 1968 issue of Vogue Pattern Book. (My copy is the oversize international edition, so the scans are slightly cropped.) Both editorials promote non-designer patterns, so Hutton doesn’t appear on the pattern envelopes.

The first editorial shows the new wrap look. Here Hutton wears a wool fleece wrap coat, Vogue 7448:

Lauren Hutton models a 1960s coat pattern, Vogue 7448, in Vogue Pattern Book, Winter 1968.
“Fashion-Right Wraps,” Vogue Pattern Book, Winter 1968. Photo: Len Steckler.

(A quick search for this coat pattern turned up not one but two versions by sewing bloggers: Zoe of So, Zo and Tanit-Isis.)

The photo that opens this post is from the second, country-themed editorial, which was photographed by Ray Solowinski. (The design Hutton models beside the horse is Vogue 7426, “a biscuit coloured jumper in fabulously fake leather … lightly shaped to the body and loosely belted.”) In the first two photos Hutton models a tweed dress and fringed stole, Vogue 7439, and a camel-hair coat, Vogue 7416:

VPB Winter 1968b
Vogue Pattern Book, Winter 1968. Photo: Ray Solowinski.
Lauren Hutton models a camel-hair coat in Vogue Pattern Book, Winter 1968
Vogue Pattern Book, Winter 1968. Photo: Ray Solowinski.

The last photo shows Vogue 7417, a wool flannel dress with “a perky sailor collar and bias binding of white flannel. The self-belt rides low on the hips, over a slightly A-lined skirt.”

Lauren Hutton with Louis Vuitton bag, photographed by Ray Solowinski for Vogue Pattern Book Winter 1968
Vogue Pattern Book, Winter 1968. Photo: Ray Solowinski.

With its earth tones and natural look (despite the wig) this last shoot illustrates how, heading into the Seventies, Hutton’s strengths were the perfect fit.