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.

Mamma Mia: Designer Maternity Patterns

Detail of Vogue 1689 strapless, black maternity dress by Lauren Sara
Detail of Vogue 1689 (1995) Image via Etsy.

Last year, Peter of Male Pattern Boldness posted a general survey of vintage maternity patterns. Sewing patterns for designer maternity wear have a different history. In honour of Mother’s Day, here is a selection of designer maternity patterns from the ’70s to the ’90s.

Some of the earliest patterns for designer maternity wear that I have seen are by Lady Madonna. (Yes, it’s named for the Beatles song.) A 1971 article in Time magazine, “Modern Living: Bellies Are Beautiful,” partly credits the Lady Madonna label with changing attitudes to maternity wear:

“Maternity clothes have always been designed like the Trojan horse: to hide, disguise and deceive. The wider the dress, the more pleats and folds, the less identifiable the condition—or so traditional pregnancy fashions would have it seem. Lately, however, the shape of things to come has undergone some happy alterations, supplanting voluminous tents and overhanging blouses with jumpsuits and knickers, low-cut evening gowns and even hot pants. Largely through the intervention of the Lady Madonna Maternity Boutique, women can now look great with child.”

Vogue Patterns released Lady Madonna patterns in the late 1970s. (The label later made the switch to Simplicity patterns.) Vogue 2157 is a long, Empire-waisted slip dress; the model is Pat McGuire:

1970s Lady Madonna maternity dress pattern - Vogue 2157
Vogue 2157 by Lady Madonna (1979) Image via PatternVault on Etsy.

Update: this maternity dress pattern by Geoffrey Beene dates to the previous year:

1970s Geoffrey Beene maternity dress pattern - Vogue 1943
Vogue 1943 by Geoffrey Beene (1978) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

American designer Carol Horn also licensed some maternity designs to Vogue Patterns:

1980s maternity pattern by Carol Horn - Vogue 2394
Vogue 2394 by Carol Horn (c. 1980) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.
1980s maternity dress pattern by Carol Horn - Vogue 2395
Vogue 2395 by Carol Horn (c. 1980) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Around the same time, McCall’s had maternity patterns by Evelyn de Jonge, like this one for maternity separates:

1980s designer maternity pattern by Evelyn de Jonge, McCall's 7193
McCall’s 7193 by Evelyn de Jonge (1980) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

As Peter points out, in the Eighties, even non-maternity styles could be roomy enough to be worn during pregnancy. Style patterns released a number of patterns by Jasper Conran, including this one for a maternity dress or tunic and skirt:

1980s Jasper Conran pattern - Style 4751 maternity separates
Style 4751 by Jasper Conran (1986) Image via Etsy.

In the early 1990s, Vogue Patterns had designer maternity patterns by Manola, an established New York maternity boutique. This Manola design uses front yokes to control the volume of the dress:

1990s maternity Manola dress pattern - Vogue 1124
Vogue 1124 by Manola (1993) Image via Etsy.

Designer Lauren Sara already had some non-maternity patterns with Vogue Attitudes when she licensed her maternity line, M by Lauren Sara. This design for an evening-length dress includes a formal, strapless version:

1990s Lauren Sara maternity evening dress pattern - Vogue 1689
Vogue 1689 by Lauren Sara (1995) Image via Etsy.

Like swimwear, a decade’s maternity wear reveals a lot about its attitudes to the female body. The absence of designer maternity patterns before the late 1970s seems telling. Yet today, Vogue Patterns has again phased out maternity designs…