Farewell to Karl Lagerfeld. Prolific, influential, and above all, iconic, the designer — who had a lifetime contract with Chanel — was working to the last.
Happy New Year! Vintage reissues give a taste of the pleasures of sewing vintage, without the bidding wars and grading. Here is an overview—with rarely seen archival images—of the contemporary vintage pattern lines from Vogue, Butterick, and McCall’s. (Simplicity responded to requests for comment with promotional copy.)
Launched in time for Holiday 1998, Vogue Patterns’ Vintage Vogue line provides true reproductions of vintage patterns borrowed from private collectors. (See my earlier post and discussion, How Do You Take Your Vintage Vogue? or get the details on the Vintage Vogue Search.) Alas, the terms of the old licensing agreements mean that Vogue can’t reissue designer patterns.
Deco evening dress pattern Vogue 2241 remains a favourite; I recently came across a version at Toronto’s Spadina Museum. I found an illustration of the original, Vogue S-3543, in a Vogue Patterns news leaflet from December, 1931. The description reads, “Here is a frock that expresses the newest movement of the mode, its originality and charm. It has a slender moulded look from the décolletage to the circular panels that trail slightly on the ground”:
Butterick donated the original to the Commercial Pattern Archive:
Retro Butterick and McCall’s Archive Collection
Both Retro Butterick and McCall’s Archive Collection patterns are recreated and sometimes adapted from archival materials, not the original patterns. With archival images, sticklers for accuracy can restore these adaptations to the original vintage design.
Early Retro Butterick pattern B6408 is based on Butterick 4391, a “Quick and Easy” late 1940s design for an evening gown with hooded scarf:
McCall’s introduced The Archive Collection for Early Fall, 2014. The recent 1920s coat pattern, M7259, is based on McCall 5057, a 1927 design by Agnès:
The McCall 6057 gown is a couture adaptation: the design is after Patou. Here is the description from McCall’s magazine: “The Patou silhouette is beautifully exemplified in a formal evening gown which has curved bands at the neckline and hipline, a short bolero and inserted panels lengthening the skirt”:
For more on the McCall Pattern Company’s vintage lines, see We Sew Retro’s interview.
Caftans, long, loose-fitting tunics with origins in ancient Persia, have been gaining momentum as an alternative to more structured formal dress. With any luck, there will be some caftans among the goddess gowns at tomorrow’s Academy Awards ceremony.
They say Tsarina Alexandra was the first westerner to make a fashion statement in a caftan, when she dressed as a seventeenth-century Tsarina for a costume ball in 1903. Paul Poiret also advanced the caftan cause, but it was not until the 1950s that the garment really began to influence western fashion. Here’s a look at caftan patterns from the 1950s to now.
In the mid-1950s, Christian Dior and Cristóbal Balenciaga’s experiments with silhouette were partly inspired by eastern traditional dress. Dior’s Fall 1955 couture collection (Y line) included caftan-inspired ensembles—coats with high, side-front slits that reveal a slim dress underneath:
You can see echoes of the Dior caftan look in contemporary sewing patterns like McCall’s 3525 and 3532, both from late 1955:
McCall’s 3532, called a “slim caftan-and-dress ensemble,” was featured on the cover of McCall’s news leaflet and in the company’s “Make the Clothes that Make the Woman” advertising campaign. According to the ad, the design is ideal for the season’s “Oriental” fabrics, such as silk twill and raw silk tussah:
Caftans became popular in the 1960s in tandem with the increasing interest in eastern cultures. The Madame Grès version at the top of this post is cut on the bias, producing geometric seaming detail. The caption reads, “Coup of bias-work by Grès—because this piecing-together of bias angles is sinuous, stark, ravishingly Moroccan.”
This dress from Jean Patou by Michel Goma, Vogue 1699, has what the envelope calls a “caftan neckline.” The model is Beate Schulz:
This circa 1968 Vogue caftan pattern has optional flexible trim:
Other patterns from the late 1960s and early 1970s also reference eastern dress. From 1967, McCall’s 9026 is labelled as an abba in two lengths. Abba is an alternate spelling of aba, commonly abaya: a traditional Arab garment, long, loose-fitting, sleeveless, and made from a single rectangle of fabric. (Today, caftans often function as abayat.) The model is Veronica Hamel:
Burnoose patterns were marketed as resort wear. A pompom-trimmed version of McCall’s 2377 was photographed for the cover of McCall’s Summer 1970 catalogue:
Marola Witt models Simplicity’s burnoose in the July 1967 issue of Simplicity Fashion News. (Thanks to Mary of PatternGate for the reference.) The text promotes the design’s ‘Arabian’ exoticism: “be exotic in a JIFFY: … the burnoose, born in Arabia, brought up to date here”:
This Halston caftan pattern from McCall’s also includes a top and pants (you can buy yourself a copy from the shop):
This flowing Dior caftan, modelled by Billie Blair, has lots of neckline detail, full-length sleeve openings, and pockets:
Vogue 1515 by Nina Ricci is a caftan that’s open in front and attached at the neckline to a handkerchief-hemmed underdress:
It’s harder to find post-1970s designer caftan patterns. This wide-sleeved, Oscar de la Renta caftan is trimmed with contrast bands. When worn, the side seams swing forward to raise the hemline in front:
From Issey Miyake, Vogue 2315 is a caftan-inspired summer dress:
Caftan patterns started making a comeback (of sorts) in 2009. Simplicity 2584, a caftan-inspired tunic by Cynthia Rowley, is out of print but still in demand:
Ralph Rucci’s floor-length caftan, Vogue 1181 (now out of print), has an abaya silhouette and interesting construction details—overarm darts, shaped lower sections, and a hook and eye above the low neckline:
The design is from Chado Ralph Rucci Resort 2009:
Matthew Williamson’s short caftan, available as a free pattern from the Guardian, is also a 2009 design:
Would you sew a caftan?
Born in Flint, Michigan, Billie Blair (b. 1946) worked as a model at the Detroit Auto Show before becoming one of the highest-paid fashion models of the 1970s. Moving to New York City, she got a job at Halston and soon found success as an editorial and runway model. Blair was among the African-American models at the historic 1973 fundraising event, Le Grand Divertissement à Versailles, known today as the Battle of Versailles. (The event was the subject of a recent documentary by Deborah Riley Draper, Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution [2012)].)
Billie Blair can be seen on a number of Vogue designer patterns from the mid-1970s. Here she wears a tweed skirt suit and pussy-bow blouse by Oscar de la Renta; this design was marked as ‘suitable for knits’:
Stan Herman designed this casual hooded top, skirt, and pants. The illustration shows some American Hustle-worthy aviator shades:
Here Blair wears a girlish, vintage-style ensemble by Nina Ricci, a cream-coloured dress with matching cape:
From Jean Patou, this maxi dress may date to the period when the young Jean Paul Gaultier was assistant designer. Blair brings out the glamour of this haute couture loungewear:
In Vogue Patterns‘ 1975 holiday issue, Jerry Hall wears the Patou dress while Blair models an off-the-shoulder party dress in an editorial devoted to evening sparkle (the headline reads, “Be a Star the Vogue Way”):
Here she models a fabulous, evening-length Dior caftan with piped neckline:
This Nina Ricci separates pattern includes a poncho with shirttail hem, convertible collar, and big patch pockets:
Blair is the model on this rare pattern by Sonia Rykiel, Vogue 1378—check out the matching coral sandals:
Billie Blair’s commanding presence and approach to modelling as performance don’t seem too unusual today. But she was unconventional for the time, and even felt the need to under-report her age when she first became famous. A 1974 profile of Blair in People magazine says she is 22 years old and remarks on her size 9 feet. (In a letter to the editor, a high school classmate wondered how Blair had stayed 22 when her peers were 28.) She continued modelling into her thirties—here she appears in a dynamic 1978 Vogue shoot by Andrea Blanch:
How many pattern models can say they’ve been a Bond girl? Since the Toronto International Film Festival is underway, this instalment in my models series focuses on Swedish model-turned-actor Maud Adams, whose film credits include The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Rollerball (1975), and Octopussy (1983). (To see the other series posts, click the ‘models’ tag below.)
Before getting into film acting in the 1970s, former Miss Sweden Maud Adams (née Wikström, b. 1945), worked as a model in Paris and New York for publications including Vogue, McCall’s, and Vogue Patterns. McCall’s 1044 sees her modelling a check suit by Laird-Knox:
Maud Adams appears on many Vogue designer patterns of the later ’60s, such as this one for a dress by Patou:
Here she wears a dress and matching scarf by James Galanos:
And here Adams models the maxi version of Vogue 1847, a fabulous halter dress by Pierre Cardin:
Maud Adams also appears on several late Sixties covers of Vogue Pattern Book. Here’s a selection:
Mad Men has finally returned to the air with the first episodes of Season 5. This week my Mad Men-era series continues with four established Paris houses whose mantles, by 1960, had passed to new designers: Lanvin, Patou, Nina Ricci, and Dior.
When I started this series, I mentioned that the Mad Men costume department used some vintage patterns purchased online. Patterns from the Past owner Michelle Lee let me know she’s posted on her blog about the Mad Men order: it consisted of maternity patterns.
The house of Lanvin was founded in 1909 by Jeanne Lanvin (1867-1946). Between 1950 and 1963, while its creative director was Antonio Canovas del Castillo, the house was known as Lanvin-Castillo. Castillo (1908-1984) had worked at Piguet, Paquin, and Elizabeth Arden in the 1940s; he left to found his own couture house. Lanvin-Castillo reverted to Lanvin when Jules-François Crahay came to the house from Nina Ricci. Crahay (1917-1988), who held the post of head designer into the 1980s, was known for his skill in cut and construction.
Vogue 1312 is an evening ensemble consisting of a dress and coat. (Click image for back views.) The sleeveless sheath dress has a draped, crisscrossed bodice extending into a lavish cowl/hood in back. The stand-away collar of the sculptural, straight coat serves to frame the draped hood:
(The photo credit says “The Crillon, Paris”—that is, the opulent Hôtel de Crillon.)
Jean Patou (1887-1936) established the house of Patou in 1914. For our period, Karl Lagerfeld (b. 1933) was designer until 1961, and Michel Goma from 1963. Goma (b. 1932) came to Patou after the closure of his own house, Michel Goma (formerly called Jeanne Lafaurie). It was during his tenure that Jean Paul Gaultier was assistant designer at Patou. Goma would later design for the newly revived Balenciaga in the late ’80s.
Vogue 1377 is a dress with three-quarter dolman sleeves, slit neckline, and seam detail on the bodice front. I’m fascinated by the tension between the simple, bold silhouette and the geometric details of the seams and neckline:
Maria ‘Nina’ Ricci (1883-1970) established the house of Nina Ricci in 1932. From 1951 to 1963 Nina Ricci’s head designer was Jules-François Crahay; Crahay collaborated with Mme Ricci until her retirement in 1959. When Crahay left for Lanvin in 1963 he was replaced by Gérard Pipart, a graduate of L’École de la Chambre Syndicale and former assistant designer at Balmain, Fath, and Patou. Pipart (b. 1933), who designed for the house for decades, was known for his skill with fabric and close but supple fit.
Vogue 1440 is a pattern for a one-piece evening dress and jacket. (Click image for illustration and back views.) The slim, sleeveless dress has a V-neck and wrapped overblouse effect, with the belted waistline slightly raised in the front; the long version of the dress has a deep back pleat. The matching jacket has a curved, notched collar and bracelet-length sleeves:
Christian Dior (1905-1957) established the house of Dior in 1946. Dior’s head designer from 1960 onward was Marc Bohan. Bohan (b. 1926) had worked as design assistant at Robert Piguet and Molyneux before he was hired as designer at Patou in the 1950s. Bohan had already worked at Dior’s London branch for a couple years when he was appointed head designer for the house, a position he held into the late 1980s. He was best known for his innovative tailoring and elegant, wearable eveningwear.
Vogue 1398 is a design for an evening dress and coat. The dress has a shaped, plunging neckline and an ultra-curvy silhouette achieved by long darts and a stiffened petticoat. (See the envelope back here.) The coat has bracelet-length sleeves and a rolled loop and tie collar. Both dress and coat may be made in two lengths—the long version in the illustration is very grand:
Each of these four venerable Paris houses had a new head designer in the early Sixties—1960 for Dior, and around 1963 for Lanvin, Patou, and Nina Ricci. In the spring of 1963 a New York Times article noted that “the Paris couture is in the throes of spring housecleaning, hiring new designers left and right.” What would come from these fresh-scrubbed couture houses?
This Halloween I decided to try out a few of my 1920s McCall’s designer patterns. I pulled four patterns to make for me and Naomi: one dress and simple piece of outerwear each. We thought going with a hybrid flapper/vampire theme would make things more interesting. We were also inspired by the Twenties incarnations of Lorena and Bill in True Blood. All four patterns are from 1926—coincidentally the year of Bill and Lorena’s Prohibition-era partying in the HBO series.
Because I was working to a deadline I made minimal alterations to the four patterns—none at all to the outerwear. For the most part, I also had to forgo period-appropriate touches like bias bindings in favour of drafted facings. In the end the outerwear wasn’t ready in time for Halloween (note to self: start in August) but I did have it finished for our photo shoots…
Naomi’s dress is made from McCall 4457, a Jean Patou design for a lace-embellished slip-on dress.
Here is the pattern illustration for McCall 4457 in the McCall Quarterly for Summer 1926. All four patterns are in the summer Quarterly, so I suppose that makes our ensembles extra-authentic…
The dress features geometric seaming detail at the hip and small of the back, where small pleats radiate from a pointed inset. The skirt is very full in the back, and the pattern layout calls for piecing, but I just got a little more fabric.
I made the dress up in grey satin-backed crepe with black lace trim. The pattern calls for 3.5″ lace, but we used 2.5″ lace instead. Luckily Naomi is basically a 1920s size 14, so the only adjustment I made was to slash for the next hip size up. Normally I would shorten the waist for her, and I started to make this adjustment to the pattern pieces before I realized they were the correct length. Maybe vintage Misses’ and Juniors’ sizes are good for petites?
The dress went together beautifully. I needed to even out the pleat markings, but that may have been due to my tracing job, not the pattern. Even the points weren’t too difficult once I created my own markings as a guide. Here’s the dress on the hanger:
Here are a couple midnight photos of Naomi in the dress:
The lace was a last-minute addition. I forgot to transfer the appropriate markings, so I reconstructed the shape of the V-shaped front lace section after the fact. And I now understand why you can buy collar-shaped lace pieces—it was a challenge working the lace around the back neckline. The faced hem the pattern called for was also new to me, but I liked how it was a pretty straightforward solution to the problem of hemming circular skirt sections. (Right now the hem is still just tacked up.)
I’m particularly happy with the Deco back detail:
Sewing this 1920s dress was a really different experience. Naomi said she felt like she was wearing a time capsule when she tried on the muslin, and while we were out someone asked whether her dress was vintage! What we both like best about the design is the contrast between the dress’ simple, geometric lines and the lace detail. That tension between old and new (tradition and modernity?) seems to situate the dress right in the mid-1920s.
(Cross-posted to Sew Retro.)
Next: Naomi’s 1920s cape.