Thursday, July 30, 2015

Vintage 1950's Playset: Simplicity 1605 and How to Sew Your Own Playset

1950s fashion

Sewing a 1950's vintage style summer play suit set is not has difficult as that may seem. When making vintage styles, sometimes you have to copy an idea, rather than use a pattern. This Simplicity Pattern 1605 dates from the 1950's. It has has a classic detachable skirt worn over a short playsuit.

1950s play suit

The wrapped bodice seems strongly influenced by Claire McCardell and other American designers who were creating styles with an Indian sari influence. The jumpsuit image shows how the edge of a sari or border print could be used to create a dramatic diagonal on the one shoulder top.

For a sewing project, this outfit is worth taking a second look, especially for the wrapped neckline which can be made with or without the second shoulder panel. The easy to sew gathered skirt is accented by a detachable cummerbund. The skirt fastens in front and it acts as a cover-up for going indoors at the country club.

The back of the pattern shows how the pieces are cut. Even though this pattern is no longer available, it is possible to re-create the same look with a gathered skirt over a jumpsuit or shorts and halter top. Probably the easiest way to get a similar pattern is to create your own pattern hack. Using two Butterick patterns, this look could be created.

To sew your own wrap bodice and skirt, start with Butterick 6582.  It has a great version of this wrapped bodice, but attached to a gathered skirt.  Using this pattern, the surplice top could be used.  When fitting it, be sure to determine your waistline, since that is where the shorts will be attached.  If you want to make this a 'crop top' and not attach the shorts, that would be even easier to fit.  Use this pattern for making the detachable skirt by sewing the fabric to a straight waistband that meets in the front.  There should be a wide sash too that wraps around the waistline.

To make your shorts, use Butterick 5895.  It is a well fit pant with a high 'natural' waistline.  A fitting muslin would be the next step so that the best length for shorts can be drawn on the leg and transferred to the paper pattern.  It would also be important to pin the bodice to the waistline so that the correct waistline is determined.  You may want to lengthen or shorten the pant waistline at this time too.

This outfit would duplicate the one we see here, making it a great 50's style play suit for the summer!

This "Throw-back Thursday" post was adapted from the original posted July 13, 2011.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Vintage Swimwear: 1951 Carribean Collection by Catalina

Vintage swimwear by Catalina are classics.  In the 1950's, bold new designs were created for collections that this California label produced to attract a sun loving customer. In 1951 the "Carribean* collection" showed sea themed graphics on their daring strapless one piece stretch swimsuits, along with other styles including men's trunks to match.

Go Carribean* with Catalina!
...Catalina's new Carribean* collection, beautiful new designs, gay sun-filled colors, fanciful patterns and fabrics, all created with a true Carribbean flavor!

STAR FISH fanciful design hand-printed on knitted two-way stretch Celanese, Lastex and Nylon.
Features Catalina's new patented POWERLIFT bra. Exciting Carribean* colors.
Matching men's STAR FISH trunk.
"as featured in LIFE"

California Stylist, Spring 1951

What's not to love with this early 1950's California swim suit. This wildly popular motif has been well documented, but I felt it was right for a re-visit this summer. Perhaps we are ready once more for bold accent patterns on the front of our maillot swim suits, along with a cute version for the man in our life (or not).

This ad boasted a contest to promote the new "Carribean* collection", and was also advertised in "Life" magazine. This ad was seen in "California Stylist", an industry magazine geared towards wholesale buyers looking at California labels to stock their retail stores across the U.S.

Catalina History review: HERE

Friday, June 5, 2015

WWII Fashions: Spring of 1942 Sewing Patterns

Spring of 1942 came only a few short months after the start of WWII, and by August, WPB Limitation Order L-85 would take effect to begin the war era restrictions on fashion. With this in mind, it's easy to spot the adoption of styles that required less fabric. Fashion manufacturers had been making a transition into a leaner fashion look since the late 1930's when a new war seemed at hand.

Simple, yet charming dress styles are offered in this Simplicity spring catalog for 1942. The dresses shown here tend to lean towards a classic button front style with an "A" shaped skirt that just covered the knee (about as high as society would tolerate). I have included the full page so you can see that most of the design was in front, and nearly all dresses sport the same simple darted rear view.

In general, these styles are easy to sew and can be adapted from current sewing patterns. Color blocking and contrast buttons gives design interest without using additional fabric. The slender silhouette is due in part to the use of rayon and acetate textiles that have a soft drape, such as crepes and imitation silk weaves.  We also know that many women were sewing crisp cottons too.

Using these pattern designs can also help to date vintage fashion from the WWII era.  Look for the same silhouette and style details when dating.  There also will be a noticeable lack of zippers in dresses and skirts.  You will also find that after the war, many women kept this look until they could afford the Dior influenced silhouettes, so dresses like this with longer length skirts are often from the late 40's.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hawaiian Fashion Label: Malia of Honolulu

The "Malia of Honolulu" label was a cut above many other tropical fashions from 1960 to the late 1980's. The label was created by a couple from the mainland: Bill and Mary Foster, who had met at Stanford University. Early on, it was Bill who sold textiles, but he would have the idea to produce their own line and convinced Mary to be the designer for their dress line.

Bill's original textile patterns were key to the company's success, since they had a unique point of view, presenting a more modern trend conscious fashion that made the transition from resort to state-side easily.

These cotton dresses (top from the 1970's and the one above from the late 1960's) show how the Malia of Honolulu style was very contemporary and young, with a more sophisticated look than traditional resort wear had at the time.  Rather than re-styled palm frond designs that originated in the 1930's, the Fosters explored bright graphics and prints. The company also produced fashion that was very well made and was worth the extra cost to their customer.

Manufacturing on the island was not cost effective, so the retail prices were high.  But the unique styles and high quality put them in demand.  Much of the company's success was based on their focus to create a dress that the customer could wear long after her trip to Hawaii was over.  During the early years, the Malia of Honolulu collection was shown during the sportswear market week in Los Angeles as part of the California Fashion Creators showings.

In 1970, Malia of Honolulu was well known for their muumuu long dresses.  These were simply long, loose dresses in a variety of fabric patterns, often tiny prints popular as "granny dresses" .

In 1981, a collection would have 32 color ways in bright cotton prints, on ribbed or polished cotton. At that time the styles ranged from wrap around, button or zipper, with strap varieties such as double 'shoe string'. Sizes could range from 4 to 18.  Most dresses were shipped to the main land,  50% of the company line was sold east of the Mississippi, with women in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania being dominant buyers.

Production was on a large scale.  When making a first sample, the entire fabric run of 6,000 yards had to be run first to provide the textile to be used.  Each collection would average about 30 different prints.  Cotton was the major textile for 90% of the line.  During the 80's, three of the four Foster children were involved with the business, as associate designer, sales manager, and data processor. Mary would market the line across the country.

Her target customer was a middle class women with children, and possibly a job, who shopped for style, comfort and easy to maintain dresses for her daily life.

In 1984, the company had 200 employees, but was still owned by the Fosters whose business was based in a converted bowling alley.  Ads for their dresses can be found as late as 1988, proof that they company had a long and successful run.  Today the brand name carries uniforms only, having left fashion and textiles behind.  We still have the wonderful dresses they produced from 1960 through the late 1980's under the "Malia of Honolulu" label.

RESOURCES: Read more about "Malia of Honolulu"

"A Moment in the Sun" from "Hana Hou: The Magazine of Hawaiian Airlines", with interview of Mary Foster and others: HERE , Story by Curt Sanburn, Volume 18, issue 2, April/May 2015. Article traces the history of Hawaiian fashion during the second half of the 20th Century.

"Business Design Business Dressing up Couples Lives", by Barbara Cloud, The Pittsburgh Press. Interview with Mary Foster, HERE

"Hubbard comes to Hawaii" by Margaret Ness, Ottowa Citizen, Dec. 2, 1971, HERE

"Hawaii Sways Fashion Theme" by Barbara Cloud, API, Nov. 19, 1968: short interview with Mary Foster, HERE

"Hem Hovers at Knee", AP Press, Sept. 16, 1970: Malia of Honolulu participates in California Fashion Creators fashion show, Market Week, Los Angeles, HERE

"The Hawaiian Look Hits Home", by Mary Wilkinson, Sept. 23, 1974, the Sydney Morning Herald, short interview with Mary Foster, HERE

"For Spring, the Pants Look", by Evelyn Mazuran, Nov. 9, 1968, The Deseret News: Jumpsuit in Photo, article includes short history of women's pants, HERE

Newspaper Advertisements, for both Long and Short Dresses, with published sale prices:
The Lewiston Daily Sun, June 17, 1968, (2 piece swimsuit, $23), The Milwaukee Sentinel, May 16, 1973 (prices: $24 to $36)Eugene Register-Guard, June 13, 1974 (prices $44 and $36) and April 25, 1976 (prices: $44, $66), The Victoria Advocate, May 23 1976 (prices: $38, $45), Nov. 26, 1976, Sidney Morning Herald (prices: $55, $60), April 16, 1978: Spartanburg Herald-Journal (prices: $48, $62), The Sydney Morning Herald, Dec. 17, 1981 (priced: $79), Reading Eagle, Jan. 23, 1984 (prices $76), The Sydney Morning Herald, Nov. 29, 1988

This post is based on an article that I published earlier, but updated with more information and photos.  "Malia of Honolulu" is not to be confused with other "Malia" brands or companies, it is a distinct fashion label, c. 1960 to late 1980's. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Michael Novarese: California Fashion Designer

Michael Novarese, California fashion designer biography

When I wrote a recent blog article about a Novarese dress from the 1970's I was discouraged by the lack of information on this talented fashion designer from California, so I dug deeper to find that he was well celebrated by the press during his time. What I write here is based on many regional and national newspaper articles on Michael Novarese made through out his career, and his obituary published online.

Michael Novarese stated that he always knew he would design women’s fashion. His love was for elegant, well designed fashion, and that is what he planned to create.

Of Italian descent, he was born in 1926, in Memphis, Tenn. At an early age his family would move back to Italy where he spent his early childhood, returning to Memphis as a youth and completing high school there. This was followed by serving in WWII and being stationed in Europe. After the war he returned to Memphis for a short time, but moved finally to Los Angeles where he studied fashion at Woodbury College. This was located in downtown Los Angeles at that time. It had a small but strong program in apparel design, graduating other fashion designers of note such as William Travilla.

In his early career, he worked as a blouse designer. This would evolve to designing evening cocktail dresses in a custom dress making business. By 1957 he was able to open his own label with eight dress designs. These were made from silk crepe, a classic textile with a matte finish and a slight stretch that he used often throughout his carer. He was able to sell these first designs to Saks Fifth Avenue.

Early on, Novarese had made the decision to create only high end fashion constructed with quality textiles and sewing techniques. He would focus on a customer who was often professional, working in high paid careers such as advertising and public relations. They wanted his quality designs as part of their stature both at work and at home. In 1981 he would estimate that 70% of his customers were professional women. “My clothes fit as investments because they have a very secure look about them” and could be worn for several seasons to validate that investment.

As a young designer in his thirties, he was seen as slim, small and brown eyed by one reviewer in 1962. His southern drawl was an asset, along with his vibrant and engaging personality. By this time he had been in business for only five years, yet he was being interviewed in New York by regional fashion journalists for local papers. That year he also presented his collection in his hometown of Memphis, which was an honor for him.

Novarese evening designs were known for being subtle, elegant and finely made. He was able to do this while still incorporating texture through beading, lace and fullness. Often this was emphasized in the sleeves, an area that he was well known for embellishing or making dramatic statements. When asked about this infusion of renaissance style he would reply “After all, I am of Italian extraction”. His early childhood in Italy played a part in creating his elegant signature styles.

He worked with professionals at the top of the field. His beading woman, Mae Murry in Los Angeles, was known for her work in movies as well. She created the wonderful textures his evening gowns were known for. “She’s the greatest in the business” was his comment about her. His work also emphasized pristine dress making. “I always believed that a customer is entitled to a complete product in that the inside should look as good as the outside.” To do this he “set a guideline in regard to the way clothes should be made”.

Because his designs required couture level sewing and expensive high quality textiles and trims, his fashions were known for being expensive. In the 1970s, his dresses were bringing in $1,000 each. He recounts a story of one new customer who loved his prints so much that she ordered the same dress in five prints, spending over $12,000 to do this. In the late 1980’s he would state the “competition in our price bracket is fierce, and we have to ensure every faculty we possess to maintain a position in the marketplace”

In 1974, his customers would spend between $400 to $2,500 on a dress. Early on, established actresses such as Bette Davis and Ann Baxter were clients. Other actress customers during his career included Jane Russell, Liza Minelli, Judy Garland, and Dinah Shore. His gowns were also worn in the 80’s by the Reagan era wives in Washington D.C. He describes his client as “a lady who understands quality fabrics, quality workmanship and designs that are not limited to that particular period”.

This made for a conservative sense of style. During an economic down-swing, he would comment that “you don’t play around with design when the economic situation is not secure. You deviate when a lot of money is around. Customers want clothes that won’t go out of style and they’ll wear what they buy from two to five seasons.” The point of view was that his fashion should be classic, (my) “clothes are not fad-oriented, gimmicky or eye-distracting. They are clothes that will take you from year to year and still look correct”.

He maintained that to stay in business he had to emphasize his unique style, the quality of the garment, and the fine dressmaking skills that created it. He would be most popular in Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston, while also traveling to present his collections in trunk show throughout the US and in New York City.

When asked why he didn’t create another line at more affordable prices he responded that “I had no intention of dressing mass America. I left that to someone else”. And “I do not design sport clothes or swimsuits. My clothes are day-through-afternoon dresses and cocktail, evening, debutante and wedding dresses”. Part of this was due to his dress making standards where he wound never “vacillate from a set method in regard to making clothes. It’s just as easy to make it correctly and well”. These designs would be worn by the customer “who understands quality fabrics, quality workmanship and designs that are not limited to that particular period” in time.

In Los Angeles, Novarese was part of a well known group of designers called the “California Fashion Creators”. They promoted their own regional apparel at a national level. He was also one of a select few California designers whose collections were considered couture along with Charles Cooper, Lee Herman, Stanley Nelson, and Wiliam Travilla. They often presented their collections together in New York during fashion week. In 1965 they produced a fashion show at the Plaza Hotel, hoping to snag buyers and the press on Sunday with their unusual concept of fashion and buffet.

Novarese retired from his business in 1992 at about 66 years old. His final business location was in West Hollywood on Holloway Drive, a convenient location to both Hollywood and Los Angeles. His retirement was honored and celebrated by his clients who staged a special invitation dinner with a gallery display at a local design college, each invitee was encouraged to wear her best Novarese to this event. That final year he had worked about 35 years under his own label. In retirement he lived in both Palm Desert and Los Angeles. Novarese was well known for his volunteer work in the community and his philanthropic works through the Catholic church. His partner of 36 years, Robert Nelson is still living in southern California.

In one of the last statements Novarese made about his designs, he said “Strangely enough, my clothes are not, and never have been designed with California in mind. They have an international flavor that can be worn in any spot in the country, as well as in Europe.” Having lived his life both in the US and Europe he would know best about that.

While there isn’t a book or chapter written on Novarese, his life and designs were documented by the many female fashion journalists who worked for the syndicated national press and smaller local newspapers during his career:

Barbara Cloud, 1965, 1966, 1981: Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Peggy Gandy, 1987: the Oklahoman
Doris Klein, 1964: syndicated
Mary Lou Loper, 1992: syndicated
Jean Miller, 1974: St. Petersburg Times
Aileen Ryan, 1962: Milwaukee Journal
Mary Jan Spencer, 1965: Blade News
Joan Sweeney, 1968: syndicated
Violet Webber, 1970: Toronto Blade


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