Monday, July 20, 2009

Lilli Ann Suits from the 1940's: the early years

The history of the Lilli Ann company is interesting to American fashion. It was important to the economic development of San Francisco, as well as a large producer of woman's suitings from the 1940's through the 1980's. The early years show design creativity and luxury in style. Knowing the general silhouette and costume type will help the vintage collector to identify age of their Lilli Ann. This post profiles the early years.

In 1934, an apparel company called "Lilli Ann" was originated by Adolph Schuman and named for his wife Lillian. Originally this apparel company was a typical sort of start-up operation, with two used sewing machines and two part-time employees working in a tiny studio in the Chinatown district of San Francisco. Throughout the life of the company, it would be identified with San Francisco, both in advertising and in its economic and political influence in that city.

These early ads from 1941 through 1944 show suits and coat outfits advertised as a "costume suit". Silver fox fur and other furs are often combined with wool fabric to create a sense of luxury.

The dark costume suit above from 1941 (pre-WWII) has wide sleeves with silver fox fur trim, and was priced at $55. The fit and flared princess silhouette was typical of Lilli Ann's very feminine look during that era. The second coat from 1943 has silver fox trim around the hemline. Paired with a fez style hat, this has a Russian influence to the overall ensemble. Again, the costume suit has a fit and flare 'A' silhouette made distinctive by a draped collar.

In this second set of illustrations, coat and suit ensembles are shown. Both coats have a button pleated revere lapel (both are essentially the same coat), although the light coat is from March 1943, and the darker set is wool from Spring 1944.

The suits worn beneath the top coats are form fitting, with sculptural seam lines. The light suit has a classic princess pattern draft that "V" points into the waistline button for a very slender illusion. The second suit has "V" details on each side of the waistline. The front is closed with 3 buttons that match those on the coat. It is also fun to notice how the original suit was accessorized with hat and gloves.

At upper right corner is a view of the "Lilli Ann" garment label used during that time.

Both outfits shown above are from 1943. More fox is seen, this time as a large collar that is a style carry-over from the 1930's. On the other suit, leopard fur is used on lapels, buttons and toque hat. These details create visual interest in what are classic suit patterns. It is important to notice that a 6 gore straight skirt is shown with all suits during this era. The first skirt from 1941 was 'A' line in silhouette.

All through the war years, luxury was seen in Lilli Ann suits and coats. Excess use of textiles was controlled, as required, but luxury was available none the less. After WWII, Adolph Schuman would move to put his San Francisco suit company on the map with increased national advertising in "Vogue" magazine, along with some innovative political involvements. This began an important era for Lilli Ann company.

This advertisement shows the makers label used by Lilli Ann company through 1943 (important to notice that it does not list "Lilli Ann" name in that label). It does show "a California Costume" at a time when this from of regionalism was popular.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The SWIMSUIT, A fashion history book by Sarah Kennedy

Summer seems like a good time to review this book on the history of fashion swimwear, "The Swimsuit" by Sarah Kennedy.

A small sized book, here are over 300 pages of great info packed into that small size. The chapters are arranged to start with earliest forms of swim gear. Every chapter is packed with great photos, posters, postcards, fashion photos and advertisements. These are supported by photos of actual swimsuits of the period. They are displayed on neutral body forms, so the emphasis is on the suit, and not the model.

For both the collector and student of fashion, this book provides probably the most comprehensive collection of images on the subject. This will be useful in dating existing garments, as well as learning more about the subject. Not only are swimsuits shown by decade, but style and regional trends are depicted as well. The book ends with a list of designer biographies, Index, and Bibliography (great list of other swimsuit texts) along with picture credits.

It's a fun read for both the seasoned collector and the fashion novice.

title: The Swimsuit
author: Sarah Kennedy
Carlton Book, London
isbn: 978 1 84442 079 7

We purchased this book online at an independent book seller)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Never on Sunday: Vintage 1960, How to dress like Melina Mercouri as Ilya

In 1960, Theoni V. Aldredge (Deni Vachliotov) as costumer, designed fabulous outfits for Melina Mercouri, the leading lady in "Never on Sunday" (Pote tin Kyriaki). Ilya, the smart and sexy character played by Melina Mercouri is a Greek sea port's leading lady of the evening. To showcase her long, lean build, Ms. Aldredge created simple yet dramatic garments designed to make an impact and support the character's profile as a happy hooker with a heart of gold.

It is possible today to revive these terrific looks, as the styles are so currant. There is also a tone of sophistication and drama that is hard to find in most fashion. The first dress is a smashing 'little back dress' that fits like a dream (possible when you have a staff of studio seamstresses to make that happen). It has a plunging "V" neckline in front, which may have been held together by a decorative band at the bra level (or is that the bra we are seeing?). A "V" neckline is one that appears several times in Ilya's wardrobe. This first dress is simply a well fit sheath, with a deep "V" neckline. Altering an existing round or square neck on a dress is always possible if you want to create this well cut neckline.

If you are creative, I have collected sewing patterns that approximate the looks best.

We can create our own version using a form fitting sheath without a waistline sash or belt. Depending on your figure type, either princess seam lines or darted body patterns are available. The dramatic deeply cut "V" neckline will have to be of your own design, as it does not exist in commercial patterns.

For the fitted sheath dress, we like the straight forward cut of darted body line in New Look 6643. The princess seamlines in Burda 7972, would make fitting curvy shapes better than darts. Vogue has two wonderful versions of "V" necklines in slender silhouettes. Vogue 9668 has a great midriff panel, that adds to the visual interest of the sheath look. Vogue 8532 has a dramatic collar at the "V" neckline, with an empire waistline to throw focus to the upper body (and skim any waistline flaws).

The second outfit is simply a tank top and a soft circle skirt. The skirt has sunburst pleating to create a smooth fit over the hips and accent movement. A wide white belt pulls this look together. Blanket stitch in white edges the top for a cute style detail.

For Ilya's birthday party, she has chosen a shiny white blouse that is wraped across the front for a neat fit. The slender skirt in black is cinched by a wide black belt with a large black buckle for a super small waistline.

This amazing matte jersey dress symbolizes Ilya's Greekness, in its use of lovely draping. She IS a goddess! This sheath has a narrow flat panel down the center front, from the neckline to the hem. Along this edge, the dress is shirred to drape over her curves. A cute beaded fringe tassel is set into the narrow band at the dress hemline. The shoulders have a narrow double strap, that often falls off her shoulder in a sweet way.

Did a striped tank top ever look this good? Ilya's take on the sailor's jersey, this fitted knit top is exactly waist length, and worn with a contrast straight skirt. This low square neckline is possible with careful cutting to fit the demi bra that is worn under it.

This black knit top has elbow length sleeves cut in one with the body. A "V" neckline in cut in both front and back, for dramatic exposure. Probably bodice darts make it fit neatly into the waistline of her skirt. The vintage sewing patterns I have seen in this cut have zippers in the side seams and bra strap snap loops at the shoulder seam to keep the neckline from sliding down the shoulder. As accents, her bracelets and jewelry really give this outfit punch.

So what is the overall idea in trying to get this sophisticated vintage look?
Fit, fit, fit.
Achieving a great fit is the start of a dramatic silhouette. By working with slender garments, mostly solid fabrics, limited details, and punched up jewelry, a great 1960's look is possible!

Pote tin Kyriaki (Never on Sunday)

Costume: Theoni V. Aldredge (Deni Vachliotov)
Melina Mercouri: Ilya