Sunday, November 27, 2016

Barbara Hulanicki and Biba

The design impact of the Biba brand by designer Barbara Hulanicki during the late 1960's and early 1970's on the more progressive fashion scene cannot be underestimated. Her 1920's and 1930's Art Deco influences helped to create a whole world of style that is iconic for that era.

Hello Atelier just released a podcast interview with Barbara that includes a page with great links and images. This renewed my interest in her work and I'll share with you here what I found.

Starting at the source, Barbara Hulanicki has a wonderful portfolio website with too many images to share: vintage photos, fabric prints, fashion illustrations and artwork, among other interesting items. It's a great way to see her work and get a better idea of the Biba legend.

She also has a media page on Youtube that brings together the many interviews she has made or been featured in. Watching helps to get a good idea of her history and point of view. There is also an hour long documentary from 2009, "Beyond Biba: a Portrait of Barbara Hulanicki".


After seeing these, I noticed that she designed a series of home sewing patterns for McCall's in 1971 that do not feature her name or the Biba branding, but clearly show her style. These fashions were featured in a magazine article that shows full color photos of the outfits. I was able to locate four sewing patterns from the McCall's set: 2725, 2728, 2746 and 2727.

McCall's 2725

McCall's 2728

McCall's 2746

McCall's 2747

After taking a good look, these designs still seem as fun as they did over 45 years ago.

McCall's 2746: from Pretty Pattern Shop

all others from

Sunday, November 20, 2016

James Galanos: Documentary Video "Galanos by Galanos"

In 1996, a retrospective exhibition "Galanos" of the life works of James Galanos was shown by the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It featured a wide range of his fashions, from his early career through the later pieces.

As part of the exhibition a half hour documentary, "Galanos by Galanos", was produced that featured an interview with Galanos who shares his design process from concept through final gown.

Watch Documentary:  "Galanos by Galanos" online at Artbabble.

The catalog book for this show is another worthwhile feature produced by this exhibition.  "Galanos" by Barry Bradley, published in 1996 includes the entire show, with a full length photo and closer view of each piece.

Image above: Vogue 2639 sewing pattern from Winter 1971/72 by Galanos

My other posts on Galanos:

James Galanos: California Couture, Part 1

James Galanos: California Couture, Part 2

Thursday, November 17, 2016

James Galanos: California Couture, Part 2

In Part 1, biography of James Galanos, I covered his early life and career.  I look now into his later career and styles.

PART II: James Galanos

Galanos gowns are part of his legend but it was his simple day dresses and suits that were very popular. Galanos is known for the refined women he dressed: Jackie Onassis, Loretta Young, Gloria Vanderbilt, Nancy Reagan, Ann Getty, Diana Ross, and Liza Minnelli. These customers collected his beaded jackets and wore them for many years. To understand their needs, he made a point of socializing with his customers, maintaining a good grasp of their preferred styles and needs throughout his career. It was the East Coast client, wealthy and socially connected, that helped to build both his reputation and business.

Galanos’s fashion shows were major events, staged at the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles and the Plaza Hotel in New York. As early as 1952 he had shown samples to buyers and customers in New York. There would be 150 gowns or more shown at these events. The atmosphere was quiet without music or dramatic scenery. He staged a hostess to call out the number of each gown as it went down the runway. It could last well over an hour for every model to appear on the runway.

The spring and summer 1965 showing lasted over two hours while 250 designs were shown. As he grew older, he eliminated those big fashion shows. During that time his fashions were sold in about 26 stores (and never more than 30). His prime retailer in New York was Martha. This store sold one million dollars worth of his designs during one week in 1985 while Galanos was in town for a trunk show. He also sold through such luxury stores as Neiman Marcus (45 years), Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman. Galanos licensed perfume and fur labels at one time, but never sold his name in a big way.

He felt he was the classic designer of his time. He knew that beauty is created with luxury fabrics and fine details, without fads or distracting and gimmicky details. His style was very simple, sculptural, and clean. The shaping of form created the garment’s unique character rather than by the use of decorations and trims. In a single collection he would have 200 dresses of different design. Even with the high number of styles in each collection he was able to produce two collections a year while he was at his most prolific.

Galanos was known for the black dresses he designed. They are considered to be perfect in fit and cut. In addition to dresses he always included a cape in every collection. Each cape was carefully engineered to retain the silhouette. His use of fabric was generous, with as much as 50 yards being used to create a swirl of chiffon.

Beading was an important part of his evening wear. Simple gowns with carefully selecting beading applications were created to make the outstanding ensemble. Nancy Reagan’s inaugural gown was one of these simple beaded shafts of fabric. It was the subtle changes in silhouette and style that gave his personal design style a classic feel. He never introduced sudden changes in his collections so they were timeless in design. He explored new silhouettes that evolved from past styles.

This attention to detail and fit made a Galanos gown couture level. Using up to four fabrics in a garment, this expensive process was unique to the American fashion scene, where cost usually dictates the process used to construct a garment. Although a Galanos gown could be bought ready-to-wear, the unique processes he used to create that gown made each piece a collector’s item. The quality of his garments is unmatched in ready-to-wear.

His design room was in west Los Angeles on Sepulveda Blvd. He employed up to 65 technicians and artisans who stayed with him for several decades. This group performed all phases of his garment design and production. Even with the technical support, Galanos was responsible for the design work from concept through final drape or design.

Recognition for Galanos also came in the form of several major honors and museum exhibitions. In 1976 his designs were shown at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. The Council of Fashion Designers of America’s lifetime achievement award was awarded to him in 1985. A retrospective of his career was showcased in Ohio at the Western Reserve Historical Society in 1997, and the following year at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). An earlier showing of his work had been exhibited at LACMA in 1974. The 1997 exhibition included a catalog and video that showed Galanos at work along with his own comments on his design philosophy.

In 1988 his prices ranged from $7,500 for a day suit with blouse, to $10,000 to $15,000 for a special gown. His day dresses were about $4,000 each. Although expensive, this was much less than a Parisian counterpart. Even so, it was difficult to get his wealthy customers to pay their bills, and by the end of his career, large debts loomed from unpaid accounts.

At the end of his career he cut his expansive runway shows from his business. Instead, he continued to show the collection to small groups of buyers in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Palm Beach, Dallas, and Houston. These showings were simple, using only two models.

As the designer, he still felt the need to describe each garment as it passed by the audience. The lingering effect of his decades of designing is the timeless quality of his work. Galanos style is fashion that can be worn for years. This balances the cost and sets them apart from other American fashion designs.

Fashion Influence

Galanos was known for his couture techniques and elegant styling. As an influence, he established a level of excellence for quality and couture values that has remained. This elevated California fashion in both scope and value. Where New York might seem to be the location for sophisticated and elegant fashion, Galanos was the “odd ball” by staying with his Los Angeles location throughout his career. This fostered a relationship with Hollywood royalty that New York fashion houses could not match.

His most outstanding pieces each have unique elements of emphasis. Whether it is the twist of a silk chiffon skirt, or heavy beading on an evening jacket, the attention to detail is unmistakable. Fabric roses, heavy beading, soft and silky fabrications all make his designs timeless and unique. His fashions were for the sophisticated adult woman who did not need to expose her body. Even his daring asymmetrical shoulders and bare bodices still carry a sense of elegance and royal bearing.

The black wool jacket shown above is from my shop.  The floral silk two-piece dress is still in my collection.

More on GALANOS:

Documentary Video: Galanos by Galanos

James Galanos: California Couture, Part 1

Articles on Galanos:

FlashBack, 1997: Los Angeles Times, review of Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibit
Glory to Galanos, an American Original, 1987: Los Angeles Times
I'm Not Couture, 1994: Los Angeles Times
Galanos Show Brings Out His Fans, 1986: Los Angeles Times

Philadelphia Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Galanos: by Barry Bradley, Western Reserve Historical Society, 1996/1997

Friday, November 11, 2016

James Galanos: California Couture, Part I

James Galanos will be known, not only as a California designer for the stars and first lady, Nancy Reagan, but also as one of the few American couture designers.  In light of Mr. Galanos recent passing, I am sharing this biography that was written as part of my graduate thesis.  I have divided it into two parts, to make this post less lengthy.


James Galanos was the son of an artistic Greek immigrant and although originally from Philadelphia, Galamos grew up in New Jersey. Born in 1924, at a young age he had a passion for fashion design. By the time he was 18, he had enrolled in the Traphagen School of Fashion in Manhattan (the origin of Fashion Institute of Technology). Within a year he was working for Hattie Carnegie in a position without any artistic challenges.

Galanos had been sketching all of his life so he did not feel the need for more art training and left that job. Working for himself, he started by selling free-lance designs to New York apparel companies. His earliest backer was Lawrence Lesavoy, a Russian textile businessman. He sent Galanos to California to start a new fashion business there, but due to Lesavoy’s divorce, the business venture failed.  Galanos could not design the collection as was planned. Instead he waited in Los Angeles for the divorce to be settled. In his early twenties at the time, he found part-time work as an assistant to the movie costumer, Jean Louis at Columbia Pictures, a relationship that would help to start his career.

Following that first business failure, Lesavoy sent Galanos to Paris in 1948 to study fashion design at the Beaux Arts Academy. While in Paris, he was able to secure an unpaid internship with Robert Piguet, the French couture designer most famous for his designs during the 1920’s. At Piguet he worked with Marc Bohan and other young assistants who would later become well known Parisian designers. This experience would have a profound effect on Galanos aesthetic, which reflected his study of French couture.

The Parisian internship was short lived however and Galanos returned to New York again and looked for work. He was hired by the Davidow suit company, known for soft, unlined, textured wool Chanel-styled suits, however these were not in Galanos’s style.  Galanos decided to return to Los Angeles again in 1951. At the time the luxury business for movie stars was seeing a rise in popularity.

Galanos' leap to fame is recorded as coming from design commissions for Rosalind Russell. She first saw his designs in the studio of the costumer Jean Louis. After working for Russell, Galanos created his first true fashion collection in 1951 at the age of 27, financed by a loan of $200 from Jean Louis.

He took his first sample dresses to New York for market week. There, this collection was a terrific success.  He returned with orders worth $400,000. Following this inspired beginning, Galanos worked for 46 years as the designer for his own company. He would continue to create fashion until 1988 at the age of 73,  At that point, he retired to Palm Springs, where he continued to socialize with his clients and friends.

In the early 1950's, Amelia Gray of Los Angeles was one of the first shops to carry his designs. Her shop's location on Wilshire Blvd. brought in famous Hollywood starlets who bought those early designs and samples. Galanos’ long friendship with young starlet Nancy Reagan began during that time. She actually made the original comment about being able to wear his clothes inside out because they were so perfectly sewn. Her first dress from Galanos cost $125.

Mrs. Reagan’s support for him included wearing his gowns at each of her husband’s inaugurals. She wore two gowns while her husband was the governor of California and then two more when he was president of the United States during the 1980’s. Galanos’ gown for the 1981 inaugural was a one-shoulder sheath with silver-white beading. This was a dramatic departure from the traditional styles worn by previous first ladies and helped to establish Mrs. Reagan’s stature as the First Lady.

By 1954 his reputation as a designer was so well established that he won the Neiman Marcus Award in early fall and the Coty Award later that winter. Only 30 years old, he was the youngest winner of this top honor. By 1959 he would be inducted into the Coty Hall of Fame. Although remarkably young, the quality of craftsmanship in his gowns won him the acclaim.

His working process began with a drape of uncut fabric on the fit model. This French drape technique resulted in gowns with careful draping and amazing bias fit. If beading was used, the pattern was drawn directly on to the fabric with chalk; then the beading was applied by hand by former MGM costume makers. His own arrangement of bead texture and color was used. He could spend days perfecting a beaded layout.

During the 1980’s Galanos became known for heavily textured beading and embroidery, often blending the beads into a printed design on the textile. It was only after this process was complete that the gown was then sewn. Using this method, it could take weeks for a garment to be completed. Time consuming techniques such as this launched his reputation as one of the few true American couture designers, even though he was not officially preparing custom made garments for his clients.

end of PART I

The black lace gown shown is from Ricky's Treasured Finds, a vintage couture shop:
photo by Ricky Serbin

Examples of Galanos beaded designs:

Monday, November 7, 2016

House Dresses: Swirl, Model's Coat and the Pop Over Dress

A stepchild of fashion, the humble house dress has been worn in one form or another for centuries. When women's fashionable gowns were silk, this was even more so. Wearing 'wash dresses' of cotton calico allowed mothers and maids to get their chores done, while wearing something cool, comfortable, and easy to launder.

This little catalog illustration is from 1928 and shows a simple to sew house dress pattern at a time when home sewing was on the upswing in a growing suburban culture.

During the second World War, innovations in apparel were developed to assist the working woman, and conserve textile use. Function was a high priority. In 1942, Claire McCardell patented a front wrap house dress that had an adjustable button waistband, patch pocket and a serviceable silhouette, called the "Pop Over" dress.

Following World War II, a flood of changes affected fashion. The availability of fabrics, both natural and synthetic soared. Add to this the availability of the zipper that had been restricted during the war years.  The use of zippers in women's apparel become popular during the 1930's, but the war put a stop to that. Afterwards, the zipper became a 'must have' element in all apparel.

During the late 1940's and through the 1950's, zipper use was at an all time high, as women happily abandoned their buttons for the convenience of a zipper. The cotton house dress above with a "Nip'N'Tuck" label,  sports a sweetheart neckline and pockets edged in looped trim. A long center front zipper is set between full length rows of tiny pintucks.

House dresses changed from being loosely fit to something more fashionable during the 1950's and 60's. The sporty rust red version shown here is by "Swirl", a well known house dress label.

This house dress wraps across the back and snaps at the waist band.  It has huge patch pockets embellished with large appliques of fruit, veggies and kitchen kitch.

This second "Swirl" bright floral  house dress also wraps across the back. It has gathered 'puffy' round patch pockets.

This back view of both "Swirl" dresses show similar features in the back wrapping concept that has a top button to keep the wrap from gaping open.

The cute polka dot dress below is by another popular label "Models Coat". Originally a cover up for fit and runway models, it has similar 'easy to wear' features as other house dresses.

As young women moved from dresses into pants for day wear during the late 1960's and 1970's, the house dress lost its position in the housewife's wardrobe. Jeans, blouses and 'T' shirts took its place to become the preferred apparel for chores and leisure activities at home.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Betty Barclay: Vintage 1950's Dress

This sweet 1950's dress with the "Betty Barclay" label is a follow-up to the "Hourglass Corsage Silhouettes" post on vintage dresses with fitted bodices that hint at a corset shaping.  I have a few examples of this style, and thought it might be fun to take a look.

This "Betty Barclay" design was a junior division of the Jonathan Logan group. I wrote an earlier post that included this dress, and have wanted to give it a full review ever since.

This close up view of the front and collar shows the cute butterfly print clearly. It seems to be screen printed on a fabric with some sheen that is probably acetate. Tiny rhinestones are scattered on the collar. With these details, I'm guessing it was not an everyday school dress, but something special for dates and family events.

The bodice is closely fitted in both front and back, without a belt or seam around the waist. It closes up the back with a simple metal zipper, which was common at the time. The gathered skirt is emphasized by the lower dropped level seam line. This creates the corsage fit and hourglass silhouette.

The small Peter Pan collar provides a demure look that was very popular.  The sleeves are cut in one with the bodice (small kimono style sleeves) and they have a narrow turned back cuff to compliment the collar detail.

The simple cut of this dress would have made it cheaper to manufacture for the junior budget.  While the rhinestones are few, they provide a bit of embellishment on a conservative collar.  Overall it's a very cute look, perfect for a high school girl to wear.

Bust: 35" / 89
Waist: 26" / 66
Hips: full skirt 
Length: 35.5" / 90 from shoulder/over bust/to hem

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Vintage 1950s Sewing: Pattern Measurement Chart for Women

If you want to learn how to sew vintage fashion, you will want to understand pattern measurements.  Using vintage patterns will differ because 50s sizes aren't the same as current sizes. This 1950s measurement chart is from the same McCall's pattern magazine featured in my last post.  I thought that this chart might help to give a better understanding of how dresses from the mid-1950s are a different fit from today's dresses.

Using this vintage measurement chart can also help in selecting a vintage pattern.  By comparing with your own measurements, it's easier to know what alterations may need to be made so that the pattern will be a better fit.

When choosing a vintage pattern size, it's best to start with the bust measurements, and alter the waistline darts and hip side seams to fit your modern size.  You may notice that current sizes seem to come with larger measurements, so that a popular size 6 today, becomes a size 18 in vintage patterns, even though their measurements are quite similar.

current size 6 or S size = 35.5" bust / 28" waist / 38" hips
1950's- pattern size 18 = 36" bust / 30" waist / 39" hips

BUST Alteration: subtract 1/2" from bust line by taking in side seams 1/8"

WAIST Alteration: subtract 2" from waist by taking in side seams 1/2"

HIPS Alteration: subtract 1" from hips by taking in side seams 1/4"

To get a better idea of modern sizing, compare the vintage 1956 chart above to the current size chart below that represents measurements commonly found in Banana Republic, J.Crew and other brands today.  With this it's easy to see how the fit differs.

Although the current chart above has sizes and fit common to several brands, it is important to know that there are no standard sizes in US apparel.

In the US, each manufacturer can produce any fit to suit their own target customer, and give their apparel any size label that they wish. This means that referring to one size as what a person should be wearing is an error.  This is essential to know: that size and fit for each brand or store is unique.


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