Sunday, September 8, 2013

Birds in Fashion

Be they embroidered, sequined, woven, or fashioned from their magnificent plumage itself, birds have long played an important and sometimes controversial role in centuries of fashion design and execution. 
From the Victorian days of plunder-taxidermy manuals instructed readers to 'start with birds' to 20th century protectionism, birds have found their way into fashion in one form or another; while Australian Huia beak brooches, hummingbird dinner dress adornments, and ostrich feather fans captivated the hearts of 19th century fashionistas, 20th century buyers, respectful of avian environmental concerns, were charmed by printed and woven textiles representing all species of man’s feathered favourites.
So widespread was the slaughter of exotic birds for fashion that feathers were actually classified as textiles. The Mobile Millinery Museum houses a large collection of quills, aigrettes, spines, plumes, fluffs, fuzzes,
Maria Curcic in one of her own designs
downs, & spikes, many of them the plumage endangered or now extinct species such as bird-of-paradise.
Ornithological themes can be found in many woven, embroidered, and printed textiles of the twentieth century, making for interesting costume collections. A favourite from my own collection is  a blue-bird themed satin damask gown created for a production of the opera L’Oiseau Bleu that I found at The Little Shop in Montreal.   

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cinderella Upgrades from Fur to Glass

Cinderella's glass slippers continue to motivate today as evidenced by the pair of fantasy shoes unveiled by Christian Louboutin in celebration of Disney's DVd and Blu-ray release.  And yes, The sparkly-heeled, butterfly adorned stilettos boast Louboutin's trademark red soles. 

Although Cinderella’s famous glass slippers (made of vair or squirrel fur in the early French version) have morphed through improper translation into the more familiar glass (verre) slippers, they remain emblematic of transformation in a classic story that illuminates the interplay between spirit and matter.  

Monday, July 2, 2012

See and Be Seen in Vintage Eyewear

See and Be Seen in Vintage Eyewear

Monocles, horn-rimmed spectacles, and opera glasses have long been appreciated by  antiquities dealers, but merchants at flea markets and vintage shops are now selling iconic eyewear styles from the 1940s to the 1970s in Lucite, bakelite, woodgrain, etched aluminum, painted metal etc. From Riviera style to librarian temples, new old stock frames are trading briskly on the internet and quirky, used glasses in octagonal and butterfly designs as well as oversized sunglasses, disappear daily from thrift store shelves. In fact, not since John Lennon first sported Granny Glasses have outdated lenses been so collectible. With optical outlets recreating fashion classics like the rhinestone studded cats-eye frames of the 1950s, and fashionistas embracing that 70s look with big, round sunglasses, savvy collectors are taking pains to source out authentic originals.

Eyewear collectibles can be found at flea markets and antiques malls or any venue that specializes in small personal items. Use them to enhance a vintage costume collection, or wear them by having the frames refitted with custom lenses.

Fun and Funky Retro Sunglasses turn up frequently at thrift stores and flea markets for between five and fifteen dollars. Display them on a mirrored tray of the same vintage, or use them to add authenticity to a collection of outdated swimwear. Children’s sunglasses of the 50s and beyond mirror period adult styles, but were also manufactured in a wide range of novelty motifs. These provide personality when fitted on teddy bears or large dolls. Kids love them for dress-up, or slip these inexpensive items (two to five dollars) into goodie bags for a birthday party take-home treat. But beware; early examples do not offer UV protection. 

Price and Value: The highest values are placed on iconic period pieces with jeweled or precious metal frames and those which bear designer labels (Pucci, for example), or can be proven to possess a celebrity association. Early items, such as turn-of-the-twentieth-century wire rim spectacles, are abundant and can often be purchased for as little as ten dollars, but even plastic, oversized sunglasses from the 1970s can set you back a few hundred dollars if purchased from a dealer specializing in fashion frames. Expect a mid-range price of $40 - $70 for men’s and women’s browline styles from the 1950s.

Eyeglass Retrospective by Nancy Schiffer is a good resource for evaluating classic eyewear, but period magazines ads also prove helpful when dating these items. If your glasses are found in their original case consider yourself lucky; these will give clues to the age and origin of your purchase, but unfortunately many flea markets and thrift stores separate the cases from their contents.     

Brief History of Glasses

While the use of glass magnifying lenses for reading can be traced to thirteenth-century Italy, modern eyeglasses, i.e. lenses encased in frames that can be worn on the face, have undergone many style changes since the appearance of the pince-nez or nose glasses of the eighteenth century, when lenses connected over the nose by a bridge of light-weight tortoiseshell were popular with the upper classes. Magnifying lenses mounted in watch fobs, walking sticks, and fans were also fashionable for a time, and are a rare but exciting find for today’s collector.  

Early spectacles were unframed and simply held by hand in front of the face, attached to hats, or tied around the head with bands made of leather, ribbon, or cord. In China, weights were added to strings, which looped over the ears holding lenses in place. Style changes, particularly in the twentieth century reflect scientific advances in the manufacture of lenses as well as frames, and are closely tied to fashion and cultural influences.

What to Look for:

  • 1870 – 1920: Windsor style spectacles framed in gold, nickel, steel, or silver.  

  • 1900-1920: Wire-rimmed lenses.

  • 1920s: Large lenses, tortoiseshell frames.

  • 1930s: Horn-rim or early plastic frames, round lenses. 

  • 1940s & 50s: Cats-eye or harlequin glasses with etched, jeweled or decorated frames.   
  • 1950 – 1970: Rare, special order aluminum frames, often hand-engraved.

  • 1960s: Round lenses, lightweight plastic frames, arched temples. 

  • 1970s: Dropped temples, tinted lenses.

A Brief Glossary of Styles and Terms: 

Brow-line Frames: These were made for men and women in the 1950s and 1960s, and are comprised of a plastic casing over a metal frame.   

Glassless Glasses: Glassless frames; a short-lived Hippy fad of the 1960s.

Granny Glasses AKA Ben Franklin Glasses: Wire-framed round or square glasses, fitted with colored lenses; a look popularized c.1965 by Roger McGuinn of the Byrds and John Lennon.

Horn-rim: An early plastic designed to mimic natural elements like baleen. (These become brittle over time and should not be exposed to sunlight).

Jealousy Glasses: Miniature, side-looking mirrored telescopes for observing people in secret. Some early 19-century French versions were fitted with pill receptacles and scent bottles.

Lorgnette AKA Quizzing Glasses: A hand-held, single lens device with a long stem or wand.

Monocle: A single lens held in place by the muscles of the eye socket. These were usually custom made for the owner. Introduced in the 18th century, these were popular with British aristocracy.   

Opera Glasses: Opera glasses in sizes small to large, were first introduced c. 1800. Look for two styles; rigid construction, and a folding bridge style. Many are decorative, if not heavily gilded, having been designed for Victorian and Edwardian theatre goers and sold in jewelry stores or engraved and given as gifts. Those in their original case or inlaid with mother-of-pearl will fetch higher prices.

Prospect Glasses: Miniature telescopes; popular with the upper classes in the 18th-century as an alternative to wearing spectacles.  

Scissor Glasses: Ornate folding glasses popular with the 18th century French court.

Wig Glasses: These 18th-century glasses with temple wires were held in place by the powdered wigs worn by aristocrats.

Windsor Eyeglasses: Metal-rimmed round lenses with temple arms that loop behind the ears. Think Harry Potter.

While iconic eyewear from the mid-twentieth century is still widely available at modest prices, its popularity is increasing due to its intimate association with pop-cultural influences. When getting into the market, consider wing-shaped frames that mimic the jet-age inspired tailfins of the 1950s automobiles, or tuck-away folding lorgnettes that were carried in small handbags by the cocktail-party generation. Whatever your selection, this is one area of collecting that deserves a second look.   

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Art for Your Head at The Gallery Upstairs in Milton

Hats turn heads, especially when they're made by Maria Curcic.

I am extremely pleased to announce that the Gallery Upstairs in Milton is now carrying a number of this Paris-born and trained, millinery designer's spring and summer line of colourful fascinators. Look for them in the glass case upstairs. In fact, get there before I do or there may not be too many left to choose from.

For added fun, check out the labels. Maria identifies her pieces with names like Look at Me, Sassy Pants & Spring roses.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Making Wide-brim Straws from 1960's Wooden Hat Blocks

It's Sinamay all the way for me when creating hats for summer weddings and garden party galas. What a great medium to work with, particularly when shaping high crowned beauties on vintage wooden hat blocks.

The finished project is so light and airy as to be almost weightless when worn.

I'm using a number of vintage1960's blocks previously owned by the great Toronto designer Philip Warde, to make the summer straws which are now on sale at the Gallery Upstairs in Milton.    

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Jeanne Beker Bounces into Burlington

Jeanne Beker moderates a fashion show at
the Gerry Weber store in Burlington 
There were two fashion shows last night inside the new Gerry Weber store at 442 Brant St.; the first, a professional show of Gerry Weber separates executed on a portable runway arranged for the grand opening; the second, a display of fashion put on by the guests themselves who circulated through the maze-like clothing racks, listening to live music, checking out the designs, and sipping champagne.

Jeanne Beker moderated the event with all of the skill and charm we've come to expect from this Canadian fashion icon, taking time to pose for photographs and sign copies of her second book, Finding Myself in Fashion.

The only thing missing from this fashion event was hats!