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Entries in art deco (7)


That Gown!

Elsa Schiaparelli, 1939Ah, the 1930s – my most favourite fashion era! It was just so elegant and sophisticated. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate clothes from other eras of course. Last week I stumbled upon – via Pinterest – the Tumblr blog OMG that dress! and spotted some lovely gowns from many eras. Here are a few I swooned over. The striped Schiaparelli is my favourite – I can never go past stripes!

Madeleine Vionnet, 1938-9Jeanne Lanvin, 1937


What I Actually Wore #128

Serial #: 0128
Date: 24/06/2013
Weather: 12°C / 53°F
Time Allowed: 10 minutes

This outfit amuses me, nearly four years on. I was still on my Ballet Russes kick, but I remember the sheer number of colours in this outfit was a rebellion against my own edict of not wearing more than 2–3 hues at once, as well as being inspired by a life drawing I did twenty years before in art college.

I remember somewhat quixotically selecting two fluorescent soft pastels that were amongst a 12-pack I had bought cheap. (Reduced probably because no one else had wanted to buy it.) I chose hot pink and lemon yellow. As a testament of my drawing teacher’s trust, she did not comment until I was close to resolving the drawing, after the additional introduction of cobalt and neutral shades. Then she told me that she had been very dubious at the outset, but admitted I had successfully pulled the drawing together. It was even framed and exhibited at the end of the year.

And here is the same colour palette rendered in cloth! All the garments are contemporary; only the hat and earrings are vintage, a 1920s cap with feather pom-pom, and woven cane hoops which are possibly 70s or 80s.

The hot pink long sleeved tee is a woollen merino knit, one of Kookaï’s trusty basics; the acid yellow top is by Veronika Maine, a favourite Australian label; and the linen skirt I bought in Spain. My other accessories include a cobalt Italian patent leather belt I bought on sale in David Jones, a local department store, French over-the-knee socks I wore to death, and a pair of wedges I bought from an online sale store.

Unusually for me, I put the outfit together the night before, and even ironed it then! I really liked it then (my notes say), and it still makes me smile, especially because of the inspiration behind it.


Tee: Kookaï
Veronika Maine
Celia Velo, souvenir from Spain
Alta Linea
Philippe Matignon
Merimac Hat Co, vintage 20s from Etsy
souvenir from Vietnam

Photos: September 2013


Hands Across the Table

A friend and I went shopping in a vintage bazaar recently, and one of the items I came across that delighted me was this little 1930s manicure set in the green so typical of that era. It instantly put me in mind of the classic Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray comedy Hands Across the Table (1935). Lombard plays a manicurist in the film, and she is wonderful, full of charm and biting wit. Her wardrobe is fantastic too of course.

I was tempted to buy this set, but I held back because I wouldn’t know what to do with half the tools, and the case was a bit dilapidated. So I contented myself with photographing it. Underneath is The Book of Kisses, full of literary quotes (I did buy that), and in the background a quaint watered silk doily press. (It amuses me that such an item even exists.) The silk was a shattered and stained, but retained a shabby beauty.

One can’t buy everything that appeals in a vintage bazaar, but it is so much fun looking.


You’re Mad on Dances


I’m not going to give you a big history lesson on the Charleston dance except to say it is the most famous dance associated with the 1920s. It was named after the harbour city of Charleston in South Carolina, and was first composed in 1923 for a Broadway show titled Runnin’ Wild. The peak years for the Charleston’s popularity were 1926–1927.

Wikipedia describes it thus: ‘At first, the step started off with a simple twisting of the feet, to rhythm in a lazy sort of way. When the dance hit Harlem, a new version was added. It became a fast kicking step, kicking the feet, both forward and backward and later done with a tap. Further changes were undoubtedly made before the dance was put on stage.’

Josephine Baker perfoming the CharlestonThe dress I am wearing, being quite short and skimpy on the bodice, is vaguely inspired by flapper dresses with its drop waist and gored skirt. It is grey silk chiffon, by Australian high street store Sportsgirl. I purchased it on eBay and was rather disappointed by its brevity once the package arrived and I saw it in person (and on my person!). I thought it was fine for a homage to the dance though, and had fun kicking my patent navy heels to an album of original Charleston recordings, including an amusing George Gershwin song performed by Fred and Adele Astaire:

I've seen for days that you've got
The ways that must be checked
In you I never can detect
The slightest signs of intellect
You’re mad on dances, think of the chances you neglect
You never seem inclined to use your mind
And it's quite plain to see
That I'm the brains of the family …

[Read the full lyrics here, and watch a period video of the dance below.]

Photo: March 2014


Surface Decoration


Many years ago, I remember seeing a vintage 1920s embroidered silk piano shawl belonging to a fashion editor I once worked with. It was a celestial shade of Wedgwood blue, with cream coloured embroidery, and I fell in love with it. It had belonged to her mother, and quite naturally, she wasn’t parting with it.

I determined to find my own, except there was one problem in fulfilling this mission: these enormous shawls are rarely to be seen in Australia. About five years ago I looked at some in an antique textile shop in Barcelona; I remember a gorgeous black and white one priced at several hundred euros – beyond my price range. Later, I expanded my search to Etsy.

… in the 1920s piano shawls were adopted for decoration of the top surface of the fashionable flapper.

Piano shawls or scarves literally are embroidered pieces of fabric that were used to decorate and protect the top surface of a grand piano. They were quite popular during the Victorian era when pianos in the parlour were fashionable, and in the 1920s piano shawls were adopted for decoration of the top surface of the fashionable flapper. They were worn in the evening simply as shawls, or were tailored to create jackets or kimono-style coats. The hand-tied fringing they are commonly edged with form a distinctive and seductive decoration, swaying with every movement of the wearer.

A few years ago I watched an original 1920s film – I can’t remember the title, but it was about two sisters with a strong sibling rivalry when it came to men – in which a young flapper dons a piano shawl for an evening wrap in disgruntlement after her elder sister steals her brand spanking new lamé coat. The younger sister threw the shawl around her like a cloak, so that the fringing trailed behind her, brushing the floor. The coat was beautiful, but I didn’t consider the shawl a poor substitute as did its wearer!

I eventually found a shawl that I liked on Etsy – not in the coveted Wedgwood blue, but in lustrous navy and white (it won narrowly over a similar shawl of black and white that was a little smaller); I particularly love the birds fluttering amongst the embroidered floral vines. While they come in many different colour combinations, I preferred the minimal simplicity of just two. Here I am wearing mine folded diagonally in half, as the fringing trails dangerously on the floor like a train if it is not folded. I have worn it out as an evening wrap too, to the theatre, and the crépe de chine is not only very warm, but I feel incredibly glamorous embraced within its folds.

I was lucky to find a beautiful piano shawl in such perfect condition at the extreme lower end of the price scale. There are many readily available on Etsy and other online stores, with prices ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. If you do wish to buy one, do be patient and shop around as there are bargains to be found, and also be careful to check the condition as much as you are able, as these are antique textiles and you can expect to find shattering, tears, holes and stains in fabrics that have been heavily used or stored incorrectly. A reputable seller will be upfront about such issues.

Photos: March 2014

Model wearing a shawl of crëpe de chine hand-painted by Russian artists, 1924; ph. Edward Steichen. ‘Edward Steichen In High Fashion the Condé Nast Years 1923–1937’ by William A. Ewing and Todd Brandow, FEP Editions LLC, 2008