Thursday, October 9, 2008

More Claire McCardell goodness.

Now that I am "beta testing" a re-graded, and did I mention AMAZING, Claire McCardell pattern, I am intrigued by the designer. While I enjoy fashion, watching Project Runway, sewing dresses, perusing vintage style, and of course shopping, I cannot claim to be well educated on fashion history or the art theory behind clothing. Thus I was delighted and amazed when a quick Google search on Claire McCardell resulted in the story of an incredibly talented designer who made significant strides in fashion that still resonate today.

Here is an excellent article on Claire McCardell that starts with the delightful line "It was the end of April, and as the soft air turned the land green, American women were suddenly aware of a truth that bursts upon them every spring: Summer was at hand, and they did not have a thing to wear." I know the feeling.

Today we credit Claire McCardell for pioneering the "American Look," a fashion and style coming out of American designers unique to the United States and our national attitude for comfort, leisure, and casual style. McCardell's designs exist with two understandings, 1) clothes should be made to be worn in comfort, and 2) only with comfort can a woman have sensible style. As the article explains, "But in the U.S., the meaning of elegance has changed as much as the meaning of leisure. It is a leisure of action—barbecue parties in the backyard, motor trips along country roads and across the country, weekend golf and water skiing. From America's lively leisure has evolved a new, home-grown fashion, as different from Paris fashion as apple pie from crepes suzette... the French still design for Veblenesque leisure. Their clothes compliment the designer, whereas America's are made to compliment the wearer."

And get this, so many of McCardell's fashion forward thinking from the 40's and 50's lives on today, like the prolific popularity of the ballet flat, "and in 1942 she started the craze for ballet slippers. Necessity mothered that invention: unable because of wartime shortages to get the proper shoes for her showroom models, McCardell put them all in fabric Capezio ballet slippers. The fad caught on, and she still suggests designs for many Capezio shoes." McCardell advocated wearing ballet flats with pedal pushers, and viola the elegant glamor of Audrey Hepburn was realized many years later, and lives on today (remember that the Gap used Audrey Hepburn in pedal pushes a few years ago in their ads?)!

I found the following beautiful images and descriptions of McCardell's work online at a special section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's website. The website is a fabulous resource for researching different designer's work, as it includes an index of featured fashion designers, images of their work in the collection, and the best part is a description of each garment using intelligent, artistic language and sharing insight into what makes the design relevant. The blurbs below are from the site.

I just love these dresses, and I am utterly convinced that my own Claire McCardell dress, when complete, will do wonders for my figure, my sense of style, and my self confidence. At least that is what these images and descriptions would suggest.

Evening dress, 1950
Claire McCardell (American, 1905–1958)
Red silk damask

McCardell's enthusiasm and acumen for European fashion history is well documented, but her interests extended East as well. This evening dress suggests Chinese roots in its textile, pleating, and color, but also evokes Japanese origins in its wide, obi-like sash and columnar silhouette. In a global eclecticism, the dress is cut like a poncho, with its top crisscrossed over the bodice to create the kimono-like surplice neckline.

Evening gown, late 1940s–early 1950s
Claire McCardell (American, 1905–1958)
Black-and-red silk plush

A bravura swag of drapery cuts across the chest with the elegance of a Madame Grès bodice and the implicit protocol of a sash or banner. Applying the same principles of wrapping that animated her daywear, McCardell also wrapped for evening, letting the ease of a plush evening gown define the body with a gentle boldness.

Evening gown, 1939
Claire McCardell (American, 1905–1958)
Brown-and-white striped silk satin

Only a magician with a quick twisting, snapping, enveloping legerdemain could make this McCardell dress. On the hanger, it is limp, amorphous, and trailing; on the body, it traces the voluptuous peregrination of a Madame Grès bodice, but not one that is fixed into position or held forever for the couture client. Rather, the McCardell is ready-to-wear and adaptable to a myriad of body types and proportions. The striped silk reinforces the curlicues and corkscrews of the bodice and accentuates the columnar skirt. The crisscrossed bodice is accomplished by two pieces of fabric, contingent on the body but with the effect of a perfectly contrived origami.

"Popover" dress, 1942
Claire McCardell (American, 1905–1958)
Blue linen

Sally Kirkland, in All-American: A Sportwear Tradition, reported that McCardell's "Popover" dress "sold in the thousands (its low price [$6.95] was because it was classified as a 'utility garment' and Claire's manufacturer, Adolf Klein, of Townley, was able to make a special deal with labor). But some form of a wraparound dress around $25 or $30 was always in Claire's collection thereafter, and she liked denim so much she made coats and suits of it for townwear completed with the workman's double topstitching as a form of decoration. … Norman Norell once told me that Claire could take five dollars worth of common cotton calico and make a dress a smart woman could wear anywhere." In utility achieved with ingenuity, McCardell found a synergy. The modern woman could both be chic and do the cooking. In a photograph by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, the model wearing the "Popover" has one hand in an oven mitt and the other in her capacious pocket.

Sundress, ca. 1956
Claire McCardell (American, 1905–1958)
Red, blue, yellow, and plaid cotton

On the hanger, this McCardell dress is nothing but a huge tentlike A-line dress with a modicum of gathering in the back. Its form is wholly assumed on the body, when the belting causes the fullness of the skirt to be realized and the dimensions of waist to shoulders and the projection of the bust give silhouette to the halter top. Once again, the grid discipline of the cotton plaid complements the fluffy, amorphous contingency of the dress. McCardell designed for herself, but the truth is that the transformative possibilities of her clothing allow for one modern woman and thereby for every modern woman.


Jen said...

Wow. What a glorious link! And I am waiting to read your next installment with the McCardell pattern. I am busy with Halloween costumes right now, myself. :)

Anonymous said...

How beautiful vintage style dresses!! Great job!!

Anonymous said...

I think you may have found the right pattern for some of the gorgeous fabric in your inventory.

ohmypuddin said...

LOVE the evening gown, especially the neckline.

Anonymous said...

Love the website, thanks for the Claire dress photos,

mdleasingagent said...

I love everything!