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( Originally Published 1963 )
High fashion is not a world apart. It's for you as much as it is for Zsa Zsa Gabor, Elizabeth Taylor, or Mrs. John Kennedy. What the designers in Paris, Rome, and New York City whip up in their showrooms and parade down the ramps twice a year affects you. And I think it's time we average women became a bit more au courant with the story behind the top fashion designers and the fabulous collections of beautiful clothing they turn out.
How many of the following names do you know? Balenciaga, Dior, Givenchy, Cardin, Ricci, Simonetta, Fabiani, Capttcci, Galanos, Norell, Trigere, Tassell? They are stars in the galaxy of high fashion today every bit as exalted as any Hollywood starand they affect your daily feminine world in a much more practical way. If you can't find the fitted-waist dresses you like in your pet store, if your hemlines must go down or come up to remain in vogue, if shop windows are suddenly ablaze with new glorious colors you may safely deliver your praise or blame to many of those names.
Years ago an American designer named Elizabeth Hawes wrote a book called Fashion is Spinach (at a time when spinach was particularly unpopular). She tried in her book to show fashion as it really was minus some of the glamour and phony awe that surrounds it. She felt that far too many women swoon and bow down before the dictates of some designers whose work has little connection with the real needs of the lives most women lead. On this point I heartily agree with Miss Hawes. While most designers do a truly creative job in setting new trends, there are a few who go to extremes that approach the ludicrous, and manufacturers frequently take these excursions into the fanciful far too seriously-to the disadvantage of the average shopper.
None of this, however, changes the fact that the high-fashion designer is the creative source, the prime mover of the fashion world. At his best he is a true artist with a deep understanding of line, proportion, fabric, and color-a master of beauty and form. His main concern: to send his mannequins before the buyers and the press who attend his showings in clothes exciting and beautiful enough to make the most blase member of his audience gasp (and this is no easy task). Hopefully, his audience will feel compelled to buy the styles he's shown because they feel confident the clothes will have appeal for their clientele-and for you.
An art student spends as much time as possible in museums where he can see the work of great artists. An aspiring writer reads as many literary geniuses as he can. Isn't it logical then that a woman who wants to look her best should turn to these finest creations of the fashion world and be curious about the men who made them and what they believe?
Choosing which designers to tell you about was not easy. The fashion sky is a changing one. Each season sees the rise or decline of a name. As one star soars, another may fall. A few remain in orbit, more or less constantly-usually because they have established solid reputations for always turning out thrilling clothes whose lines are practical enough to appeal, to be made well and to sell well. The innovators, sometimes known as the avant-garde, usually garner the lion's share of publicity during the season's showings. But the real test is how many styles of the collection are ordered by buyers after the show.Because of all these considerations, any list of the world's top fashion designers is a difficult one to put together. I was a bit afraid to shoulder the full responsibility of selection and so I consulted Women's Wear Daily (the most important fashion newspaper in the U.S.) and the fashion editors of The New York Times, all of whom were of valuable assistance. They felt that the following designers had not only shown the most exciting collections for the past few seasons, but had already proved their mettle as reliable couturiers and had earned the attention of the leaders of the fashion world.
FOUR FABULOUS FRENCHMEN
When it comes to fashion, Paris is still the capital, and the world waits each season to see what the top salons on or near the Champs Elysees will show. For what is really new almost always begins in France. Paris has produced so many great names in haute couture (Lanvin, Chanel, Gri f f e, Fath, Patou, Ricci, Rou f f , Schiaparelli, Desses, Heim, Prusac, etc.) that to write about only four seems terribly insufficient-but here, without further apology, allow me to introduce to you four men who have been making fashion history and headlines for the last few years.
WHO HE IS-Cristobal Balenciaga comes from Spain where he was a leading couturier until 1937, when, because of the Spanish Civil War, he moved to Paris. He soon attracted a distinguished clientele of Spaniards who lived in Paris, Americans who "discovered" him, and the French who at once received him as one of their own. He is as temperamental and fiery as one expects Spaniards to be. He hates to be photographed. And he fits the image of a great designer even to the extent of shunning publicity.
WHAT HE STANDS FOR-Balenciaga specializes in making sophisticated and dramatic clothing for women who can carry them. His extremely high-style suits and dresses would make any woman feel royal. He works mostly in Spanish colors-deep browns, blacks, moody shades. No matter how elegant his line, it is always feminine.
WHO HE IS-Hubert de Givenchy is about thirty-five and already an established light in the fashion world. Though modest, it is not easy for him to be unobtrusive-he is six feet eight inches tall. When he was 17 he apprenticed with Jaeques Fath; later he worked in other famous fashion houses-Piguet, Lelong, and then with Schiaparelli where he made a name for himself designing boutique clothes-blouses, separates, cardigan dresses, with a very young and simple look.
WHAT HE STANDS FOR-Though Glvenchy has proven himself a master of high fashion, he has continued and enlarged his reputation for designing young clothes. A perfectionist, he has always had a definite idea of what he wanted to do, he has never jumped on anybody's bandwagon but his own. He will invent colors and is always showing things in an original way-for example he has presented fitted shawls, very big or very tiny pockets, petite or mammoth collars, and so forth.
DIOR (THE HOUSE OF)
WHO HE IS-Christian Dior died a few years ago but the house of fashion he established continues to lead the world of haute couture not just in Paris but in all the world. Dior himself was a quiet, intense, talented man. Among the women who have worn his clothes are Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, and Irene Dunne.
The two young designers given the enormous responsibility of carrying on the Dior name did not fail him. Yves St. Laurent, who stepped in just after Dior died, created a magnificently successful collection. Though in his early twenties St. Laurent designed severe sophisticated clothing which "abandoned the waist, elongated the torso, shifted the emphasis of the silhouette well below the hips" and brought cheers and bravos from his audience. But the fashion world is fickle and when two years ago his "Brioche" (a long tube look with a little round skirt bottom) failed to win buyers' orders, the House of Dior looked around for new talent and came up with Marc Bohan when St. Laurent was drafted.
Marc Bohan was the star of last year's Paris collections. Mr. Bohan, born in Paris in 1926, is in his middle thirties, is married and has one daughter. He started in couture in his teens, working with Piguet, Molyneux, Jean Patou. In 1958 hbe designed a collection of coats on Seventh Avenue in New York City, then returned to Dior where he has gained a reputation for his "classic designs."
WHAT HE STANDS FOR-Marc Bohan, even before he joined the House of Dior, was known for his classic taste, and the true simplicity that Dior himself said was a prerequisite for true elegance. Bohan dislikes "structured" clothing, and his models have no complicated underpinnings. He himself describes his clothes as "very simple, very slim, very casual-clothes for someone who doesn't care." (What he means of course is that a lady should look as if she doesn't care.)
WHO HE IS-Another young designer (still in his early thirties) who has won plaudits in a short time for his talents. He first showed an entire collection of his own two years ago, and received instant recognition which has been followed by new successes each season. A slender, dark young man who might easily pass for a student, M. Cardin's look in clothing is still more known than he is, since he prefers to stay out of the proverbial limelight.
WHAT HE STANDS FOR-Cardin is noted for "uncluttered clothes that border on the severe." He is considered quite avant-garde, which explains the fact that his collections attract attention, make news, but often do not sell very well. Buyers are afraid their customers will not be courageous enough to buy them. In general, Cardin scales his clothes for small women.
THE THREE GRANDE OF ITALY
Italian fashion first came to the attention of the world after the last war, but within a few years it became clear that Italian designers were going to give Paris some stiff competition. Although Paris has held on to its crown and to its leadership in dictating the new silhouettes, Italian houses have had greater success in bulk sales. Buyers and manufacturers from every country (especially the U.S. and Germany) have found Italian models are more popular with their customers and often easier to reproduce.
The three designers I've picked to write about are in large part responsible for the great success o f the Italian fashion industry and its ever-growing fame. Other big names in Italian couture include Pucci, de Barentzen, Garnett, de Luca, Baratta, Marucelli, Enzo.
WHO SHE IS-Simonetta is fast becoming a legend. As beautiful as any of her models, she is regal by birth-born Duchess Simonetta Colonna di Cesaro-and she spent her youth in the midst of the international celebrities for whom she now designs. During the war Simonetta and her family were imprisoned several times by the Mussolini government because of their anti-fascist feelings, but even then Simonetta was planning how she would eventually open her own house of couture. At twenty-four, when the war ended, Simonetta had her first showing, which established her as the youngest but one of the most interesting designers in Italy. For one thing, she produced her collection at a time when fabrics were almost nonexistent in Rome, using the most amazing make-dos: gardeners' aprons, butlers' uniforms, strings, bits of ribbon. Still, visiting buyers and fashion editors immediately recognized the exceptional caliber of Simonetta's talent. Today Simonetta's clientele includes: Teresa Wright, Dorothy McGuire, Lauren Bacall, Mrs. Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Mrs. Gardner Cowles, Silvana Mangano, Duchessa de Talleyrand, Contessa Consuelo Crespi (known as one of the ten best-dressed women in the world),-and me. In 1952 Simonetta married Alberto Fabiani who until then was considered Simonetta's rival for the crown of Italian high fashion. They now have two children, a happy home life, but the rivalry is as exciting as ever, although they do show a basically similar approach to high fashion.
WHAT SHE STANDS FOR-Simonetta designs clothes that are very sophisticated, dramatic and cleanly cut. In general Simonetta clothes (except for her coats) have a placed waistline, interesting sleeves. Simonetta is famous for her coats, which are almost always tent-shaped-and she adores capes, which she shows with everything. Simonetta's favorite color-purple.
WHO HE IS-Alberto Fabiani, Simonetta's designer husband, inherited his interest in fashion. His father founded an atelier in Rome in 1910, and when Alberto returned from an apprenticeship in Paris he was made head of the Fabiani house. But Fabiani (like his wife Simonetta) was not known to the rest of the world until 1951 when he and several other designers showed their collections for a small group of American buyers who agreed to come to Florence and see them. Those who came were so impressed that the following July the Florence showings were attended by the entire American press and a huge number of buyers and manufacturers. Today Fabiani and Simonetta are well known and eminently successful in the United States and Latin America as well as throughout Europe.
WHAT HE STANDS FOR-The house of Fabiani has always stood for the finest Italian tailoiing. A Fabiani model, as everyone in the fashion world knows, is one with superlative workmanship. In design Fabiani is consistently elegant but is not considered a leader of new silhouettes, or even as major an innovator of new detail as his wife. He believes in sophisticated, and sometimes extreme clothing.
WHO HE IS-Roberto Capucci, the youngest (thirty-one) and most exciting designer in Italy, plans to open a house of couture in Paris, but after ten years of brilliant, dramatic collections he will remain known as an Italian couturier. Capucci-charming, gay, good-looking-is famous for his daring. Born the son of a wealthy man (he still lives with his family in a villa just outside the center of Rome) Capucci ran through an inheritance of $7o; ooo, and a period of "poverty" before he really struck out on his own. His theatricality and genius for making exceptionally unusual clothes soon made him a millionaire, as did his other, more practical ventures-designing children's wear, knits, furs, millinery, and shoes for American and British manufacturers. WHAT HE STANDS For-He is most outstanding for the theatricality of his clothing (as I just mentioned) as well as for launching new shapes and structures in fashion. He is expert in "sculpting" with fabric, but he almost always aims for show-stopping fashions which not every woman can wear. A sense of fantasy and fun pervade every Capucci collection.
GREAT NAMES IN AMERICAN DESIGN
When it comes to high fashion, America need no longer hide its head. We can boast of a number of wonderful designers right here on this side of the ocean. I've only profiled three in this chapter, but that means I've left out many exceptionally talented and famous men and women who, were this book devoted to high-fashion, would certainly be included. To mention just a few: Ceil Chapman (the glamour girl's couturiere), Oleg Cassini (Jaehie Kennedy's designer), the magnificent Hattie Carnegie, Jacques Tiffeau, Sydney Wragge, Mainboeher, Don Loper, Anne Fogarty, Anne Klein, Mr. Mort, Suzy Perette, Jonathan Logan, Anthony Traina. All are landmarks in American fashion. Their reputations for tailoring, design and quality are well-earned.
Most of the top American designers have had some training in Europe, most in Paris. Some o f the so-called "American" designers were born in Europe. Almost all are aware of what Paris does and are to some extent influenced by it, but their designs grow out of and reflect our American culture.
WHO HE IS-Norman Norell is considered the most copied stylist in the U.S. His originals cost from $250 to $5000 and till recently when Mr. Norell left his association with Anthony Traina (a famous quality manufacturer) the Traina-Norell label was about tops for snob appeal. Norell, who started by making costumes for vaudeville, burlesque, and silent movies, is a shy, remote man who spends his spare time in auction galleries and likes to lunch at Schraffts.
WHAT HE STANDS FOR-The name Norell has come to mean the epitome of understated, quiet elegance-good taste to the nth degree, with strong emphasis on individuality. Never confined by any one style, Norell always offers a huge variety of silhouettes, imaginative interpretations with clean lines. He shows a preference for dark colors, and especially likes black.
WHO HE IS-James (Jimmy) Galanos starved on Seventh Avenue, New York City, trying to peddle sketches in his teens. But today, not much over thirty, Mr. Galanos is not starving. His dresses cost up to $5,000 and many buyers often take them knowing that they are "avant-garde" and may be hard to sell. He is considered a "California designer," having started his business there in 1951 with a mere $200. Of Greek descent, Mr. G. plays piano, skis, and tries to avoid the parties where he might see his clothes on "the wrong women."
WHAT HE STANDS FOR-A battler against conformity Mr. Galanos thinks a true designer must not be concerned with selling clothes but with being creative and producing things that are "different"-especially because, he says, "creativity is rare in this country." The qualities he tries to give all his clothing: subtlety, originality, beauty.
WHO HE IS-Hottest young designer on the American fashion scene (according to the New York Times), Gustave ("call me Gus") Tassell was born in Philadelphia, studied design in Paris with Jacques Fath, now works in Los Angeles, and gets his inspiration from New York City where, he says, the women have a sense of fashion, and dress well. Thin, with a mop of dark curly hair and a sensitive and expressive face, Tassell considers Paris a great resource for all designers but "a designer must have his own feeling, his own interpretations."
WHAT HE STANDS FOR-TASSELL himself says he considers Balenciaga and Norell his two most important influences. He has always held to his own severe silhouettes, and season by season developed a basic shape, his craft, his sense of proportion and workmanship until his clothes emerged with a grace and dignity considered by many today to be unsurpassed by any other American designer.
WHO SHE IS-A blonde, attractive woman who is almost always half-hidden behind dark glasses, Pauline Trigere inherited her designing talents from her father, a Paris tailor, transferred her own couturing to the United States in 1937 and still hasn't lost her heavy French accent. Miss Trigere prefers the New York fashion scene because she feels French couturiers design only for a small wealthy group of women, while in the U.S. a designer is creating fashion for an entire nation.
WHAT SHE STANDS-Trigere designs are noted for their remarkable simplicity combined with elegance. A frequent comment on Trigere clothes: "One Trigere is as chic today as it was five years ago." She was making the "little nothings" so in vogue today, many years ago. A Trigere design is all in the cut, no seams, no gingerbread. She likes capes, pockets, the fluid silhouette.
WHO HE IS-Arnold Scassi is not only a designer, he is an impresario. A not-large man with a pixie air about him, Mr. Scassi's fashion shows can hold their own with Broadway or Hollywood. Violins play, champagne flows, girls in high-fashion dresses flutter through the rooms. His sense of theatricality explains his popularity with theater people on both coasts.
WHAT HE STANDS FOR-Dazzling, evening gowns, in tulle, chiffon, brocades, damasks, satins, striped silks, all-over beading. Flared skirts, bodices that fold over waists, coat and dress costumes with scooped out necklines in ice-cream colors. Deep reds, blues. The Scassi look: form-fitting, ultra-feminine.
This ends my capsule tour of some of the present monuments in high-fashion. I hope knowing something about them may add more meaning to your own thinking about clothes and how to wear them. You'll know, for instance, next time you go to a shop, or to a department store, who started the flared look, or why most of the suits this year are curved under the bosom. You'll probably recognize a wide, bare sweep of coat as being Cardininspired, or a cape possibly influenced by Simonetta. But most important of all, I hope you'll feel freer to be different, to take a chance, to experiment with your own look-knowing that the oracles of the fashion world are always striving to do the same.