March 26, 2012

Little Known Labels: Nat Kaplan

The Nat Kaplan label is quietly one of the priciest labels we've seen in vintage deadstock, with hangtags in the hundreds of dollars per dress. When you apply inflation to those vintage dollars, these are expensive designs, ranging to prices that equal thousands of today's dollars.

The Nat Kaplan look is conservative but occasionally sexy, meant for ladies who lunch and who had large budgets for clothing. Most of the items are either dresses or suits, impeccably elegant and impressively tailored and finished. The items above are pure silk dress and coat sets from the 1960s.

Nat Kaplan's labels are either "Nat Kaplan/ New York" or "Nat Kaplan/ Couture", which were probably two distinct lines from the same New York-based company. The hangtag below has a 1960s price of $250. In vintage clothing shops, today's retail of the same item is usually much less than the original vintage price.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, this company focused increasing on synthetics (as did much of the fashion world), but its prices remained just as high. Often the finishing was more likely done by machine during these years, but sometimes hand-finished details were expertly executed in a 100% polyester garment.

We usually see Nat Kaplan garments mixed into the same deadstock racks as haute labels like Oleg Cassini, Pucci, Estevez, Mollie Parnis, Diane von Furstenberg and similar designers. The look is just as chic, but this label is still little-known among vintage fashion collectors - a prime name to start seeking out.

Find our latest selection of Nat Kaplan originals and start your own haute label collection!

March 20, 2012

Vintage Resurrection: 1950s Silk Satin Ball Gown

This beautiful Charles James-inspired ball gown arrived at Vintage Vixen a flattened, wrinkled, unwearable mess. Because it was in such rough condition, it has literally hung around for awhile. Once off the rack, we found knots in the shoulder straps, random snaps added to the waist (with nothing to snap onto it), and some spots throughout the skirt.

To add to its troubles, the back bodice had been altered with the addition of a green satin panel. This was a welcome alteration as it made the dress larger, though its existence looked odd and out of place in its current position.

So we Vixens got to work! First, we sourced some gorgeous spinach green silk chiffon panels from another dress that was unfortunately not salvageable. We dug through our trims for a matching pink bloom in similar satin. And we began adapting the dress with criss-crossed layers...

...and by draping the green chiffon around the back & waist...

We did this with hand-applied snaps placed by draping on a dress form. Then we carefully positioned the corsage for a beautiful back detail, and wrapped the waist with the chiffon to obscure its obvious flaws. And voila!

This beautiful gown is now available on our website. Thanks for following along as we resurrect another exquisite vintage design!

March 18, 2012

Shoe Design Circa 1939

Found this link and couldn't help but get excited. My favorite era (the 1930s) combined with some fabulous surrealist influences... and some awesome futurist styles as well. I'd never heard of Steven Arpad before, but now he's on my vintage radar. Enjoy!

March 15, 2012

Adeline Leonard Seakwood: Powers Model, Actress & Film Production Coordinator

One of the most notable ladies I've met in my job is Adeline Leonard Seakwood, an indomitable talent and at 89, a bustling force of positive energy. I had heard she once was a model, and upon asking her, she tells me, "Oh yes, and I was the production coordinator on the first Superman movie!" As one might expect, this bright-eyed lady has a marvelous history both on and off the screen.

First a model, then an actress, Adeline first became involved behind the scenes in films after an urgent call for office help brought her quickly to the studio of John Graham, a production manager. Her ability to turn the whirlwind mess into a manageable atmosphere caused Graham to say, "I don't know who you are, but never leave me."

As you can see, this lady's an exception. But let's start at the beginning - Adeline was a precocious child at the piano, as her mother discovered she could play by ear at the tender age of 2. Her mother wrote, produced and acted in off-Broadway plays in the 1920s & 30s, which was a lucky thing for Adeline as she enjoyed the spotlight immensely. Adeline herself was a part of one of these plays, "Lest We Forget", with speaking lines at age 9.

At age 15 a friend suggested Adeline ought to model, and so she tried it out. In 1938 she became a Powers model with photos in hand, and as a young adult she modeled for various publications. Because the Powers agency did not offer classes, I was curious to know how Adeline learned to pose. She replied, "I don't know how I learned to pose; it just came naturally to me I guess." The fashion publications were "nothing of note" Adeline says, but she has polished and beautiful photos to show for it. The photo at right was one taken for the agency. And her mother was a wonderful support, designing clothes for her photo shoots and supporting Adeline in her creative endeavors.

Because she grew up in Brooklyn, the film industry was nearby, and Adeline auditioned for many commercials and movie projects. Today her piano is covered with framed photos including one of Adeline posing with a Coca-Cola bag circa 1950s. Commercials like this brought Adeline into the world of film, and as she had some secretarial skills, she also grew in demand thanks to the needs of busy production managers like John Graham.

On-screen, Adeline was often an extra in the movies. As an extra, the clothes she wore were "nothing of particular consequence", but described in advance by the studio to inform you how your clothing should fit the film. In one famous scene, she wore a smart blue suit standing behind none other than Cary Grant.

The film was "North By Northwest"; the scene was in the elevator. Originally Adeline was slated to be an extra on the street during a farewell cab scene with Grant. Director Alfred Hitchcock deemed Adeline "too pretty" for the street scene, and instead sent her to stand amidst the pressing crowd in the elevator. On the first take, Mr. Grant stood in front of Adeline so that she couldn't be seen. At a pause in filming, Adeline coolly whispered into his ear, "My mother will never forgive you."

And Mr. Grant stepped to one side.

Off camera, Adeline developed extensive experience as a production coordinator, managing "the nerve center" of the many and varied requirements of a film production. In this role she was a part of dozens of films and TV shows, including The Patty Duke Show from 1962 to 1965. A complete list of her impressive film career is located at IMDB (note to Adeline: this will create a link to a website that shows your movie credits). Even behind the scenes, her encounters with movie stars were still an occasional part of working life. During a production with Paul Newman, the office staff moved off-site for an impromptu meeting. As Adeline lugged a heavy typewriter to the meeting location, Mr. Newman graciously intercepted the bulky equipment, saying, "Let me help you with that."

While working on Three Days of the Condor starring Robert Redford, the production team struggled with a last-minute script change. After much delay, Adeline rushed the final version of the script onto the set. As her production jobs were nearly always confined to an office, Adeline's face was unknown to many on set. Crowds of public spectators were lined up along the set to get a glimpse of the famous names. When Mr. Redford spotted her, he picked her up and gave her a big hug in thanks for the new script, much to the curiosity of those crowds of people, who all wondered "Who's that?!"

Head shots for SAG-AFTRA.

Despite this memorable display of public affection, Adeline lived a quiet life mostly outside the spotlight, although her first meeting with her future husband Herb Seakwood was indeed like something out of a movie. Mr. Seakwood was an attorney who needed temporary help at his office, and Adeline answered the call to take a letter for him. Although she did not remember shorthand, she ambitiously wrote as he dictated page after page of difficult "legalese." It was a harried ordeal for Adeline, and due to hours focused on the legal pad, Adeline did not even remember his face afterward.

After this temporary job, Adeline and her future beau had no connection, and it was more than a decade later when Cupid struck. This time, Adeline met him accompanying her aunt to his office to create her aunt's will. Not two weeks later, this aunt passed away unexpectedly, and Adeline found herself back at Mr. Seakwood's office to manage the estate. Adeline and Herb fell in love, and they have been doting companions ever since.

Their deep sentiment is displayed in their clothes, as the dress and suit they wore in 1980 at their wedding are still in the closet, carried out and worn every anniversary. Likewise, Adeline wears the same vintage dress each year to commemorate their first meeting decades ago (see photo below). They are utterly charming, and the among the most loving couples I've ever met.

Back at the piano, other framed photos show Adeline smiling with the likes of Christopher Reeve, Robert Redford, William Shatner, Carroll O'Connor and Peter Falk. Adeline's impressively able at the piano even today. Due to decades of playing by ear, she has at her fingertips a world of tunes, both old standards and her own original works with effervescently positive lyrics. She graciously played some for me during our interview, much to my delight.

And today Adeline brings delight to many more than me. She's the Sunshine Lady for three local organizations, offering a smile and kind word to countless people new to our area. Her bright charm is a gift once cultivated both on and off stage, behind and in front of the camera.

March 09, 2012

Little Known Labels: Vijack

Lots of glamorous black jersey, metallic sequins, alluring ruched seams... it's Vijack! The Vijack label is usually seen in 1970s vintage clothing, though it existed into the 1980s and perhaps even the 1990s. The look is sometimes late disco, though its heyday seems to be that posh status-seeking period in the early 1980s. Think Dynasty or Falcon Crest!

The signature Vijack look is definitely sleek and forward-thinking, yet some of its designs have a hard-edged Deco, 1930s or 1940s appeal.

The Vijack label always has a name above it in our experience, suggesting there were continual collaborations between Vijack and various designers. These two are common ones:

Check our site for more vintage Vijack labels... they'll be almost exclusively black, and always a fabulous choice for a Vintage Vixen!

Little Known Labels: F.M. Bistany

In vintage clothing, there are hundreds of labels we see once and never again. It's due to the small-scale dressmakers and cottage industries that thrived throughout the 20th century.

One of the loveliest small shop labels we've seen is a Lawrence, Massachusetts business called F.M. Bistany.

We've been lucky enough to offer a variety of this shop's dresses:

This 1940s summer jacket shows that the F.M. Bistany shop did sell others' wares, as its label has a second manufacturer's label:

But most of their dresses are hand-sewn without factory finishing. Beautiful one-of-a-kind designs, all 1940s era... the stuff vintage dreams are made of!

Until next time, Vixens, happy shopping!

March 06, 2012

Q & A: Removing Musty Odors From Old Wool

Q: I used to be a designer several decades ago and over the years have collected some wonderful but valuable pieces of yardage. Many pieces are wool that have been stored in plastic bins with other yardage and they all have a musty smell. Will simply having the yardage dry cleaned make these pieces acceptable or is there another trick to restoring the freshness to these pieces? None of these pieces appear to be damaged, just smell old and musty.

I hope you have a good solution for my problem...

A: Dry cleaning would help these items, but if they are pressed or steamed while at the cleaner's, the heat can set the musty odor and make it permanent. You might want to try airing them first, and for several days if possible. The more they can air out unfolded, in shade to avoid fading, the better they'll smell. The ozone present in the air after rainfall is a natural odor eliminator if you can arrange airing then.

You could also try setting them in a closed box with charcoal or baking soda adjacent, as these products will eliminate odors. I'd try these methods before dry cleaning, so that you can minimize what odor remains before the dry cleaner works on them.

March 02, 2012

Rise & Fall Of A Fashion Empire

I chanced upon a gentleman the other day who happened to say something that rang in my ears:

His father was once the largest manufacturer of ladies' coats and suits in America.

While he mentioned it in passing, I had to describe to him my keen interest and my background in vintage clothing which spurred the subsequent questions.

I learned that his father was a clothing salesman who founded Burstein & Company, and this developed into a partnership called Myron Lewis - Myron being a twist on his father's name (Mickey), and Lewis was Mickey's brother. The two worked as a team, with Mickey heading sales and Lewis managing the factory where the garments were produced. The company began post-World War II and existed until the mid-1960s, when the business was sold to Handmacher Fashions. Later on, Handmacher merged with Jonathan Logan.

A 1949 advertisement of Handmacher's more casual Weathervane line of suits, created about the same time Myron Lewis began.

I listened with excitement as he described how his parents would travel to France, purchase examples of the latest Parisian couture, and bring the clothes home to the business. Mickey would "give it to the cutter", meaning that his patternmaker would take the garment and copy it line for line. He'd then create the same item in a moderate price range to make the mode accessible to the masses.

The fashion history embedded in these anecdotes thrilled me, but for this businessman they were simply lines from his father's resume. No trace of the business remains in the family except these stories. When asked about the clothes themselves, the gentleman could relay vaguely that his father did a lot of clothes with big buttons. That was all.

A Handmacher design in 1968. Handmacher purchased Myron Lewis in the mid-1960s.

In his father "there was no great love" for fashion, he told me, just a keen entrepreneurial intent and a wonderful success that developed from that simple desire. Indeed, Mickey Burstein only had to work twenty years thanks to the exponential growth of Myron Lewis. A splendid tale to hear, if only in scant outline, from decades past.