Saturday, 22 October 2011

Lilli Ann suit close-up

A few years ago I nabbed this vintage Lilli Ann suit on ebay. It was only a little too small at the time, now it's a lot more but I hold on to the belief I'll wear it some day. I could sell it on for a good price, but it's too gorgeous to part with, and who knows if I'd ever find another at a good price and in a decent size (a lot of mid-century vintage is tiny). So anyway, I thought I share some pics and details with you. If you're interested let me know as I have a couple of dresses I could do posts on too, albeit not quite as special as this.

So first, a bit of background on Lilli Ann. The company have become a byword for particularly stylish, tailored suits. This one is quite a typical style. Adolph Schuman started the company in 1933 in San Francisco, naming the company after his wife Lillian. 

This particular suit appears to have been licensed through a department store going by the Addis Company, Syracuse NY label. I googled it and found a picture of a rather swish building which had housed the, now closed down, store. It seemingly was quite an upmarket department store. I assume it would be a similar set-up to a modern day 'Designers at Debenhams' type arrangement. If anyone has any further information I'd be fascinated to hear it.

Note the fabric label? Well after the war Schuman travelled to France, opened a showroom in Paris and bought up fabric, often from small companies on the verge of post war bankruptcy saving them from going under. At this time he started adding Paris to the labels and there are similar labels showing Italy and England. 

The company produced similar, fitted suits into the 50s then changed tack to a knits line and so on. Schuman himself died in the 80s but the label carried on until the end of the 90s.

The suit itself... well it's a fine wool, grey with a subtle blue weave then flecked with white. Very lovely fabric and in remarkable condition apart from some splitting at the cuff (any conservators out there with any suggestions on how to stabilise this without compromising the garment?). 

The peplum is corded and stitched with contrast thread then pleated so it has lots of volume and shape. The buttons are white hard plastic and fasten through loops. I noticed one of the buttons has been re-stitched on with different coloured thread, so it's had a little more wear than I initially thought it had. It's lined with what feels to me like a silk crepe in wine. The skirt is lined in blue which I thought a bit strange.

The lining stitched to the jacket hem.

One particularly nice touch is that the fabric is aligned at the back collar seam.

I particularly love the tapered overlap at the front of the peplum.

The skirt is a straightforward straight skirt with tiny pleats rather than totally stitched down darts and a rear kick pleat. 

Metal zipper of course and the button is mounted on a shirt weight blue checked cotton tab. The seams are all pinked, as is the lining. The lining hem is pinked also rather than being hemmed. The deep hem is pinked then finished with blue hem tape. The seams have a folded interfacing on each side of the seam between the seam allowance and the skirt.

Interesting, we obsess about seam finishes and tend to see pinking as a bit home-made now yet here a decent quality item is pinked as are many vintage garments. I tend to pink seams quite a lot myself, either leaving them or catching them down to an underlining by hand. I don't like overcast edges and like the lack of extra bulk from pinked seams. It depends on the garment and the fabric of course. But if something is holding up perfectly well after 60 odd years then it's probably fine! You'll see the right hand side seam has a significantly larger seam allowance than the other seams.

So I hope you've enjoyed this close up look at a nice piece of vintage and haven't minded the digression from corsets too much.

(information on Lilli Ann from various sources online including Pintuck StyleVintage Fashion Guild and another history here )

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Some pretty pictures and a shot of sun

Back in the early days of summer I took part in a little photoshoot. It was a very warm day and we were attacked by every bug in a 5 mile radius, but we got some very nice images.

Photography is by Towzie Tyke, Make up and hair by June Long, Model - Mel Woods

First off the stays you've already seen on Christina. It was interesting to see them on a totally different body shape, as Mel is far more curvaceous than Christina.

Image copyright Jade Starmore 2011

Next a Black Watch tartan corset with navy silk external channels teamed with an ivory skirt.

Image copyright Jade Starmore 2011

Psssst - the tartan sample corset is available to purchase at a very reduced price. It's a small size, a 19" waist.
If you're interested contact me via email and I'll send you more details and measurements.


An overdue blog post on it!

A couple of  months ago I attended a visit to the Symington Corset collection at Snibston Discovery Centre in Coalville near Leicester. The trip was organised by Cathy Hay of  Foundations Revealed (a wonderful online subscription magazine on the study and creation of corsets and underwear).

(c) Leicestershire County Council Museums Service; Symington Collection

I've been talking about visiting this collection for years and years, and although I could've arranged something to go along myself it took an organised trip to get me moving instead of putting it off and off. The added value of what ends up being pretty much a conference of corsetmakers is hard to pass up. Spending time with people who don't glaze over when you get enthused about the intricacies of corsetry is a rare opportunity and it's good to see friends and make some new ones. Although many of us have communicated via the internet you never really get a proper impression of a person until you meet them face to face.

The collection is marvellous. It was preserved as a record of past styles (and also competitors designs) by the now closed local corset manufacturer, Symingtons. Over the years this archive grew into a sizeable collection which thankfully has been preserved by Leicestershire council.

We arrived at the Snibston Discovery Centre in Coalville to find a large fashion gallery with items from the 18th century to the present, both regular wear and couture, including a substantial underwear display. But  the real candy shop was a room filled with boxes of antique corsets gathered together for us to examine. I didn't count how many, but 40 or so must have been out for us to study as well as samplers of flossing, tools and boning samples. Unlike most museums we were free to handle the corsets, take notes and even pattern from them if we wished. We were all like the proverbial kids in the sweetie shop! Every option I've ever wanted to explore - plunge fronts, diagonal seaming, multiple lacing, heavy cording and much more - were all represented in the array before us.

(c) Leicestershire County Council Museums Service; Symington Collection

(c) Leicestershire County Council Museums Service; Symington Collection

Myths exploded: There is a long-held misconception that a good corset should be a heavy, thick corset. I've been ranting on for years that this is untrue, and I offer a single-layer corset with a fine lining as one of my standard, and most popular styles. However there were corsets in the collection which were of a lighter weight than any modern corset. One in particular intended for tropical wear which was made from a fairly fine cotton. Actually, the variations of designs intended for warmer climates was one of the most interesting themes. Several ventilated corsets were there to see, as well as an example with removable bones. This is something that interests me personally as my great grandmother travelled to South America with her family in the early years of the 20th century and must have been faced with these very issues. Making a personal association makes things much more real I think.

(c) Leicestershire County Council Museums Service; Symington Collection

(c) Leicestershire County Council Museums Service; Symington Collection

All in all it was a fascinating reminder that there are many ways to make a corset and that modern corsetmakers are only scratching the surface of the possibilities. The amount of innovation and imagination shown in these antiques as manufacturers sought to find answers to the problems of everyday corset-wearers is just astounding. We have a long way to go to reach the level of achievement of these designers, and although we can't replicate some of the machines and tools they had then, we can strive to match their creativity.

For anyone in the area or passing through I'd recommend a visit to Snibston Discovery Centre to see the Fashion Gallery. That alone is worth stopping by as the display is very impressive.