Friday, May 22, 2015
When I wrote a recent blog article about a Novarese dress from the 1970's I was discouraged by the lack of information on this talented fashion designer from California, so I dug deeper to find that he was well celebrated by the press during his time. What I write here is based on many regional and national newspaper articles on Michael Novarese made through out his career, and his obituary published online.
Michael Novarese stated that he always knew he would design women’s fashion. His love was for elegant, well designed fashion, and that is what he planned to create.
Of Italian descent, he was born in 1926, in Memphis, Tenn. At an early age his family would move back to Italy where he spent his early childhood, returning to Memphis as a youth and completing high school there. This was followed by serving in WWII and being stationed in Europe. After the war he returned to Memphis for a short time, but moved finally to Los Angeles where he studied fashion at Woodbury College. This was located in downtown Los Angeles at that time. It had a small but strong program in apparel design, graduating other fashion designers of note such as William Travilla.
In his early career, he worked as a blouse designer. This would evolve to designing evening cocktail dresses in a custom dress making business. By 1957 he was able to open his own label with eight dress designs. These were made from silk crepe, a classic textile with a matte finish and a slight stretch that he used often throughout his carer. He was able to sell these first designs to Saks Fifth Avenue.
Early on, Novarese had made the decision to create only high end fashion constructed with quality textiles and sewing techniques. He would focus on a customer who was often professional, working in high paid careers such as advertising and public relations. They wanted his quality designs as part of their stature both at work and at home. In 1981 he would estimate that 70% of his customers were professional women. “My clothes fit as investments because they have a very secure look about them” and could be worn for several seasons to validate that investment.
As a young designer in his thirties, he was seen as slim, small and brown eyed by one reviewer in 1962. His southern drawl was an asset, along with his vibrant and engaging personality. By this time he had been in business for only five years, yet he was being interviewed in New York by regional fashion journalists for local papers. That year he also presented his collection in his hometown of Memphis, which was an honor for him.
Novarese evening designs were known for being subtle, elegant and finely made. He was able to do this while still incorporating texture through beading, lace and fullness. Often this was emphasized in the sleeves, an area that he was well known for embellishing or making dramatic statements. When asked about this infusion of renaissance style he would reply “After all, I am of Italian extraction”. His early childhood in Italy played a part in creating his elegant signature styles.
He worked with professionals at the top of the field. His beading woman, Mae Murry in Los Angeles, was known for her work in movies as well. She created the wonderful textures his evening gowns were known for. “She’s the greatest in the business” was his comment about her. His work also emphasized pristine dress making. “I always believed that a customer is entitled to a complete product in that the inside should look as good as the outside.” To do this he “set a guideline in regard to the way clothes should be made”.
Because his designs required couture level sewing and expensive high quality textiles and trims, his fashions were known for being expensive. In the 1970s, his dresses were bringing in $1,000 each. He recounts a story of one new customer who loved his prints so much that she ordered the same dress in five prints, spending over $12,000 to do this. In the late 1980’s he would state the “competition in our price bracket is fierce, and we have to ensure every faculty we possess to maintain a position in the marketplace”
In 1974, his customers would spend between $400 to $2,500 on a dress. Early on, established actresses such as Bette Davis and Ann Baxter were clients. Other actress customers during his career included Jane Russell, Liza Minelli, Judy Garland, and Dinah Shore. His gowns were also worn in the 80’s by the Reagan era wives in Washington D.C. He describes his client as “a lady who understands quality fabrics, quality workmanship and designs that are not limited to that particular period”.
This made for a conservative sense of style. During an economic down-swing, he would comment that “you don’t play around with design when the economic situation is not secure. You deviate when a lot of money is around. Customers want clothes that won’t go out of style and they’ll wear what they buy from two to five seasons.” The point of view was that his fashion should be classic, (my) “clothes are not fad-oriented, gimmicky or eye-distracting. They are clothes that will take you from year to year and still look correct”.
He maintained that to stay in business he had to emphasize his unique style, the quality of the garment, and the fine dressmaking skills that created it. He would be most popular in Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston, while also traveling to present his collections in trunk show throughout the US and in New York City.
When asked why he didn’t create another line at more affordable prices he responded that “I had no intention of dressing mass America. I left that to someone else”. And “I do not design sport clothes or swimsuits. My clothes are day-through-afternoon dresses and cocktail, evening, debutante and wedding dresses”. Part of this was due to his dress making standards where he wound never “vacillate from a set method in regard to making clothes. It’s just as easy to make it correctly and well”. These designs would be worn by the customer “who understands quality fabrics, quality workmanship and designs that are not limited to that particular period” in time.
In Los Angeles, Novarese was part of a well known group of designers called the “California Fashion Creators”. They promoted their own regional apparel at a national level. He was also one of a select few California designers whose collections were considered couture along with Charles Cooper, Lee Herman, Stanley Nelson, and Wiliam Travilla. They often presented their collections together in New York during fashion week. In 1965 they produced a fashion show at the Plaza Hotel, hoping to snag buyers and the press on Sunday with their unusual concept of fashion and buffet.
Novarese retired from his business in 1992 at about 66 years old. His final business location was in West Hollywood on Holloway Drive, a convenient location to both Hollywood and Los Angeles. His retirement was honored and celebrated by his clients who staged a special invitation dinner with a gallery display at a local design college, each invitee was encouraged to wear her best Novarese to this event. That final year he had worked about 35 years under his own label. In retirement he lived in both Palm Desert and Los Angeles. Novarese was well known for his volunteer work in the community and his philanthropic works through the Catholic church. His partner of 36 years, Robert Nelson is still living in southern California.
In one of the last statements Novarese made about his designs, he said “Strangely enough, my clothes are not, and never have been designed with California in mind. They have an international flavor that can be worn in any spot in the country, as well as in Europe.” Having lived his life both in the US and Europe he would know best about that.
While there isn’t a book or chapter written on Novarese, his life and designs were documented by the many female fashion journalists who worked for the syndicated national press and smaller local newspapers during his career:
Barbara Cloud, 1965, 1966, 1981: Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Peggy Gandy, 1987: the Oklahoman
Doris Klein, 1964: syndicated
Mary Lou Loper, 1992: syndicated
Jean Miller, 1974: St. Petersburg Times
Aileen Ryan, 1962: Milwaukee Journal
Mary Jan Spencer, 1965: Blade News
Joan Sweeney, 1968: syndicated
Violet Webber, 1970: Toronto Blade
Monday, May 18, 2015
This gorgeous Michael Novarese gown from the 1970's has so many couture qualities that I thought I would share it here with you. On the hanger, it feels exquisite, so light weight yet built as only a high end gown can be.
Novarese started his design business in 1957, and by the mid-1960's he was showing his collections along with other California designers. Like this dress, his long "after five" gowns for special occasions as well as weddings were being designed in the early 1970s by him (Feb. 1972). He was also known for producing "bold dramatic prints" during that time (Spring 1976) in the same style as the textiles in this gown.
Michael Novarese was known in his day as a California couture designer, along with other California designers at that time: Helga, Charles Cooper, Georgia Bullock, Sebastian, Lucie Ann, Mr. Blackwell, Joanna Nelson, Lee Herman, Stanley Nelson and Helen Rose. He showed with the "California Fashion Creators" and participated in fashion shows on the east coast when few other California designers took the time to travel and present their collections.
This close up view shows the silk chiffon textile. It is a woven design of black chiffon with a gold lame plaid stripe. Over this the floral design has been printed, creating a fabric that is still soft, but glimmers when moving in the light.
I think that the low square neckline, bodice fit and sleeves of this dress are timeless in their simplicity and flattering silhouette. Novarese tended to design dresses for mature women, so he knew how to flatter their best assets.
The softly full skirt has an inverted box pleat at center front. While it lies flat when the wearer is standing, it allows for movement and sitting ease without adding visual or literal bulk around the hips.
The back view is clean, smooth and well fitted. There's nothing here to create a bad fit or unusual problem.
Of interest in the construction of this dress is the application of boning in the side seams. These would keep the bodice smooth and less likely to wrinkle. Bones also could help to keep the bodice in place and the sleeves from falling off of the shoulders.
The neckline is edged in a fine piping that visually give the gathered neckline a sharp edge. It's details like these that make this dress a wonderful example of California couture, designed for the Hollywood social scene or an evening wedding.
This gown has been listed for sale in my Pintuck Style shop. It comes from my long term teaching collection that has a focus on California designers. Because of this, I know it has been carefully stored and preserved, and is in 'like new' condition (as most high end gowns are).
I first found this dress because the high quality textile caught my attention. I can't remember how often it's the textile that makes me notice a dress first. The better the fabric, in general, the better the garment. In this case it was a dramatic find and a wonderful dress to study and document over the years.
More on Michael Novarese:
Saturday, May 16, 2015
Fashion garments that are more than 20 years old are sized differently than the clothes we buy and wear today. Understanding current fashion sizes and measurements can help when shopping for vintage fashion in your size.
Here is a new updated modern commercial size chart that I developed from several top websites using both inches and centimeters (inches/centimeters). You can use this chart in several ways:
1) Check your own measurements with this chart to see your standard size in modern fashion.
2) Look up your current size, and find the measurement range, then take your own measurements to be sure.
3) If you are selling vintage or creating new fashion items, use this chart when you list it so your customers can find their own size.
Use this chart to see if a vintage fashion is close to your size, but remember these rules:
RULE #1: Always add wearing ease. What is this?
Have enough extra 'wiggle room' in the garment so you can move and breathe!
Be sure that it is at least 2" or more larger in the bust than your own bust line and 4" or more larger in the hips than your own hip line.
RULE #2: Measure your own vintage fashions that fit best, and
use those garment measurements as a guide when shopping for similar fashions online.
RULE #3: Measure yourself so you,
know your own body measurements
Need to Measure yourself? Use this website to see how it's done:
A few things to expect when shopping for vintage:
**Our waistlines are bigger, so if this is you:
Expect vintage waistlines to be 'too small' in the waist if they don't have elastic stretch.
(You can let out back darts in most styles for a bit more waistline room) and shop by your WAIST measurement to find a good fit.
**Our Bustline and Back measurements are larger, so if this is you:
Expect bustlines to be tight even when the waistline and hips do fit and shop by your BUST measurement to find a good fit.
**Vintage fabric rarely stretches, so
Don't expect your vintage fashion to have more stretch room than it measures.
**Remember to wear foundation and undergarments suitable to the style, and you'll have that gorgeous vintage fashion for years to come!
(this is an update of a popular post on measurements and sizes for vintage shopping)
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Vintage fashion for January 1950: a new decade with new styles. Women were cutting and sewing a whole new silhouette that year. My sister has kept me well stocked with vintage sewing pattern brochures. This newsprint catalog she gave me has several punched up color pages that I'm sharing with you here.
In 1950 dresses sported the newer sloping shoulders, 3/4 sleeve length and wide hemlines. For many girls it was a good time to sew up new clothes, departing from the tired and well-worn ones that had gotten them through the post war era.
An hourglass silhouette with tiny peplum is accented by turn-back cuffs and standing collars.
Circle and flared skirts with small waisted wide belts. The rounded shoulders and tiny collars with high necklines keep the bodice demure, except for the bold white turned-back cuffs.
For more mature customers, the top two dresses carry over the diagonal draping and crepe textiles worn during the last decade. The perky red checked gingham number and the red dress are half size with a modern style spin.
Whether trying to date a vintage dress, sew up retro style copy, or just get inspired by fashion from 65 years ago, these pages with over a happy dozen dress patterns are great in both their differences and similarities.
Pattern Numbers shown here: Simplicity
Thursday, May 7, 2015
New retro sewing pattern Butterick 6212 is a super cute 1950's style popover, or pullover dress pattern destined to become a popular model this summer. It has great details in the shaped sweetheart neckline, midriff waistband and double buttons in the skirt back, with an optional back waist tie.
These photos show the how the actual garment looks on a model. At this point, small details are more clearly seen. This pullover style is really a multi-fit house dress, with a mock blouse attached to the mock waistband of a contrast color skirt. The front bodice wraps around to the back where the skirt is buttoned to an 'inner back' panel. This panel can be seen in the gap between the skirt at center back.
In several ways this dress is alot like Butterick 4790, which wraps to the front, rather than the back. The schematic draft for that dress shows how one bodice is sewn to the skirt, while the other side of the body has a plain sheath style design. The sheath is worn to the front with Butterick 4790, while it is worn to the back with this pattern. Both have bodices that wrap around with diagonal edges where it meets: at the front with Butterick 4790, and in the back with buttons in Butterick 6212.
The back view photo above shows where the skirt wraps come together, and there's fabric strain at the waistline where it buttons in back. This view also shows that the 'inner back' is probably a 'sheath' shaped one piece pattern: from shoulders to hem, shaped with 2 vertical darts.
The flat drafts of this garment reveal the seam lines and darts. But the inner back piece of this dress is not shown. It is clear that the front bodice will wrap around to the back, and this bodice and waist band will be held in place by the button rows in back.
Looking closer at the back view, it seems that the 'inner back' sheath piece is not tightly fitted at the waistline, in fact the vertical darts used for shaping this piece are the only means used to create a snug waistline fit in back. Without a tight fight, the front of this dress will shift and hang loose.
The strain along the waistline in back results in horizontal wrinkles as seen in the back photo. This strain may cause the buttons to rip out or tear the fabric of the "inner back" sheath, unless the waistline area has interfacing (which does not seem likely).
The back can be made into a better fitting piece if that "inner back" pattern has some adjustments. I feel that it should have a true waistline seam across the back. Even better, a waistband could be inserted with the same width that the "outer back" panels have, so it matches across the back, rather than showing a gap between the buttoned skirt panels that are now seen.
A waistline would also make it possible for the "inner back" lower skirt area to be cut from fabric that matches the rest of the skirt (it doesn't match with the current pattern design).
How to add a waistline seam:
Using the top button placement on the back sheath pattern, draw a horizontal line across the back at the waistline button location as shown in the picture above.
Cut along this line.
Using a wide piece of paper or tissue cut into 3" wide strips the length of this cut edge. Tape a 3" wide strip along each edge, then mark a line that is 5/8" from the cut on the newly added strip. This will be the new seam allowance.
There is a tutorial for a similar process that shows an example of cutting apart a pattern, adding seam allowances and sewing it back together HERE from Craftsy that shows this method as used when creating color blocking pieces.
After two pattern pieces have been made, the lower pattern piece will become the 'skirt' and can be cut in fabric to match the skirt front. This will make the back view have a continuous color, rather than the gap between the buttons.
The upper piece can be cut from the bodice fabric.
Baste this seamline together for a fitting. The existing darts may need to be made deeper to shape the waistline and add curves for hips in back.
When sewing this seamline, it can be reinforced with a ribbon or seam tape to keep the seam from 'popping' or breaking when the skirt is wrapped around and buttoned along that seamline.
Other fitting finepoints: The bodice has bust darts that 'end' into the armhole wrap. This shouldn't gap or fall open when wrapped around to the back. If the arm hole seems too loose, the bust dart might need to be taken in more, making the loose armhole tighter.
Style alterations: If you want to see the back of the skirt meet, rather than show a gap, just extend the skirt pattern to meet in the middle of center back with a 1" overlap for buttons. By lengthening the back waistband and skirt, it will be possible for the center back of the skirt to button together, rather than expose the "inner back".
Once this pattern has been fit and any style alterations have been made, this will be an easy dress to sew and wear, especially in easy to sew summer cottons.