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Friday, May 8, 2015

Happy Birthday Arnold Scaasi

Arnold Scaasi is a Canadian born designer who is not known for his understated and reserved designs. On the contrary, Scaasi's bold use of texture, shine, and pattern exemplifies a spirited resistance to the Calvin Klein-ization of American fashion that took hold during the late 1980s and into the 1990s. His interest in fashion is said to have been ignited in his youth by an Australian aunt who was something of a style maven. After studying design in Paris, Scaasi came to the United States to work with fashion legend Charles James. Over the years he established his own legendary status, famously outfitting many notables including Barbara Streisand who wore his transparent pantsuit to the 1968 Academy Awards when she won the best actress Oscar for Funny Girl.


The Goldstein is fortunate to have a number of Scaasi ensembles, including this tiered piece from the 1980s. The fabric is expertly manipulated to stand out and ripple with controlled ease, playing with body form and silhouette.

Tiered cocktail dress, 1980-1989
black tulle with machine embroidery pattern
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Miles (Shirley) Fiterman

Some might not see echoes of Charles James in Scaasi's work; after all, James is revered for elegance, sophistication and expertise. Despite Scaasi's flamboyant tendencies, he clearly learned much from his tutelage with James as his designs routinely blend drama with advanced construction techniques. Happy Birthday Arnold Scaasi.

Asymmetrical gown, 1980-1989
pink silk satin with discharge print
Gift of Arnold Scaasi

Red strapless gown, 1980-1989
sequins and tulle
Gift of Arnold Scaasi

Floral jumpsuit, 1980-1989
silk crepe with screenprint
Gift of Arnold Scaasi

Monday, May 4, 2015

Mothers and Daughters

Children's clothing seems to slide along a continuum from miniature version adult dress to completely separate fashions. For example, during the first half of the 18th century children's dress mirrored that of adults - which was very ornate and structured. As the century progress, their dress became simpler and less restrictive. This shift was influenced by philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau's writing on child rearing, which specifically addresses the clothing worn by children. In Emile, or On Education (1962), Rousseau argued that children should wear "the plainest, most comfortable clothes" (quoted by Tortora & Eubank, 2005, pp. 247). This suggestion is reflected in the white muslin dresses worn by children during the latter half of the 1700s - a stark contrast to the still elaborate fashion worn by both men and women during this period.

One of the most extreme examples of the "identical fashions" end of this continuum is the mother-daughter outfits of the post-WWII era. These matching fashions accompanied starkly divided gender roles following the war - with women being pushed back into the home to make room in the workplace for returning GIs. Tortora and Eubank (2005) note that, "one is tempted to see in these styles a reflection of the emphasis on family togetherness that was characteristic of the United States in the 1950s" (p. 451). These outfits also reinforced gender difference and expectations that young girls follow in their mother's domestic footsteps.

Vogue Mother Daughter Ad May, 1960.jpg
"Cinderella Dresses" advertisement in Vogue (May, 1960).

The above advertisement in Vogue from May, 1960 captures this trend and indicates it persisting presence into the following decade. It features a mother in a plaid, sleeveless sundress and her two daughters in almost identical dresses (save for the shorter hemlines). The copy reads "for the girl who is all girls...Cinderella dresses." Interestingly, the maid-turned-princess was also featured in both an animated Disney film (1950) and a made-for-TV Rodgers and Hammerstein musical featuring Julie Andrew's (1957) during the post-WWII era. The ad's reference to the floor-sweeping, ball-gown-wearing maiden is interesting and reflects the period's idealization of the homemaker and housewife.

The Goldstein Museum of Design has its own pair of coordinating dresses (below) from the 1950s made by "Lanz," an Austrian folkwear-inspired clothing line. The company began in Salzburg Austria in 1922 and later established itself in California during the 1940s.

Mother and child dresses by Lanz, 1950, printed cotton and pique, gift of Shannon Murphy Pulver (1977.020.008a and 1977.020.008b).

With their puffed sleeves and dirndl skirts, these coordinating red and white floral dresses were arguably intended to encourage the kind of visual maternal bond noted. Thinking about the history surrounding mother-daughter outfits highlights how they are more than just matching clothes. This also serves as a reminder of how dress can function as a looking glass to contemporary culture.

Bramlett, L. (n.d.) Lanz. In Vintage fashion guild. Retrieved from:
Cinderella Dresses [Advertisement]. (May, 1960). In Vogue, 135 (9).
Tortora, P. & Eubank, K. (2005). Survey of Historic Costume. New York, NY: Fairchild Publications.