Documenting Fashion Takes NYC: The Madame Margé folder at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Special Collections

 

The MA Documenting Fashion crew took New York City by storm last week! Stay tuned for posts about what we saw and did on our fabulous study-trip-extravaganza.

Our first visit was with April Calahan at FIT’s Special Collections department. April kindly showed us several boxes full of fashion illustrations, photographs and designs from the Twentieth Century, including the second issue of US Vogue and early designs from Chanel, Bonnie Cashin and Rudi Gernreich.

Among the treasures presented to us there was a folder containing late 1920s or 30s coloured sketches for designs made by Madame Margé, which was donated to the museum in 1957. There has been very little research done about Margé. She was born as Marguerite Norlin in 1978 in Philadelphia, and later Francophiled her name as was often the case for designers in the earlier Twentieth Century. Paris was then seen as the fashion central, but throughout the decades Margé was working it gradually shifted to include America. In New York and Chicago she owned fashion firms, selling the latest designs throughout the interwar period.[1]

The folder at FIT contained colour-washed fashion illustrations, alongside large swatches of fabric which covered the entire page next to each design. Underneath the designs were the name and number for each piece. It is unclear whether it was Margé herself who drew these, however they are highly effective for us appreciating the clothes because of their use of colour. Rich pastel tones are used to convey the notion of what it would be like to wear such beautiful items. The drawings also show how the clothes would have looked like from behind.

The most interesting aspect of these pages was the presence of generous fabric swatches beside the drawings instead of the tiny squares of fabric customarily included with sketches. These were added so that the customer could get a real feel for the design before buying it. The size of the swatches demonstrates how important fabric was for Margé. For example, ‘Cherie,’ design number 63, includes a highly tactile piece of sheer silk chiffon floral fabric, slightly larger than an A4 paper size. The swatch includes further three-dimensional aspects of the design such as pleats, folds and drapes, and a light tortoise binding.

Although stuck onto a flat page, the contents of this folder reveal intrinsic details to the designs, and offer an alternative experience of the finished products.

By Grace Lee

You can schedule an appointment to visit FIT’s Special Collections department on their website www.fitnyc.edu/library/sparc/visit

 

[1] Ben-Horin, Keren. “Who Are You Madame Margé?”. Blog. On Pins And Needles, 2011. https://pinsndls.com/2011/02/19/who-are-you-madame-Margé/.

New York Fashion Networks Stitched Together Through Sketch

Documenting Fashion goes to NYC Part 3

Eric de Juan

Eric de Juan fashion sketch embellished with glitter (1967-69). Caption reads: “Oriental silk in multi-hues fashions this gown…its waist and neckline, embroidered in beading that echoes the tones of the dress.” Special Collections at The Fashion Institute of Technology. Image Credit: Giovanna Culora

Elizabeth Hawes’ early career as a copyist was defined by sketching. Between 1925-1928 she would attend Paris fashion shows, acting in disguise as a genuine client, but in fact discreetly memorizing and then sketching the ensembles shown. It was through the power of her pen that she used the sketching medium to convey moods and communicate ideas from high fashion in Paris, and then disseminate these to networks of mass-production fashion counterfeiters. Hawes’ story gives a sense of how international fashion networks operated through this humble artistic medium, and was one that I reflected on when visiting archives on our recent study trip to New York.

Sketch from the Burleigh Subscription Company. Special Collections at The Fashion Institute of Technology. Image Credit: Giovanna Culora

Sketch from the Burleigh Subscription Company. Special Collections at The Fashion Institute of Technology. Image Credit: Giovanna Culora

During our time in the city we visited three manuscript and library archives:  The Fashion Institute of TechnologyParsons New School of Design and Condé Nast. Visiting these collections bought about the opportunity to see the different types and styles of fashion sketches circulating within New York during the early twentieth century. Seeing the volume of drawings gave me a sense of how this medium held a certain power in parallel to photography, within interconnected fashion design, copying and publicity networks.

FIT

Students viewing sketches in the Manuscript Collection at FIT. Image Credit: Giovanna Culora.

On our visit to the Parsons New School archive we viewed sketches by designers Claire McCardell and Mildred Orrick. The bulk of McCardell’s works from the early 1930’s to the late 50’s were produced for clothing manufacturer Townley Frocks, it was her working sketches from this period that particularly fascinated me. The minimal front-facing designs were made up by few lines, on geometric limbless figures, positioned to the left of the page; bar a few quick notes scribbled in the corners, masses of blank space was left on the many sheets. McCardell’s simple colorless designs were completely contrasted with the more commercial sketches we viewed at FIT.

‘Yellow Pants’, Claire McCardell fashion sketch for Townley Frocks, (1951). Image Credit: Parsons New School of Design Archive.

‘Yellow Pants’, Claire McCardell fashion sketch for Townley Frocks, (1951). Image Credit: Parsons New School of Design Archive.

Assisted by April Calahan, whose academic interest is in this area of dress history, we saw examples of other designers’ sketches, including Edward Molyneux’s colorful, detailed fashion plates with risqué titles for Lucile (The Lady Duff Gordon collection, 1915-1925), plus sketches from the Bergdorf Goodman custom salon collection, showing gowns and millinery from Dior and Balenciaga (1930-1969). Both sets of sketches, intended for client and documentary purposes, were emblematic of contemporary fashion moods that populated the fashion press, evident on our visit to Condé Nast’s archive, in which we viewed sketches artists were commissioned to produce for Vogue magazine. Proving the importance of this modest, yet romantic artistic medium for contemporary fashion networks and the creation of elevated lifestyle brands.

Lucile

Edward Molyneux’s sketch for Lucile (The Lady Duff Gordon collection, 1915-1925). Caption reads: “♯1 ‘Where the Shannon River Flows’ Black Taffeta with grey and green stripe afternoon gown.” Special Collections at The Fashion Institute of Technology. Image Credit: Giovanna Culora.

Though the medium imbued designers, department stores and the magazines with prestige, sketching was also a quick and discreet way to copy and disseminate designs. This was evident in the Cardinal Fashion Studios’ sketches at FIT, the subscription service, founded in 1948, which disseminated sketched copies of fashions shown at couture shows. Reminiscent of contemporary Pop Art, the drawings were coloured with brightly concentrated acidic gouache washes. The quantities of reproduced sketches were a reflection of popular networks of copying and mass production in New York. I was fascinated with how this contemporary artistic theme crossed into the business of fashion sketching. Seeing how these networks of fashion sketching operated in New York was a fascinating experience that I hope will influence my study of dress history at the Courtauld.

 

Cardinal1

Black Rose ballgown from the Cardinal Fashion Studios’ sketches. Special Collections at The Fashion Institute of Technology. Image Credit: Giovanna Culora

Cardinal2

Black hooded dress from the Cardinal Fashion Studios’ sketches. Special Collections at The Fashion Institute of Technology. Image Credit: Giovanna Culora