Tuesday, July 24, 2012



Somehow, contemporary fashionistas mistakenly think that sexy was invented in years Madonna and post-Madonna.  I remember a student who thought that time was divided into Madonna and pre-Madonna, as in "Don't be such a pre-Madonna."  I have now added post-Madonna which like post-Modern, does not mean that Madonna and Modern are not important and influential, it just is that the world has sort of moved on.

But  the late American designer Norman Norell knew elegant sexy from the get-go and designed it for Hollywood stars like Gloria Swanson as well the east coast socialite of the late 40s, 50, 60s and into the 70s.  He is said to have invented the chemise, the dress that forgot its waistline.

Norell is shown here with a group of models wearing variations of his mermaid dress with its subtle train. This clingy siren gown did remember its waistline. The mermaid at the far right is embroidered with feminine paisleys. The photo is not dated but must be late 1960s or early 1970s.  And if Norell's paisley mermaid was around today, it would be definitely be going to the best parties this fall.  JP

Monday, July 2, 2012

American Flower Quilt



My first blog entry was the story of my mother's Aunt Flora who came one summer for an extended visit. Readers may remember that it was this woman who went shopping with me for a head scarf and selected a paisley  because "a paisley is always good."  She didn't, however,  have an answer for me when I asked  "What was a paisley?"

Aunt Flora had decided to make a floral patchwork quilt for my bed during her stay and had evidently worked out the pattern of almost 150 flowers with unrepeated floral print petals well before making the trip.  However, she waited until she got to Detroit to buy the fabric, with the help of my mother.

Her selection of floral prints and their corresponding solid color companions took place at a small, local fabric store,  I really can't remember where.  But I do remember that the job was done with great efficiency and speed. 

 In recent years, I have used the quilt as a bedcover, frequently studying the 1950's patterns -- never even hoped to find a paisley. Then on a recent day, there it was, blue with a jagged border and three little red dots as inside filling, rather conventional little flowers as companions and all against a white ground.  It seemed somewhat strange that there was only one paisley print.  Perhaps the postwar paisley trend was just coming into its own and hadn't filtered down to inexpensive cotton yard goods.

The discovery prompted the recollection of the importance of American quilting as historical documentation -- of a family, an era, the fabric industry.  From what was been observed, early American textiles were not the works of art that were produced in Europe and Asia at that time.  However, the craftswomenship of quilting and embroidery of the 18th and 19th centuries is outstanding and historically important.  One can look back at the milestone of the red-and-white quilt exhibit sponsored by the American Folk Art Museum in 2011, 650 quilts sensationally hung from the mile-high ceilings of the Park Avenue Armory.  There is also the crazy quilt genre that seems to have created a 1880s American fad after people saw the Japanese Exhibit in the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.  And also of importance is the story of the "Underground Railroad Quilt Code" and the possibility that the display of these quilts offered messages for escaped slaves.

So, thank you Aunt Flora for the little paisley message that endures.  JP