Tribute to Emanuel Ungaro

Continuing my ascension in decades for my yearly Easter outfit, this year’s make was decidedly going to be from the 1990s.  This is an odd decade for me to handle as I was an awkward teen through most of it.  I, however, felt more at ease with diving into the challenge because this year my Easter sewing is a bit more personal.  It is my way of showing my deep respect for the life and talents of the recently deceased French courtier Emanuel Ungaro.  He will always be one of my favorite designers – I literally can’t look at his work and not sigh in admiration.  He worked and trained under all the other designers I so esteem.  Some outfits more than others, but especially his suits, are something to wish was on my back.  Yet, in every creation, I see and admire how he brought 80’s and 90’s couture up to an enticing, avant-garde form of artistic beauty.  They are bold but not garish, inventive but still wearable, and all definitely great confidence boosting fashion that I need to ogle over in our troubled times today.  I reached for one of the Vogue Paris patterns I have of Ungaro from my stash, and went about stitching out my own interpretation of his work.

I will admit, in imitation of Ungaro’s frequent use of mixed materials, I went out of my comfort zone (and common sense) to combine a silky crepe satin with a two-tone ombré shantung into a highly tailored-cut suit coat.  I was pretty much expecting either a horrible failure or a really good surprise.  I couldn’t tell, but a creative haunch drove me on.  Perhaps it was merely my desire to do something spectacularly useful with two one-yard remnant cuts on hand.  Either way, tweaked with the right padding, strategic interfacing, and hours of hand stitching, I think my experiment is at the opposite end of a disaster, happily!  The longer I stay in isolation, the bolder my fashion and sewing choices are becoming, which ultimately came in handy here.

I have several skirts on hand already that do match with my suit jacket so for now only that is a designer creation.  My skirt here is a decade old RTW item.  I might get around to making the skirt portion to this Ungaro pattern in the future, but not for right now.  I’ll confess to being dubious as to how the complex skirt would actually not distract or otherwise overwhelm the jacket, but I have faith in the designer’s vision.  All the paneling to the skirt is further calling me to color-block it, too, and I knew that might not match here…nor did I have more fabric to work with at this time.  So, I will be revisiting the 90’s and more Ungaro fashion soon, then, and experimenting with still more boldly ‘modern-vintage’ fashion designs!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a polyester ombré shantung together with a polyester satin (using the crepe side only) for the exterior and facings, with a 1990s original poly print as the lining material.  The inner panels were flat-lined for structure in a poly-cotton broadcloth fabric.

PATTERN:  Vogue Paris original #1842, year 1996

NOTIONS:  lots of thread, ½” shoulder pads, both a ¾” (for the sleeve vents) and a 7/8” (for the center front) covered button kit, and lots of interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This jacket was finished on March 28, 2020, after over 40 hours put into it

THE INSIDES:  What insides?…fully lined

TOTAL COST:  I’m not counting the light pink crepe, lining, and the notions, as they were all either practically free from a rummage sale or scraps on hand from years ago.  My only real expense was the shantung remnant picked up at my local JoAnn store for about $5.  Yup…this is a $5 designer jacket!

This Ungaro design seems as if it was MADE to be color blocked the way the seams line up for the side and under sleeve panels as well as the faux pocket flaps.  I shouldn’t have been so surprised but actually should have seen it coming.  It was Ungaro’s surprising color-blocked suits from the Parisian runways of the early to mid-90’s that I wanted to imitate with sewing my own version.  Yes, I know my actual pattern date is on the late end of his ‘trend’, but hey – I’m open to finding a way to appreciate the 90’s.  So, if this is the means, then I’m here for it (and I hope you are with me for this, too!).  Give it another 10 years, and this decade will be ‘vintage’ soon enough.  Ungaro stayed with the bold color-blocking trend for a good part of the decade (1990 to at least 1997 – watch this runway video).  I had some lovely scraps to use up and the color pink on my mind, anyway.  After being cooped up in quarantine around the house, I am further inspired by the blooming redbud tree in our backyard!

Happily, this pattern had been ‘used’ before but was ready to go and not missing a thing.  Someone had been ready to use this because all the pieces were cut out nicely, organized, and no longer in factory folds.  The sleeve pieces had been altered, folded 1 inch shorter – great for me because that was just what I needed anyways!  Most importantly, the pattern had a “Vogue Paris Original” label inside the envelope. These labels are a treasure that makes my garment so much more satisfying.  I am so thankful that this pattern’s previous owner (and seller, too!) had enough foresight to take such care of it, especially since there were 20 pattern pieces to deal with, too.

The back of the envelope sums up the jacket design as “closely fitted, fully interfaced and lined, above the hip (flared) jacket with button/buttonhole trimming, raised neckline, shoulder padding, side panels (no side seams), pocket flaps and long, two-piece sleeves having a mock vent.”  That about sums it up, yet the nuances that I came across while making this make it all seem an understatement.  That being said, I noticed right off the bat that it was listed as “closely-fitted”.  I went up one whole size and I do believe this is a great fit.  It is a tailored enough jacket that a bit of room – which I have – to both be comfortable and wear different weights of tops does not take away from the shaping which still complements the body.  Good shantung naturally wrinkles like the dickens, and for an ombré shantung, that is part of the beauty to it, similarly to a fine linen.  However, wrinkles which come from a garment that is too tight is another thing, and not preferred for this designer imitation jacket of mine.  It is so much easier to tailor in a few inches than try to add pieces or get creative because of the need to let inches out.

While a shantung – poly or not – has some structure, and the satin has next to none, neither is enough to become a suit coat!  Thus, the overall saving grace to this jacket was flat-lining every…darn…piece.  “The Dreamstress” has a fantastic terminology, how-to, explanation post here that lays out the process’ details and benefits far better than anything I could ever write.  When I made my Agent Carter “One Shot” suit jacket the year before, I quickly learned flat-lining was the only way to go with the perfect fabric no matter what its hand or content.  For that jacket, I found that a tightly woven, poly blend broadcloth provided the best combo of soft structure to make my supple, loose flannel transform into a rigid suit coat when layered with heavy cotton, starched muslin interfacing.

What worked well then worked wonderfully once again on my Ungaro blazer with a few differences.  As I was using fabric even more slippery than almost any poly out there, I did have to choose the iron-on interfacing this time, however.  I omitted pad-stitching the three layers (for each piece – fabric, interfacing, broadcloth flatling, in that order) together, as the poly fabrics I was working with did not have the loftiness of nap that woolens or flannels have.  In place of pad-stitching, I did hand tack the layers together along the seam lines, and graded down the bulky seams by cutting.  Suits are like a fine art that comes together in stages so complex it’s often hard to see the final result up ahead.

The instructions were amazing, and walk you clearly through each and every step.  In comparison to last years’ 1980s Givenchy suit, this one was every bit as detailed with the same advanced difficulty rating and yet it was easier in the construction, which I find so very interesting.  The prime example of this is with the sleeves’ mitered corner vents.  They are a part of the traditional two-piece suit sleeve.  The Givenchy pattern had several steps and some hand stitching to achieve the exact same end that the Ungaro suit sleeves engineered into a simple two-seam technique.

Seeing and experiencing this has made me respect Ungaro even more than before.  I do not know which method – Ungaro’s or Givenchy’s, if either – is the traditionally ‘proper’ way to do this common suit detail, but I appreciate the former for finding a way to streamline such a complex corner, with no difference in result than if you spent more time and took more steps.  That, right there, folks, shows Ungaro’s madly underestimated talent.  This is why I beg you to pick out a designer Vogue pattern to try for yourself.  You’ll thank me in so many ways!

I did go just a bit rogue when it came to the buttonholes.  I spent so many hours to make the windowpane buttonholes you see on the ‘good’ side of the jacket by hand.  It was draining but worth it.  I’m so glad there were only four of them!  So, for the inside facing, I made machine stitched buttonholes.  Again, this is exactly what I did for my Agent Carter 40s suit.  Doing so turned out great this time as before, gave a quick and clean way to finish the inner half of a bound buttonhole, and – most importantly – saves some of my sanity. It is hidden inside the suit after all.  Let’s face it.  No matter how much I love crafting suit jackets, after 40 hours of work on them, crammed into a week and a half, I start to become frazzled.  Yet, I always want to make sure such a work fully deserves that respected “Vogue Paris Original” tag which came with the pattern, so I know when and where to discreetly take a shortcut.  Larger 7/8 inch self-fabric covered buttons close up the front, while slightly smaller 5/8 inch buttons keep the sleeve vents together at the wrist.

This suit is the first time I have splurged on a bright, fun, patterned lining.  As I had about 6 yards of the material (estimated to be from the 90s or 2000s) on hand, and to continue the boldness of my pairing idea, I figured I’d go for it!  Yet, I thought ahead so that the crazy print would not show through the pink tone.  The flat-lining I used was a dark, opaque blue.  Yes, that made sure no seams would show though either.  From an aesthetic standpoint, it shades the light pink contrast a bit darker to unnoticeably complement the ombré blue in the shantung when it crinkles.

There are so many secrets inside a good suit coat than you could ever image with a casual glance.  This is why adding the lining to a suit jacket is always such an exciting, satisfying, emotional step to me.  It covers up all the evidence of precise engineering and well-thought out little background details that are the key to a successful suit coat.  This is both rewarding to have a clean finished appearance in one step, yet terrifying to have all your work be covered up, never to be easily appreciated from the self-explanatory way that only something visually seen can demonstrate.  At least I remembered to take a picture!

I really have to laugh at myself for loving this project.  Sure it is my favorite designer, but really – enjoying the 1990s…what have I become?!  I do love a good color blocked garment in any other era, I suppose.  This suit somehow has everything I love about a good *true* vintage one – wonderful hourglass shape, strong shoulders, a peplum to boot, and great details.

I knew this project was coming for this year’s spring so I had time to be choosy about which pattern I would go with, though.  I went through a lot of very unappealing designs on the way to this perfect find.  You see, ever since I started with the 1920s for my Easter outfit of 2013, I have been ascending in decades with what I sew for Easter every year.  Only since hitting the 1970s have I chosen to make suits.  Thus, once I catch up to our current decade, I do believe I will go back and make a suit from all those eras I only made dresses for, in case you’re curious as to my plans!  Yes, next year will be the 2000 decade and I have it all planned out already.  This yearly commitment keeps me experimenting outside of my comfort zone.  I had to keep it going no matter if there’s anywhere to go or reason to be fabulous!  I am enough of a reason to dress amazing, and once I slide this jacket on I just want to stay fabulous and linger in enjoying the power of a great suit.  Ungaro has unfortunately passed away from us, but I can make sure we don’t forget his talent by finding a way to bring his patterns from my stash to life!