Dior Animal

If – according to Stacey Londonanimal prints are really a neutral, than what color do I pair best with itI have made a few other animal print garments before, so how do I make yet another stand out from the rest?  Which direction do I go to sew something fantastic with some precious leopard print scraps from my Grandmother?

Christian Dior, Paris, France autumn-winter 1947

By using that old opinionated quote to start things in this post, I am only hinting that I merely went back to the very source of a very long-running ‘trend’.  That was the best way in my theory to find suitable direction.  I happily ended up with the ultimate self-made designer copy of a standout garment which is burned indelibly in fashion history.  I drew direct inspiration from a rich green, leopard contrast, fur-muffed coatdress in the premiere collection of Dior in late 1947.  Now I have my own fabulously warm yet classy home couture garment for “Designin’ December” 2019 challenge hosted by Linda at “Nice Dress! Thanks, I made it!!”.  I totally look forward to the chilly weather just for the opportunity to wear this special yet unusual combo of both coatdress and muff with a strong vintage panache!

There is perhaps no other designer of the 20th century who has remained so perennially popular and widely imitated quite like Dior.  Next to Chanel’s “little black dress” stereotype, Dior’s “New Look” of 1947 has become its own icon, a bigger than life story.  Yet, with all popularity and familiarity the Dior silhouette has become, it is not always recognized back to its proper designer source by people.  To highlight the most modern example of this, the popularity of the show “The Marvelous Ms. Maisel” is now encroaching on the Dior glory, and many recognize the nipped waist, full-skirted, multi-seamed “princess” silhouette as being linked to the personal style of a fictional character.  The situation is not too different with the ever popular animal print in fashion.  It has been so overused as a movie character’s visual aid and featured in the collections of many prominent designers up until this day, that I wonder just how many people really know the influence Dior had on popularizing such a material design.  The silver screen has a powerful way of influencing fashion like no runway show has!

The democratizing of couture fashion, which started in the 1930s, certainly made a major impact on the Dior New Look post WWII, with many companies (from the “American Dior” Anne Fogarty to home sewing patterns like the one I used here) offering means of achieving a French high end style on any budget no matter where you live.  Although many countries, especially the United States (I’m thinking of you, Claire McCardell), showed their capability to offer creative, trend-setting fashion during WWII privations.  As soon as peace was signed, French clothiers were more than ready to regain their previous place of esteem.

With his premiere collection in the year 1947, Dior has afterwards never been really far from the spotlight of fashion, never not making some reflection into the current clothing trend of the time.  Yet for all the commonness of the princess silhouette of the 50’s, it still has not lost its luster of attractiveness, that aura of beautifully crafted design lines which makes both those lacking in sewing knowledge and those well-versed in it marvel alike at the creation of such structured, wonderful garments.  Here’s what I hope is a worthy tribute to the perfection of the very first vision of Dior’s popularity, wild animal that it is!  Practicing couture techniques, working at a slower pace, trying to primarily use invisible hand-stitching, executing professional finishings, and using high quality materials on this project all were due in part to being inspired after attending the exhibit earlier in the year at Denver, Colorado “Dior: From Paris to the World”.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  COATDRESS: 100% wool felt, 1/8 inch thick, in a forest green and a 100% cotton flannel for the animal print contrast; MUFF: a faux fur and anti-pill fleece

PATTERN:  COATDRESS – Vintage Vogue #9280, a reprint from 2017 of a year 1948 pattern, originally Vogue #491 Couturier Design; MUFF – Simplicity #4851 (also printed as no.8910) a circa 1840s to 1860’s accessories pattern from 2003 by designer Andrea Schewe

NOTIONS:  nothing extraordinary was needed – thread, interfacing, a zipper for the side, and a button (in my case I used a kit to cover my own to match the leopard print), and stuffing with decorator’s cording for the muff

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My version of this dress involved much hand-stitching because I wanted invisibly finished edges and higher-end techniques, but even then, it took a relatively reasonable time for those details – it was made in about 40 hours (maybe more) and finished on March 25, 2019.  The faux fur muff was made in 2004, if I remember correctly, and only took 3 hours or less to make from start to finish!

THE INSIDES:  The dress’ flannel is interfaced along its edges, and the wool felt needs no finishing, so all edges are au natural!  The muff has all enclosed edges.

TOTAL COST:  The wool felt was from my local fabric store, and was originally over $20 a yard, but with my discount on top of a sale, I bought all of the 3 ½ yards I needed for only $30…how’s that for a deal?!  The leopard print is free, coming out of the fabric stash of my Grandmother.  I am also counting the muff as good as free because the materials were bought for me by my mom and I made it so long back…but in reality I used less than half a yard of both materials so this was probably a pretty low cost project…even with me picking out some really nice fake fur!  Altogether, the only real cost was the $35 for the dress!

Leopard print and a saturated green seem to be the quintessential combo (next to leopard and bright red) when looking through past fashion inspiration beside Dior’s 1947 coat.  I’ve noticed an explosion of green paired with animal prints starting in the 1920s and most frequently used on such items as nice suits and detailed coats.  Such a pairing was featured through respected sources – fashion illustrations, style magazines, pattern book covers, and Hollywood starlets.  I in fact have a 1930s French fashion print of a green coat, with leopard accents and a muff (see it here), framed on the wall of my sewing space!  You can browse through my related Pinterest board “Animal Prints“ for further sources and inspiration.

Rather than creating a line-for-line recreation of the Dior coat, I preferred to mix the influence of other pieces that inspired me and use a Vogue Couturier reissue for my means of interpretation.  No matter what designer I am inspired by, I love to stay true to my own tastes and respect the original creation I have my eye on by varying my version.  This Vintage Vogue reissue was supposedly directly inspired by Dior’s coats and dresses of his first big year, but the pattern itself is dated to the year after – 1948.  That is enough of a provenance for me to be happy, but also not feel like I am taking anything away from the designer except a good lesson in sewing.

I kept closely to the pattern, except for switching up the contrast box pleat in the skirt from the back to the front, making the added collar and cuffs not removable but permanent, as well as simplifying the means of bodice button closing.  I personally hate skirt back box pleats – they never stay looking perfectly creased and I always see them as progressively becoming more messy and out-of-place with every sit.  When you smash a complex fabric fold like a box pleat under your bum, things cannot bode well.  Thus, I switched that detail to the front, using the exact same pattern piece as was given for the back.  I love the fact that the front box pleat makes my version of the pattern appear to be even more of a coat-and-dress combo piece than the original design intended.

The pattern called for cufflink-style button closing in the bodice, and as much as I like the idea of it and how unusual it would be, thinking about that detail actually enacted brings to mind something bulky and fussy in the wrong place.  I wanted to make my own buttons out of the contrast leopard as well as continue the aura of this being a coat, and so one simple button in the front does more, in my opinion, with less.  My sole button also keeps the tummy area nicely flat and the bodice flaps out of the way!  I had to add a small leopard print square panel underneath the front closing just to fill in for when it does gape slightly (because there is only one button there), but as I mostly wear a lightweight knit top underneath my dress, I don’t really need that extra piece anyway.

As intimidating as this might look, this design was not hard to sew – it’s just tricky and needs precise execution.  I love every item that I sew (otherwise I would re-work it ‘til I was!), but not too often am I left in absolute wonderment and find myself humbled and respectful of what I just made.  I am not meaning this in a bragging way, only meaning that I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to use such an ingenious pattern and successfully made something of it, this is really that good.  The front is practically one long piece with dizzying curves and odd bust darting.  The back is one piece brought in by darts which meet together to form a V above the waistline (quite tricky).  The back of the collar joins to the bodice in a lovely point (weirdly not in the line drawing).  The sleeves form the perfect fit for elbow room the way they subtly flare out, just right for showing off the cuff lining if you don’t always want to fold up the hem.  Everything altogether feels very fine indeed, and is so complimentary in all the best ways.  I found the fit to be pretty spot on – I graded between sizes according to the chart and I didn’t need to do any additional tailoring.  The bust and the sleeves tend be on the smaller side, just a bit, than I would like but all’s well that ends well!

The wool felt that I used for my dress was important for me to use on several levels.  However, first of all, it is such a beautiful material – so lofty for winter wear that keeps you warm yet breathes, easy-to-sew, easy to iron, and not itchy at all!  That being said, it had the perfect structure for this dress, as well.  The thick wool felt is stiff enough to make this coatdress keep a very stable shape without the need to add interfacing, horsehair trim at the hem, a crinoline slip, or boning along the insides like many tailored 50’s garments (and all Dior one’s!).  At the same time, it is soft enough to work with the curving seams perfectly, and be comfy to wear as well as simple to use.  Now that is a big win!

Mostly, though, aside from aesthetics, I wanted to use felt for the historical significance.  As I talked about in the beginning of my post, the Dior look was so popular that fashionistas on a budget immediately found ways to acquire the same thing through a different means.  Perhaps no other attempt at this is as well-known as the stereotypical “poodle skirts”.  The performer/singer Juli Lynne Charlot is credited for inventing the felt circle skirt in 1947.  Today they are loosely called “poodle skirt” because of the popularity of one of her many (frequently dog inspired) novelty pictures above the hem.  They had a humble beginning as her response to both finding a cheap and practical way to wear the newest Dior look as well as find a means of making money.  Fortunately, her mother owned a factory which used felt, so she had a free source of it, and as felt is made with a wide width, it’s perfect for a seamless circle skirt…just a hole in middle for the waist and you’re done!  By 1952, Juli Lynne had her own factory and was producing patterns.  You can read an excellent interview with Juli Lynne on this blog page from “The Vintage Traveler” where you can see images of her life and career, and more recently (August 22, 2019) “Dressed” had a podcast on this subject.

According to the blog interview at “The Vintage Traveler”, Juli Lynne wanted her clothing to be conversation starters.  I like that idea, too.  My clothes frequently get people talking, asking, me questions, or sharing the memories my style conjures!  This Dior inspired coatdress of mine so far has garnered many compliments, a few “oh, I sew too!” shares (this is the best), and even a few of the older generation telling me I remind them of classic Christmas movies or something a dear relative wore in their younger years.  It is all very sweet!  I am secretly a very social and people-loving person at heart, anyway, but experiences like that connect what I do (sewing) and the vintage styles I wear in a very meaningful manner both to me and the world around me.

The ‘Dior-ness’ of my outfit is fully continued with my accessories.  I am quite proud to sport a true Dior belt buckle.  I realize it is of a newer vintage (probably 80’s), but it has the name across the middle and carries the same idealism of the 1947 original that I was imitating.  Not too often do I get to go ‘all out’ and both find and buy a pricey designer brand item to complete one of my outfits, so doing it this time was a real treat!  I my garment is not instantly recognized for its Dior influence, my low-key but still obvious belt buckle will spell it out.  My earrings are French Dior-style studs, with a ball in front and one behind the lobe to cover the stud.  I couldn’t find a true Dior pair of earrings I could rationally afford after splurging on buckle, so I ordered the bronze ball/crystal back ones you see here from the Etsy shop “ArtandFact“.  My hat is a true vintage post WWII piece, and my shoes are Miz Mooz brand vintage reproduction heels.

Last but not least, my faux fur muffler needs a few words to be said for it!  It was made by me about 15 years in the past now when I wanted to get into Civil War reenacting and start with something fun which might be worn for other occasions.  I don’t remember much about it other than it was super fail-proof and ridiculously easy for a newbie like me (back then) to sewing with fur, and I used a bag of fiberfill polyester.  I rather wish I would have used something nicer than fleece for the inside but it does keep my hands so very warm!  I added the cording to make it less fussy and wearable over the shoulder or around the neck.  Without its cord, the muff would always need to be held, and I am the type who would grow weary of that and set it down to mistakenly forget it somewhere…never to be seen again.  Can’t you tell I’ve done such a thing before?!  A furry muffler is such a practical luxury item (it’s both glamorous yet good at keeping your hands from freezing) that happily came back as a trend in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.  One day, I want to tweak this pattern and make another version in a faux astrakhan that is secretly a wallet inside, just as they did in the 40’s!

If you’ve made it this far down reading through my thorough post, thank you!  Well, this about wraps it up here for this decade.  I’ve been blogging for 8 out of the last 10 years, and am so grateful to each and every one of you for following, liking, and commenting!  I’ve been putting pressure on myself to decide what would be perfect to share in a post before a new decade.  Nevertheless, I realized it is just yet another year, and I have plenty more good stuff to share here and to do in the background just like this past one!  Life goes on and I’m looking forward to many more years of sewing and writing about it here!  This Dior coatdress was my chosen holiday outfit for this year.  It was the one I wore for our Christmas card pictures, after all, so I felt my end of year outfit to share was rather a natural choice.  Taking part in the “Designin’ December” challenge always ensures that I have a really amazing project to reveal and wear at the end of the year, anyway!

A Tale of Gujarat

Every August I observe in spirit with India celebrating its Independence on the 15th.  I use the clothing that I make for the day reflect my understanding, respect, and wish to be united with them in pondering on their past, commemorating 1947, and hopeful for their future.  My first Indian influenced garment for August 15th was this dress I made back in 2017.  I unfortunately had to skip repeating that last year, so I am making up for it by sewing a handful more vintage-influenced Indian fashion this year!

The first one I’d like to present this August is a different kind of garment – a Rajput inspired Sherwani-style summer coat – to honor the traditions of India that I know through some close friends. 

One of the reasons why India is my favorite culture not expressly my own is on account of some “adopted family”, long-time friends of my husband that are as close as blood relatives.  Their primary tradition hails from the Gujarat territory of India, with family from and still in Kutch.

The Gujarat region history is intertwined with that of the Rajput dynasty.  The last Hindu ruler of Gujarat was in 1297!  “For the best part of two centuries (at the end of the 14th century until the 16th century) the independent Rajupt, Sultanate of Gujarat, was the center of attention to its neighbors on account of its wealth and prosperity, which had long made the Gujarati merchant a familiar figure in the ports of the Indian ocean.”  Why was it important that the Gujarat trader was proficient at spreading their wares, and what did they have to offer? Among other things, it was mostly textiles…and this is what peaks my interest.  As our adopted family has showed me, Kutch has mind-blowingly beautiful, region-specific ways of dying silk sarees, but Gujarat had an empire in cotton and are still India’s largest producer of the fiber.

According to Dr. Ruth Barnes (“Indian Cotton for Cairo”, 2017), fragments of printed cotton made in Gujarat, India were discovered in Egypt, which provides evidence for medieval trade in the western Indian Ocean. These fragments represent the Indian cotton traded to Egypt during the Fatimid, Ayyubid, and Mamluk periods from the tenth to the sixteenth centuries.  Similar types of Gujarati cotton was traded as far East as Indonesia.  Their local art has been in high demand over the centuries, and all you have to do is see the real thing (watch out for modern imposters or look-alikes from other regions!) to understand why.

I must confess though – the block printed border print cotton I used is hand-stamped from a company in Mumbai (old Bombay).  Gujarat was under the authority of the Bombay Presidency since the 1800s and later, after India’s Independence in ’47, the Bombay State was enlarged to include Kutch.  The mother of our adopted family knows how to speak the official language of Mumbai.  It wasn’t until May of 1960 that there was a split in the Bombay State along the Gujarat-speaking north.  So my fabric is a sort of a hybrid, a close relative by association.  It was the closest thing I could find in both colors and print pattern to my original inspiration as well as something that would set the occasion for this coat.  More on this further down!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  all-cotton, with the print from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy and the lining a bleached muslin

PATTERN:  a Mail Order pattern A526, designed by Dalani, with its envelope stamped with the date of January 1976.

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed on hand – lots of thread, heavy canvas sew-in interfacing, and true vintage wooden toggles from the stash of Hubby’s Grandmother’s notions box.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This jacket was whipped up in the matter of two afternoons just before a trip to visit our Indian friends out of town.  It was finished on June 17, 2019, in about 10 to 15 hours.

THE INSIDES:  What inside edges? This coat is fully lined.

TOTAL COST:  I ordered 4 yards of the Indian cotton (you need to always be on the generous side with a border print) at a sale price of $5 a yard – so $20.  The plain cotton lining was from JoAnn on sale at about $1.50 a yard. As everything else was on hand my total cost is just under $30.

A Sherwani is a knee-length coat buttoning at the neck worn by primarily men of the Indian subcontinent, for the shortest and most basic definition.  “Originally associated with Muslim aristocracy during the period of British rule, it is worn over a kurta (tunic)” and several other combinations of clothing (from Wikipedia).  There are other coats and jackets in the Indian tradition, such as the Achkan or Nehru, and both are related to the Sherwani in style details and history.  However, the qualities of a Sherwani are a flared shape from the waist down (where it opens up to reveal the layers underneath), a straight cut (not as fitted), a longer length, stiffer (heavier weight), more formal in special fabrics, and fully lined.  Yup – I’ve got all those boxes checked off!

Thus, even though I am using a vintage pattern as my starting point, I hope that my coat has a timeless, cultural aura about it.  Nevertheless, let’s not ignore I am wearing here a customary men’s garment!  Together with the fact this Sherwani is asymmetric, this is a much updated type of twist on a custom yet still reflecting the modern India of today without losing its past traditions.  In modern India, women are wearing Sherwanis and there is more variety of expression in materials and decorations used.  (For more info and visual candy on this subject, see this page here.)  My husband has tried my coat on, and with a man’s propensity to stronger shoulders and lack of hip curves, this coat actually looks better on a guy than on myself, in my opinion.  It is a truly unisex garment here the way either of us can wear this in a culturally sensitive manner and also fit in its forgiving cut.  What a rare bird my Sherwani is in so many ways among all the sewing I have done.  A summer coat in the strongest Indian tradition I have channeled yet that can be worn by men or women alike?  Yes, please.  I’m more than happy to welcome it into my wardrobe.

My preliminary inspiration was this 1970 woman’s wedding coat from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  It was designed by Richard Cawley under Bellville Sassoon, hand-painted by Andrew Whittle and named “Rajputana” for the marriage of an Englishwoman (see her full outfit here).  The “Rajputana” coat even had its own feature in the November 1970 issue of Vogue magazine! Wedding garments in India are normally inclusive of gold and red, but as the Rajput princes followed the religion of Mohammed, they did not necessarily follow the region’s traditions.  White and lighter colored garments to the rest of India (especially saris) are reserved for formal wear, ritual occasion, and upper castes, and even for mourning in the Hindu religion.  The Jain sect of Gujarat wear more white than elsewhere in India, as far as I can tell.  Thus, my coat further reflects Gujarat, Rajput and the thriving textile trade the region was excelled at.  My interpretation also stays true to the 70’s, coming only six years later than my inspiration.  The top I wore under my jacket was a past 70s make of mine as well (see it here) and rather than trousers to match (which I don’t have) I went for a basic A-line rust linen skirt.

The original pattern shows this as a wrap dress, and sadly I have not been able to find anything about its designer, “Dalani”.  Besides finding a few more mail order patterns (from the 70’s and 80’s) and a few dresses credited to a “Dalani II”, I feel like digging into the source for this design is a sad dead end.  Dalani’s trend seems to be for loose and simple cut dresses and wrap-on robes.  Yet to me, there was no way such an overwhelming amount of fabric was going to look good as anything other than a coat, in my opinion.  It was so easy to adapt this to becoming a Sherwani.

Wooden buttons are traditional to India, and the fabric company generously sent a baker’s dozen along with my fabric, but a Sherwani only closes at the neck.  So, to avoid disrupting the lovely border with buttonholes, I used two wooden toggles on the asymmetric flap and orange loops on the left shoulder.  This method closes the jacket yet leaves it loose to flare open below the waist like a proper Sherwani.  Following grainlines, I laid the jacket out so that the border just ran along the bottom hem.  A separately cut border strip had to be mitered, redirected around the bottom corner and up the front, for it to be as you see it.  I blended my adaptation so seamlessly you’d think it was printed like that, right!?  Happily I found the exact color thread to match the orange along the border and I hid my tiny top-stitching in the stripes.   My sleeve hems also had a pared down version of the border applied in the same manner.  This border print was only on one selvedge edge and luckily I only had literally 5 inches to spare by time I was done…my ‘overbuying’ of 4 yards was apparently just enough to squeeze by

As I mentioned in “The Facts” above, actual construction was easy and the main body of the jacket came together in only two afternoons.  The sleeves are cut on with the main body so there were only 3 pattern pieces here.  One gi-normous back piece is laid on the fold and ends up looking like the capitol T, and two front pieces like an upside down L – a properly squared off body for a Sherwani except for the flared sleeve cuffs which give it a subtle nod to its 1970s origin.  It was all the attention to detail that took at least half of the total time spent to finish.

The highlight of the details to me is the most understated one – the quilted border to the lining.  This is what makes this all-cotton coat closer to a real Sherwani.  Such soft cottons could make this feel like a housecoat without some body.  Neither did I want to entirely stiffen the silhouette – it is boxy enough!  Thus, one layer of lightweight cotton canvas sew-in interfacing is “quilted”, in rows ½ inch parallel, to the muslin lining’s underside.  The quilted interfacing was stitched before sewing the lining inside.  It is as wide as the border is on both sides of the asymmetric front edges and also was cut to form a stable “collar” that extends out from the neck to the shoulder.  This way the main body of the jacket is loose enough but it still keeps its shape and feels so much more substantial, besides having an understated detail that I have come to expect of Indian clothing.

I have seen similar interfaced line stitching on Anarkali dresses but, goodness, it is a lot harder to do than it looks.  My machine heated up enough from the rows of long stitching that I needed to turn it off and give it a break halfway though.  It was one of the most exhausting things I have done in a while.  But can I remotely find a way to have my effort show up well in a picture?  No – it’s white stitching on white cloth.  Oh well, art is sometimes made for the sake of art…and this Gujarati tribute was worth it when I saw our adopted family appreciate the details I included in this Sherwani.

India has such a beautiful richness of culture and tradition.  There is so much, in so many varying facets, to learn about.  The way what people wear in that country speaks for their state and caste in life, their region of the land, the occasion of the moment, their religion…is something so admirable, besides being any fashion historian’s dream.  Quality that we expect out of couture garments is a normal part of Indian fashion and their strong ethnic pride is what I admire the more I get to know of the country and its citizens, both ones who live in my country now and those who still live there.  The trip to see our ‘adopted family’ included a stay at their home and my first visit to see her parents, so my coat was appropriate for an important few days of meeting people for the first time and catching up with others.  It was also quite comfy in the southern heat outside and absolutely perfect for cold indoor air conditioned inside!  My sewing feels so worthwhile when I can use it as a means of respect to our friends and their culture.  Look for more India inspired fashion to come here on my blog!