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!

“Catch Me I’m Falling”…For the 80’s!

All I know is that I realized my Easter tradition of going up through the decades of the 20th century was going to be more challenging after reaching the 1980s this year’s holiday.  It all started with a 1920’s dress back in Easter of 2013.  Now, my “vintage sewing” has a white elephant in the room.  I never thought I could love the 80’s as much as I do this suit!  Nevertheless, this is a designer pattern, to add to the appeal…a year 1985 Givenchy skirt suit set to be exact.  Help me – I have fallen for a ‘new’ outdated era.  Dare I call it ‘vintage’ when I was born in that decade?

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  2 ½ yards of faux suede was used for the main body (exterior) of the jacket, with a cotton broadcloth (also 2 ½ yards) for the interlining and a cotton lightweight canvas weight (one yard) for interfacing; the skirt only needed on yard and was cut from a silk satin vintage Indian sari.  A dusty grey under toned purple silk Habotai was the lining for both the jacket and the skirt, as well as being used for the top…3 ½ yards was enough for everything.

PATTERN:  a “Vogue Paris Original” Givenchy designer pattern, #1665.  It is dated 1986 by Vogue on the envelope and 1985 by Givenchy (as pointed out by Jessika Ahlström on Instagram).  The top was made using Simplicity #1690, a Leanne Marshal pattern from year 2013 (used once before to make this lace crop top)

NOTIONS:  The etched gold buttons were 80’s or 90’s from my husband’s Grandmother’s stash that I’ve inherited, while the zipper was luckily on hand in my stash.  I luckily had 3 spools of the thread color I needed on hand as well.  The only thing I really had to buy for this suit set was the front jacket closures – 1 inch brass hook and eyes.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not even counting the at least 15 hours it took me to tailor some of the pattern pieces (which meant re-tracing them out onto new paper) and the cut them out of all the layers and separate fabrics needed…the actual construction of the skirt took about 12 hours, the top 6 hours, and the jacket just over 30 hours.  All together that’s a total of about 65 hours!  Everything was finished just two days before Easter, April 18, 2019.

TOTAL COST:  The faux suede has been in my stash forever, and the sari was a birthday present a few years back so I’m counting both as free and also a stash busting win at this point.  Except for the jacket hook closures ($3), even the notions were on hand so I’m counting them as a non-cost.  The silk was an awesome find on Etsy from someone clearing out their stash…it was only $15. Perhaps I can also count my vintage 80’s shoes, specifically bought to go with this outfit, at $30.  So my suit was just under $50…a far cry from any ballpark cost for a Givenchy suit much less one this quality.  I’m so happy!

Now, I had some good preliminary practice with my Agent Carter “One Shot” 1946 suit to have so much more confidence and relaxation going into making this suit.  I knew what to expect and how to figure it.  Except this time, I went a bar above – this is a designer style, almost exclusively in silk, and a full three piece set.  Granted, I was in so much more of a time crunch with this suit not getting to it until the beginning of April, but even still – with all the no-stops care and attention to detail that I did, it was finished in only two weeks.  I think I can pat myself in pride on the back for this set both in time and quality, if only my achy hands and shoulders weren’t crying out something different afterwards!

As for the last suit, here I made the skirt – and the top – first.  For being just a one yard, minimal pattern piece patterns, both skirt and top took me so much longer than imaginable.  This is due to the fact that in order to match with the couture quality that a Givenchy set deserves, and to give justice to the deluxe materials I was working with, most everything here was sewn by hand.  Yes, you read right.  The side seams to the top were machine sewn French finished, and the skirt had machine sewn side seams with the raw edges encased in between the lining.  Everything else, though, was sewn as invisibly as possible by hand.  The skirt’s hem is “floating”, attached only to the lining, and the bias binding of the top was rolled and stitched “in the ditch”.  I guess I’m just crazy, too dedicated, or overly meticulous, but even if I’m the only one that sees the details, I’m happy as a lark.  I’m learning and growing through this, I know, and I love the source of pride and accomplishment something like suit making offers.  Couture tailoring of suits is a whole separate world with new terms and skills called for completely out of the norm for general home sewing or dressmaking.

I did make a few slight changes along the way to both the top and the skirt.  First of all, I cut the top on the bias grain rather than the straight grain (parallel to the selvedge) as directed.  This fits the otherwise boxy and oversized shape to my body better besides making the top easier to put on and much more luxurious to wear.  I actually went down from what should have been my proper size, too.  The skirt did not originally call for a little ease-of-movement slit at the knee.  As this is a tapered skirt – gathered at the waist and tapering down to almost a wiggle skirt from the hips downward – I feel much more comfortable and less confined with this little extra detail.  It also keeps the skirt appealing and feminine to a style that could easily look frumpy, in my opinion.  A little “oh la la” never hurt anything.

The original pattern didn’t call for the contrast placket that is under the buttons on my left side, either.  I added this feature to break up the busyness of the print, make the purely decorative buttons appear more purposeful, lengthen the visual line of the skirt’s silhouette, and to incorporate it into the jacket for an overall harmonious suit.  I actually used the underside of the faux suede for the added left side skirt placket.  The underside has a nicely low-key shiny satin finish in a slightly deeper, more dusty color green (than the creamier pastel of the suede side) that I love paired with the muted, varied tones of the skirt sari satin.  The only other place in my suit set where I used this satin underside is on the facings along the inside neckline and front to the jacket.

I don’t understand how a sari is worn, but it would help me understand why there was a cotton hem protecting panel running along half of the one long edge’s underside.  You see, a sari is a long 4 yard rectangle.  This satin sari had a big, square, artistic, highly detailed panel at one of the long ends and a matching border that ran along the rest of the edges, about 5 inches wide.  So far all the saris I have seen generally follow this pattern of design layout, and it’s so beautiful and interesting, but I would love to find the reason why.

The added-on cotton protecting panel ran from the square artistic end to half way down, and was obviously there to save that edge from wear and tear looking at the fading and color distortion around it, so I assume that area was above the back of the feet.  I actually used the fabric from this little add-on panel as the facing underside of the skirt’s waistband.  Otherwise, the rest of the portions I used for the skirt came from both ends of my sari – the front skirt was half of the wide, detailed square end, while the back skirt is from the other plain end.  The front therefore has most of the dusty purple undertones, matching with the color of the Habotai for the top and lining, while the back has the turquoise, lime green, and rich teal.  If it wasn’t for the rich complexity of color in this luxurious sari, I would have never thought of pairing purple and green as I did!  Luckily, I have plenty of sari left (3 yards!) to use to make something else in the future.

Inside out view of “the guts”…

Now the jacket was a bit less intense than the Agent Carter one because the faux suede was not lofty enough to pad stitch.  It was much too buttery of a material (so dreamy of a hand!) anyway and most of the seaming needed smooth flowing lines…not an allover firm body pad stitching lends.  However, my hand stitching game needed to be really strong because the suede also would make any thread ugly obvious.  Luckily, the interlining and interfacing gave me something to catch with my hand stitching so no thread is visible yet all the layers become joined together.  Thus, the credit of success for my jacket goes to precise hand stitching, seam allowance trimming, proper interfacing/interlining weight fabric, and meticulous ironing at every…single…step.  When I know (and see) that all of this makes such a day and night difference in ending with a professionally tailored jacket, it is not as much of a bother as it could be, no matter how exhausting those steps can be to execute.

I must say the pattern instructions were so very excellent at leading me through the whole process but my preliminary familiarity was necessary still.  Vogue designer patterns can be intimidating, but they are not impossible.  Their instructions obviously step up to meet your needs but seem to assume experience on your part, too.  Every piece of interfacing had its own pattern piece!  I mean, this isn’t something you see too often for home sewing!  I would expect no less, though, because why else would a designer pattern be special?  Luckily, my particular copy of Vogue #1662 came with a clothing label…hard to come by nowadays and a rare find.  I have two other labels with other patterns but this set really deserved it.  I splurged.  It made my home couture creation feel so verified!

What I have noticed with designer clothes (or in my case, home patterns for designer clothes) is the quality details that are low-key.  For example, this jacket has no side seams.  The front panels on either side of the center are stiffed and full of body.  Then there is a princess seam that joins the side panel to the front.  Those panels that attach to the front wrap around to the back to join a center back panel that is only interfaced across the shoulders.  Last year’s Sybil Connolly suit from 1976 had something similar, as well.  This time is freaking ingenious for such a fitted suit jacket.  It blows my mind.  Sorry, though, my seams are so smooth and flat (as they should be…) that the camera couldn’t really show it.  What really amazed me was the curving that was achieved in the seam side panel.  Polyester faux suede – even though this is the nicest version I have ever felt – is so hard to sew smoothly.  It’s a tightly woven material with almost zero give even on the cross-grain.  Preventing puckering of the seams which had extra ease (a.k.a. the princess seams and sleeve caps) was so very tricky.

There is hardly anything I changed to the suit jacket.  I kept it how it was.  The most visible exception is at the center front closing.  The pattern called for a strip of the suit fabric to be made, four large snaps sewn on it, and then sewing it along the left side facing so the right side of the jacket would close over the extension added to the left.  I didn’t like the idea of being tied down to always having the jacket closed if it was on me, something that the added front snap extension would do.  The oversized hook and eyes did the same trick just as nicely and I have the versatility of showing off my top with an open front jacket.  The front panels are so sturdy, I do believe the snap extension piece would have been overkill.

Other than that, I changed up the layering of the interlining.  Each layer was sewn separately, ironed out and layered on top of each other, and slightly pad-stitched over the main seams before being covered up by the lining.  The pattern called for each individual piece to be layered then sewn together which would only make for bulky seams that no amount of allowance clipping or ironing could fix.  No pattern instruction can be better than knowledge gained through previous familiarity of what does and doesn’t work for a technique.  It may be a designer pattern, but since it is in my hands, I am ultimately the final designer.  I can be the one to made what I deem are the best decisions for the appearance and material I have chosen, but for the designer patterns I have sewn so far I generally stay close to the original idea just to respect the designer.  Many times along the process of going from the designer’s idea to a final product the original design is tweaked, changed, and sometimes downgraded to adapt to how it is going to be made or offered, and I wonder if the instructions showing the interlining layered over each piece is something Vogue thought was more suited to a home market.

This was my first experience with suit jacket cuffs and I am fascinated.  It was smartly engineered to turn out fantastic.  What really helped was ironing down an interfacing piece that ran along the line where the cuff is turned under, giving a crisp folded edge.  It was ironed down after doing one of the long seams to the two-part sleeves.  There is a mitered corner to the cuff flap that folds over (the outside flap, not the one facing my wrist) so there is a wonderful clean finished point.  I love doing mitered points and wish more patterns included this detail.  The cuff buttons match with the three down the left side of my skirt and are merely decoratively sewn down to connect and close the cuff flaps, in other words non-working buttons.  Something new and different has been conquered.

This completely feels like the best version of me – between the custom fit, the colors and fabrics that are all of my choosing, and the labor of love spent to have a finished suit, I am comfortable in the 1980s like I never imagined.  After all, though, much of the 80’s, and especially in regards to this suit, has everything I love about the 1940s just in a different form.  The strong shoulders in particular are the most obvious common point, and even I’ll admit that sometimes the padding in the era was a little too extreme.  A nipped-in waist and slight peplum here save the shoulders from being overkill, as does the skinny, short, restrained skirt.  I think Yves Saint Laurent, Thierry Mugler, and Emanuel Ungaro designs of the 80’s all remind me of everything I like about this Givenchy design but you can see more of my favorite 1980s inspiration here at my special Pinterest board!  These shoulder heavy, hip emphasizing, leg baring styles are the friend of any hourglass shaped woman like me in particular.

Nevertheless, I think what I find so appealing about the 80’s was the attitude of the fashion, the boldness of combining experimental colors, and wide array of styles.  The confidence I see in the fashion advertisements is so refreshing, compared to the sickly, no-personality, smoldering faces of many models on the runways today.  The bright and fun colors, even on the ugly 80’s sweatsuits, are cheering enough to make you smile and laugh!  Much of what I see in designer fashion shows do not make me expressly feel happy like the 80’s can.  The stereotypical 80’s fashion is what turns most everybody off, but the more I did into the era, the more I see such a variety of styles – mermaid skirts, pencil skirts, pleated pants, tapered leg trousers, Grecian-like wrap blouses and dresses, and all sorts of past historical references such as military jackets, Victorian coats, and 20’s style French heeled shoes.  If I do say so myself, the 80’s had the best music, too!  (My post’s title is named for a popular tune by Pretty Poison, year 1988.)

Well, I hope I have not shocked you completely by entertaining the idea of the 80’s being appealing and even being vintage.  I am optimistic that I have inspired you to take another look at an era of past fashion that seems to be the easiest to criticize and dismiss.  As always, thank you for reading!