The way my 9 year old is so easily savvy with the newest technology and hooked on anything electronic makes me painfully aware that I am part of a generation that grew up without the internet. However, overdoing nostalgic comparisons makes me feel like I’m overly emphasizing my age. Thus, I’ll try to narrow the focus of this post on both the amazing details of my outfit and its symbolism to me. I will never cease to be amazed at how pleasantly avant-garde the fashion of the 80’s and 90’s can (on occasion) be. I don’t think designer fashion of today can compare to it, for all our technological advancements.
Notice the toy crab as my companion – here’s my major princess reference, as this is indeed the part two post for my Ariel (of Disney’s 1989 “The Little Mermaid”) inspired clothing. (The part one post can be found here.) Yet the fact I could easily start crabbing about surviving a childhood without being hooked to a ‘smart’ accessory places me as the peevish one. Both Sebastian and my enameled Ariel lapel pin are both items from my childhood, picked up when the animated movie was first released.
Thus, let me return to ‘89 again with both Cardin and Coveri as my inspiration this time, with a mind to further transform the pants of my first “Little Mermaid” outfit into a chic, sporty yet dressy, full collection suitable for more than just wintertime. Using the little bits leftover of my lovely “Alta Moda” Coveri designed material, I was able to eke out a matching jacket. Its fabulous back reminds me of a waterfall! A scrap of outdoor cotton in a branching coral print becomes a blouse for me to enjoy the weather outdoors.
Imagine if a track suit went high fashion in the very best 80’s way…and this is what I think you would end up with. I absolutely, wholeheartedly treasure these pieces in a special way! It is yet another great example of how certain 80’s styling can be timeless when well crafted, but on a personal level, these quite possibly were done in my best hand stitching work to date. I am not one to ‘save’ my good items, nevertheless – the only way to enjoy them is to wear them! I found it appropriate and comfortable for a trek through the woods to visit my favorite creek-side haunt on a chilly, rainy day for some water related pictures. I would think any mermaid princess would go to a creek if that’s all she could find, or that an Ariel of 1989 would do so wearing something like this!
FABRICS: Jacket – a 100% wool twill, marked on the selvedge “Alta Moda – Enrico Coveri”; Blouse – a Waverly brand printed 100% cotton duck (outdoor fabric)
PATTERN: McCall’s NY NY “ The Collection” pattern #4181, year 1989, from my stash
NOTIONS NEEDED: lots of thread, a few hook-n-eyes, and a couple cards of buttons (new)
TIME TO COMPLETE: The blouse took me only 4 hours to make, and was finished on March 6, 2021. The jacket was finished on March 26, 2021, and took me about 40 hours to make.
THE INSIDES: Clean as can be! The jacket and blouse – as both are unlined – have vintage rayon seam tape and/or French seams.
TOTAL COST: As I said in my post about the making of the trousers, the woolen Alta Moda fabric was a rummage sale find and therefore a dollar or two, while the blouse’s cotton print came from Wal-Mart’s scrap clearance section, as it was only one yard, for $2.50. My buttons were a few dollars more. Altogether, my total is probably $8.00!
What I specifically love here is that a different pattern was used for these two top pieces than what was selected for the fall-front trousers (McCall’s #4537, posted here). Even still, the jacket and blouse of this post seem to flawlessly match with the bottoms and become a perfect set. I attribute it to the fact both patterns are from the same year and same NY NY “The Collection” line.
According the numbers, this pattern came first before the other I used for the trousers. I definitely will be revisiting this to sew up the jodhpurs and the paper-bag waisted skirt which are included, too. The way these NY NY patterns have a complete wardrobe in one envelope is really the best, not to mention the awesome, unusual styling. This is the third one I’ve posted about (my first here) and you will be seeing plenty more of this line of patterns on my blog in the future because I now have a significant number of them. They run from the late 80’s through the 90’s and are supposed to be designer, or at least designer inspired. I definitely recommend you trying one out for yourself!
The style lines to these pieces, expressly the jacket, reminds me two great fashion designers who were were highly successful in the 80’s. As I mentioned in my post about the trousers, my fabric is an Enrico Coveri brand “Alta Moda” woolen from pre-1990. Coveri worked at the “Espace Cardin”, the vast design institute set up by Pierre Cardin, when he moved to Paris in the late 70’s, before he started his own label. (In this previous post I expounded upon more details of his life.) I think the futuristic thinking of Cardin rubbed off on Coveri – both were men ahead of their time in the 80’s. Coveri was designing in the late 70’s garments we associate with the “look” of the late 80’s or early 90’s, yet as he died young he does not get the credit I feel he deserves.
Then there is Pierre Cardin who released a “Computers” inspired collection at the turn of the new decade in the year 1980. When computer usage for the populace was a very novel and limited item still, his jackets where designed to echo the functional venting of a computer’s body (see picture at right). The introduction of three preassembled mass-produced personal computers was just launched in 1977. IBM Corporation, the (then) world’s dominant computer maker, did not enter the new market until 1981. I would like to suppose that, just like as he did in the 60’s with his Space Age looks, Cardin was banking on the expectation of the new frontier ahead that was seen in the new dawn of computers for all to use.
Now to me, Cardin’s short, hip-length, blue “Computers” coat is not that far off from this NY NY McCall’s jacket. In reality, my jacket is probably closer to an early 90’s Claude Montana creation (seen on the left) at first glance of design lines. Not knowing the construction details of either designer piece, I could just be completely off here with my references. Yet, I see what I see and love the irony of perceiving a Cardin and Coveri influence, especially for my Ariel inspired clothing.
Back to what I’ve made. How was this particular jacket constructed though, you may be wondering by now? First of all, it is unlined which sounds like it should have made it easier to sew, but no – it did not. The already confusing and challenging construction was complicated by my need to see this jacket have a pristine finish inside. Wool is not the best medium to do French seams and a tiny rolled hem. With some steaming, seam clipping, and careful hand-stitching, I made it work though. The ‘waterfall’ back (as I call it – don’t know what to term this otherwise) was too flowing and beautiful to receive a ‘normal’ hem, as the instructions directed. I made a very tiny rolled hem, which I learned by finishing the flounces on this dress, to keep the panel from becoming stiff and restricted. Even the sleeves were French seamed! All of the top-stitching to the hems and lapel facings was done by hand so I could keep the thread invisible. If my fabric is high class, and I see that it has couture inspiration, I felt I should raise the bar of my finishing techniques to match.
This jacket has a lot going on when it comes to details to list, and somehow they all seem to work together. I don’t know how, but I am in awe. There is the extreme boatneck which leaves little of a true shoulder seam. The sleeves are wide cut at the shoulders and taper to a snug fit at the wrist. The curved, high front lapels can be thrown open or flapped closed for a variety in the look. There are no bust darts, surprisingly, and I kept the front bodice smooth by substituting buttons for hooks and eyes as the trio of closures. The waist is high, which worked out fine paired with the above-the-waist trousers. The shoulder panel and ‘floating’ lower waistband, which sits under the bias cut ‘waterfall’, are the only two anchors keeping together the back of the jacket.
The weirdest but coolest part to this jacket is that there is no real back. Yes! The flounce-like ‘waterfall’ back falls down loose from the shoulder panel, attached only at the sides. There is a back waistband, heavily interfaced and a just a few inches wide, stretching across to connect the hems of the front bodice. The ‘waterfall’ flounce meets only at the outer corners of the hem to bring in all the pieces. Hidden underneath, the back is completely open. If you lift up my flounce back, you can see my blouse underneath.
This odd feature makes the jacket appear like a haphazard mess when it is anything other than on my mannequin or my body. Some of the most interesting things I sew are also the hardest to explain, so I hope my pictures do some justice. It is simply indescribably curious…and was therefore even more challenging to grade up to my size on paper, believe me. I went into this sewing project “blind” because the pieces and instructions didn’t makes sense until I had a go constructing the actual garment. I’m so happy this turned out and that I like it as much as I do…because if ever a sewing idea has been a gamble for me, this one was more so!
The blouse is much more low-key, to be sure. It’s the fine tuning that makes it fantastic. It pairs with the jacket by filling in the open neckline and paralleling the boat neckline with high-cut sleeveless shoulders. The blouse is boxy in fit with a wide and shorter hem length. It also has lots of small buttons to close the front…so many I had a hard time finding enough. The buttons I chose to match – frosted aqua ones that reminded me of sea glass – could not be found anymore, so I pared the number down to 8 from the 10 that were called for. I used the provided customized armhole facings for a change, too, so this would have a finished inside that matches the fabric of the outside. The pique-style waffle finish to the cotton duck adds an interesting texture as well as keeping this top nicely weightless for cool summer living.
I have paired other blouses, mostly collared ones, with my jacket and trousers set, and I must say that they actually look better than the high-necked one worn here. Sure, it came with the same pattern. Yet, it is not the best at staying tucked into the pants with its boxy, cropped length. I still very much like the blouse I made on its own, and I do like the fact that it is something different to wear with the jacket and pants I probably wouldn’t have tried on my own. It perfectly fills in my “Little Mermaid” reference though its details such as the sea glass inspired buttons, the perfect ocean blue aqua tone, and a print that reminds me to give a care about the alarming damages of bleaching to coral. Whenever separates match with plenty of other pieces in my wardrobe rather than just the set they were intended for…well, that’s a good thing I won’t complain about!
At this point I have sewn 5 items from 1989, all from McCall’s “The Collection NY NY” patterns mind you, and I think none of them are what normally comes to mind when anyone might think of the last year before the 90’s. I actually feel quite comfortably myself in these fashions the way that I know it is still my penchant for vintage (borderline, I know) without seeming so. It is the kind of faux “modern” wear that I can totally be on board for! This NY NY McCall’s was a nicely impressive surprise I did not expect, yet another one of the (currently many) reasons I am enjoying a new appreciation the 80’s and 90’s.
Just some parting reflections – seeing a couture designer like Cardin ‘honoring’ computers with a collection is weird to me. I love irony in fashion, and so I find myself delighted yet confused at the same time. Anything inspired by a technology 30 years back was not always flowing and elegant but often angled and overtly “sci-fi” (I’m thinking of the costumes to the 80’s movie “Tron”, especially). This is not so much the case today, I realize, especially at the hands of Iris van Herpen.
Also, I’d like to point out that a computer system is not necessarily the best friend of the traditional way of creating couture. I am a manual, free-hand pattern drafter, so I know I am biased, but did you know that as of 2019 there is such a thing as “Algorithmic Couture”? A body is 3-D scanned to determine its exact proportions, which are used to create customized clothing for zero waste, perfect fit, and maximum sustainability. “Algorithmic Couture aims to democratize haute couture customization culture prevalent in the 19th-century, by revitalizing how we fashion our own style through personalization in the digital design process,” said the team of “Synflux”. Kind of like in the story for “Tron”, this “Algorithmic Couture” puts power into the hands of the user by letting the ideas of each customer be the guide for each of their projects. Technology of today is rewriting the historic rules of couture (see this article). In my opinion there is nothing quite like what human minds and human hands can create…I wonder if Cardin had any idea back in 1989 that computers and fashion would go this far together.
The CAD system has no doubt its benefits at the consumer level. It can provide a multi-dimensional ‘finished product’ view at the conception stage of a design; it has helped expand the Indie brand world of patternmaking; it aids the ease of offering wide range of inclusive sizes as well as the commercial availability of various designs…all for a just a start to the list. So much to consider!
In 1989 Cardin had THE most fascinating interview in which he said what I feel embodies a lot my outlook on the importance of quality fashion being a normal part of how we dress, as well as the importance of it being accessible to many. This is why I believe so strongly in the importance of great patterns for home sewers…ones that are designer or at least ones that offer unique styles to both challenge and suit every sewist’s unique tastes and body types. Yet, I’ve learned from experience in being a patternmaker who can create a tailored custom garment, today’s modern means of digitizing patterns falls short from a quality I encounter in the early 80’s and older. (See this picture). I am very aware of noticing that the curves, the perfect body fit, is subtly diminished the newer (90’s on up) you go in commercial patterns. This is one of the many compelling reasons I prefer vintage sources for my sewing. Here I go crabbing about things again. Move over Sabastian! You’re not the only crab. It is clear I am an 80’s era grouch.
So how about ending with a little fun, geeky, 1989 related trivia that I find entertaining and related to computers, Cardin, and ”The Little Mermaid” animated movie? Did you know that the first feature film to use the CAPS process, the “Computer Animation Production System” developed by both Disney and Pixar which had 2D/3D integration, was in the production of The Little Mermaid in 1989? It was only used for very few scenes such as at the end where King Triton sends a rainbow into the sky for his daughters’ wedding (see pic below left). Furthermore, if King Triton’s palace was a place on land I think it would most definitely be The “Bubble Palace” on the French Rivera. This fantastic and futuristic living space was completed in 1989, and I swear it looks like something I would see on the ocean floor in “The Little Mermaid”. Everything is round! Pierre Cardin acquired it for himself in 1992 to live in as well as for presenting his fashion shows.
Well…I *mostly* focused on my newly sewn princess-inspired outfit in this post! I hope you enjoyed reading my musings here, as well as what I have made for myself, and chime in with my grousing through the comments! What do you remember about 1989? What strikes you about the fashion and the times of that year? “The Little Mermaid” was my first princess, the one that completely sucked me into the realm of Disney, so Ariel was a pretty big influence for me when I think of that year. Fashion and technology came into play for me that year also because it was my first big pageant show…bringing back memories of being in the limelight of the local media and modeling some styles that I shake my head over today. Luckily, I like my 2021 versions of the 80’s decade much better!