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!

One Shot

When you finally have the chance you’ve been waiting for…when you have the opportunity to be what you aspire to be…when you have one try to get something right…that ‘one shot’, or trial attempt, out into the dark of the unknown can mean failure or success.  If you have to wait for an answer, not knowing which of the two will be the result of your effort is agonizing.  However, being bold enough to follow your heart and do what is right for you is an answer enough…whether or not the truth shines through.  The worth that was already there is in its full glory so own it.  I’ll just sit back and completely own this me-made Agent Carter suit with a maker’s pride, and be a second Peggy for a time!

April 9 is International Peggy Carter day, her “birthday” per se (which in fan fiction is in 1921), and a day to celebrate in our own individual ways a character from Marvel Comics that has brought so much into our lives.  I celebrate by dressing like Peggy, even if it’s just adding some little detail like red lipstick.  Most importantly, though, it is seen as a day of confidence, empowerment, and compassion.  Believe in yourself today, and have confidence that you are beautiful inside and out – worthwhile in every way.  Have empathy for others and treat them like an equal human being, and feel the courage to say or do what needs to be done today or in the future.

Speaking of having guts, this post’s outfit required all the dedication and enthusiasm I could muster because this was my first attempt at full-fledged, proper suit tailoring…and I couldn’t be happier with the result!  My patience was tested and proven by this seriously complex, two-piece project made from a true vintage pattern.  The fabric and design I chose was directly inspired by Peggy’s fashion on the pilot episode of “Agent Carter” called “One Shot”, a short story (fifteen minute) release to American audiences in September 2013 on the Iron Man 3 DVD.  (Please, go watch it for yourself here.)  It was Marvel’s successful test run of an idea on the heels of Captain America: Winter Soldier, showing them there was (and still is) overwhelming interest in Peggy receiving her own screen-aired storyline.  As she was shown competently taking upon herself a solo mission in the face of extreme sexism and underestimation, I cannot think of a more appropriate example for me to channel on International Peggy Carter Day.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton flannel plaid, underlined in a cotton broadcloth, stabilized in loose cotton canvas (light interfacing weight) for the main body of the jacket, lined in poly cling-free lining (on hand); the skirt is an all-cotton heavyweight twill (almost a denim), with the jacket detailing being the same material

PATTERN:  McCall #6638, a Junior’s Two-Piece Suit, year 1946

NOTIONS:  I needed lots and lots of thread (which I had), a zipper and waistband hook for the skirt, iron-on interfacing, and a set of vintage plastic but carved-horn look-alike buttons from my husband’s Grandmother’s collection of notions.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not counting the patterning, the skirt took only 2 hours to make on was finished on February 4, 2018, while the jacket took me 40 plus hours to sew and was finished on March 14, 2018.

TOTAL COST:  The skirt total cost me about $15, the jacket total about $45 ($30 for plaid flannel from “GSM Designs” on Etsy, $15 for the extra padded layers) so the overall price is $60.  Not at all a bad price for a suit set like this, much less a customized fitting, vintage-style one!

There are several cool coincidences when it comes to this outfit – I revel in things falling into place just so!  This always tells me that I’m on to something good that is meant to be.  First of all, the “One Shot” episode takes place in the year 1946…the same as the date on the pattern I used to make my look-alike suit!  This pattern was something I already had in my stash so it was super convenient, practically the only Agent Carter outfit I have needed to hunt down a design for specifically.  Also, the skirt half for this is so very versatile and an easy choice.  It is made of exactly the same wonderful favorite fabric as my two pairs of 1950s skinny jeans (red one here, pink one here) and it is super reasonably priced so I kind of knew it would be a workhorse of a piece, but I didn’t expect it would become something I now wonder how I lived without.  This basic, brown, slight A-line, skinny, straight skirt completes a true vintage early 1950s blazer that I have, many of my blouses, as well as a post-WWII peplum blouse I have recently sewn (yet to be posted)!

The only reason I dove into this long admired Agent Carter set was because I happened to come across a small lot of the perfect matching plaid online.  Well, yes, this plaid does have an undertone of olive green (which I love) that is actually not on the original Hollywood costume, buy hey…I do need to make my project my very own.  So – I had the perfect opportunity in my hands…with no extra fabric in case I didn’t make this project perfectly.  My “one shot” at this luckily turned out nearly perfect…but I blame it on a great pattern and following in the steps of something amazing in the first place.

It was tough just reaching the point where I had a usable pattern to start with because this suit was for junior’s sizing – it was for young women very petite with tiny proportions.  I had to retrace AND resize every freaking pattern piece…and there were so many!  This was the ‘make or break’ step that might ruin my efforts or make them worthwhile.  It was a bit stressful to realize that.  I did the patterning step a few months before even beginning to make my suit set.  I wanted the pattern fresh in my mind yet needed a break first, too.  I did try a loose pattern tissue fit and after a tweak here and there I had to leave it well enough alone or I would overthink it forever and never actually start sewing.  Post-project, the only fault I see to my grading was making my jacket sleeves ½ too long…but that’s not bad, is it?! 

The skirt came first in my ‘battle plan’.  Ha – this is a reference to my favorite joke!  “How do you make a jacket last?  You sew the bottom half first.”  Yeah, sorry about that.  Anyway, it was an easy make that gave me preliminary confidence that my grading might just be right on.  I left the skirt on the longer side for a 1946 design but I liked this better on myself and I wanted to make it clearer that it is a post-wartime set.  The skirt is pretty simple, but it has great shaping and I love the pointed tab closure!  Making the skirt first also left me free to know that I had enough to use for some details on the jacket.

It was dizzying to even figure out how many times I needed to cut the same pattern pieces out from different fabrics.  That is the whole idea of a proper suit jacket – structure comes from layering, layering works with pad-stitching, which pulls it all together.  One layer of the plaid flannel was laid over the stiff, canvas-like cotton, then the panels sewn together and all seam allowances opened up and ironed down.  Then the same body was sewn out of the tight cotton broadcloth and this was ironed the same way and layered wrong sides facing over the stiffened flannel body.  The whole darn thing was pad stitched together, not sewing through the flannel to the right side, only catching the loftiness of the underside.  All eight of the curvy, princess seamed body panels blend almost seamlessly together (boy were they tough to match up in a one way plaid, by the way!).

Pad-stitching is defined as a running stitch…your basic stitch anyone who hand sews starts with, right?  The stitching stays in and is permanently part of the coat and all of the layers combined between became one, substantial, new fabric, completely dictated by the direction and density of what is applied.  Usually, the best benefits of pad-stitching is a nicely rolled collar or study lapels (which I needed with my suit because the collar was on the bias).  It is an age-old technique, mostly for menswear, one that modern tailors leave out, mostly because of the dedicated hand work it requires, although there are machines which can remotely do such a thing.  Something as loose and soft as flannel needed a major structure change to become a suit, anyway, so I pad stitched a layer of light cotton canvas to all but the sleeves of my jacket.

I would have preferred to work with wool to begin with, but you gotta make do with what you have!  I chose the ‘wrong’ textured side of the flannel to be the “good” right side because it was less fuzzy.  Even still, this particular flannel was twice as thick as any that I have seen, so it had hope…obviously, as you can see!  Over the course of a week, for a few hours a day, I did some pad stitching segments.  My stitching was wide, loose and not as structured as it should have been, but I did see that I became much more regular with all the practice!  I know just how to do even better next time.  I only took one or two in-process photos and was almost sad all that handiwork was covered up by the lining (hand sewn in place, I might add).  The jacket needed the lining, nevertheless, as it did also need those giant ¾ inch shoulder pads I added (oh-so-very 1940s)!  Both helped all that bulk glide over my under blouse and convey it with its last touch of gentle, secret structuring.

When it came to frilly little extras on the jacket, I kept them low-key by being complimentary or just plain leaving some out.  I did help myself out in the only way I could with the jacket by leaving out the pleated panels to the back “peplum” of the original pattern.  That looked way too complex and mind blowing to add with something already that level for me…and Peggy’s suit did not have such a feature.  I adapted the pockets to be more Peggy-like and also snazzier in exchange.  Peggy’s suit had rectangular slot pocket flaps (just like on my pattern) but with a rounded drop down spot for the button.  They were in the same fabric as the skirt, which both matches yet contrasts to add a depth to the plaid.  I felt the rounded shape of the Peggy pockets did not match all the other lines to my suit so I pointed the drop down bottom of the flap.  It matches with the sharp, notched sleeve cuffs, also in the same fabric as the skirt.

Making bound buttonholes are always quite a project in themselves, but I also stitched on regular buttonholes for the inside self-facing half of the front, as well.  I was merely following directions, here – they told me to make two different types of buttonholes and was really doubtful about how it would look and turn out.  I was terrified the two lines of buttonholes would not match together or line up when I folded the front in…but they look fantastic and give a very sturdy closing, I must say.  It’s a good thing my buttons are heavy duty, too.

My efforts have given me a suit that is everything I adore about true vintage suits.  Now I know a bit more about what once was an absolute mystery…but there is so much yet I desire to learn in this field.  During construction, though, I was quite terrified to see if it would finish awesome, mediocre, or disappointing.  I mean, I could tell along the way it should be just how I hoped, and the skirt was by far the faster of the two to make, but there are so many layers hidden inside the jacket that I couldn’t fully tell the result until the end.  This one of the reasons I took my time like no other project, slowed down my expectations, and reveled in every detail.  However, you know how you want a sewing project done, or need visible progress, else you grow tired of it?  I expected that to happen with this, but no – I found a real reason for an extremely slow fashion project without even hunting for it.  Once I enjoyed the realization of the depth of what I was learning along the way and that this is all just the tip of a bigger “iceberg” of couture tailoring techniques…well, time kind of disappeared as I would do my hand stitching or patterning.  I found my work so very peaceful, calming, and worthwhile.

There is an art to tailoring that is its own world of sewing – it is a world of enjoying every moment in a time honored craft of creating something beautifully customized with lasting quality.  It is a world of building sculpted “body makeup” which gives the body an idealized definition that becomes your own.  It is all something I cannot wait to do all over again because it’s downright amazing.  I’ve planned out my next suit jacket already – it is going to be a knock-off of the classic 1947 Dior “Bar Suit”, all in silk shantung, just like the one worn by Peggy’s arch-nemesis Whitney Frost.

Peggy dons this cherry red and dusty brown suit set on two very memorable occasions that are a turn of fortune for her.  In “One Shot” she dons her red suit when she is victorious, proven, and validated, with her chin up…and then in episode 3 of the Season One television show “Time and Tide” (at left) she again wears the same suit when she is at a loss, with the guilt of a fellow Agent’s murder heavy on her, and now a wanted woman entrenched with a friend’s secret.  I always appreciate it when garments are shown on a Hollywood character more than on one scene.  It makes them so relatable to me, like they themselves truly have a wardrobe of favorite pieces and are not just for show at the hands of the costume department.  It is interesting that in the Season on episode the whole outfit does not fit her quite the same in “One Shot”, but with a white blouse underneath she makes it work.  To similarly style my set, I chose a RTW favorite of mine – an Irish linen blouse with decorative stitching.  Did anyone notice my S.S.R. (S.H.I.E.L.D.) lapel pins before this mention of them?  An old late 30’s Art Deco police station was the very suitable and fun photo shoot location.

Any of us can “be Peggy”, and not just on April 9, and not just because of what we happen to have on ourselves.  It is what is inside that counts.  She was an imperfect superhero with no powers beyond a conviction, perseverance, and strength that is human.  She is not afraid of a bit of hard work and she is intelligent to know her value does not rely on other peoples’ estimations.  Fictional character or not, together with her killer vintage style she is my kind of gal.  I don’t think I’ll ever stop channeling her with my wardrobe, off the silver screens or not, so – yes, there’s definitely more Agent Carter fashion still to come here on my blog!