Sunday, February 17, 2019

THIRD TIME'S A CHARM

Orouboros wrist tattoo (Read the book: You'll understand,)


THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN is still sitting on Denver's Local Bestseller List for the third week in a row. So grateful to all the people who READ in my fab city!



Jennie and I thank you.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

We Have ALL THE BEST HATS

This hat's Austrian. The metal piece in front is called an aigrette--
it was a detachable pin purely decorative in nature.


Yeah, I know--no one wears hats anymore. But I happen to love them. I wore an enormous one away from my wedding, and my poor husband balanced it on his lap all the way across the Atlantic to Paris. I'm not that selfish or entitled anymore--and I rarely wear hats--but if I could go back through time to any other era for a brief fashion fling, it would be the period from 1900 to 1910. Because, the hats!!!!




Then I'd swiftly return to the present, satisfied but chastened. 
Because, World War I!!!

There are few photographs of Jennie wearing hats, interestingly enough--barring those in a riding topper.  All the head-turning fashions pictured here are relics from the period  1900-1910. 

Enjoy!




Sunday, February 10, 2019

DEATH IN A GLASS SLIPPER


 Jennie Churchill had small, beautiful feet, and she was passionate about shoes. She displayed hers like candy on the shelves of her boudoir--found art. And it was her last pair of coveted Italian slippers that killed her.

Hurrying down a flight of stairs to join her hostess for tea--Jennie was always late--she tripped and fell, fracturing her leg. In an era without antibiotics, Jennie suffered a typical fate. Her leg became infected, eventually gangrenous, and had to be amputated. Jennie famously told the surgeon to "Cut high," because she wanted what we'd call clear margins. Ten days after the operation, she hemorrhaged suddenly at breakfast. She lost consciousness in seconds and was gone in moments.


Winston, who lived a few blocks away, ran through the streets of London in his pajamas to reach her when he learned the news. She was already gone.

So, shoes.
The Manolo Blahnik or Laboutin of Jennie's lifetime was an Italian, naturally--Pietro Yantornay. His shoes, handcrafted in Paris, are the footwear-equivalent of Worth's gowns or Lalique's jewelry: complex miracles of craft, one-offs of the shoemaker's art. All the shoes shown here are Lantornay's. Many are held in the Metropolitan Museum's fashion collection, others can be seen in museums around the world. He was active throughout the Edwardian period and the 1920s, making it possible Jennie may have owned his shoes.

 Worth dying for?

Hard to say.
But we all have to go sometime. Jennie went out dancing.





Saturday, February 9, 2019

THE BIRTH OF SPORTSWEAR--AND AN INTRIGUING IMAGE

leaning on a column from the house of Lady Cornelia Baroness Wimborne (1847-1927), sister of Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill, at Canford Magna near Bournemouth.
This photograph of Jennie, Lady Randolph Churchill, was supposedly taken at the home of her sister-in-law, Lady Cornelia Guest, Baroness Wimbourne.  And it's dated 1892. She's wearing British country-house clothing--not exactly a riding habit, but a walking suit, correct for casual days spent striding around the estate. These were separates--a blouse worn with a skirt indoors, the jacket only donned for exterior wear. The fact that Jennie has left hers unbottoned, to reveal the glorious lace jabot of her blouse, emphasizes the informality--what Coco Chanel would term "sportswear" in the next century.

Jennie's youthful face and figure suggest the 1892 date is fairly accurate--she would have been 38 years old that year--but I can't square the almost Edwardian walking suit she's wearing with the late 1890s. So I did some visual research.

Here's a walking suit from 1891:



Notice the much shorter tails of the jacket and the much fuller skirt. The shape is still hourglass, suggesting tight corseting. And here are a few more images, specifically from 1892: The one on the left is from the Metropolitan Museum's collection, and the one on the right is a fashion plate from 1892. In that, the impossibly tall woman on the left is wearing the longer jacket. But the skirts, again, seem too full.



Walking suits from a decade later, however, track more closely with Jennie's in the photograph above: There silhouette is boxier, and although there's still obviously a waist, it looks freer than the corseted silhouette of a decade earlier. Jennie, in the photograph, is wearing a belt--so it's difficult to tell whether her suit is as boxy as an Edwardian one.


In the end, however, I had to take Jennie's hat into consideration. It's nothing like a hat from 1905, when brims were vast and trimmings lavish. 



Lady's hat, 1905
I'm forced to conclude, therefore, that Jennie was simply fashion-forward in 1892--in this, as in so many things, ahead of her time.






Wednesday, February 6, 2019

WORTH'S HEIRS: The Women Designers of Callot Soeurs


Callot Soeurs, 1907-1910
My time with Jennie Churchill ends in 1895, in THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, but of course her life continued for decades after that. I chose to frame the first forty years of Jennie's existence, before Queen Victoria's death, the brief decade of the Edwardian era, and World War I. 

After the turn of the 19th century, almost everything about life in Europe changed, ushering in the Modern as we envision it--although the process was not entirely complete until the end of the volcanic and violent upheaval of the Great War. 

In between, however, Fashion evolved in ways that reflected the increasing freedom of women's lives and bodies--although interestingly, with a silhouette that harkened back to the simpler Regency period of Jane Austen. Not much waist, thus no need for a corset; very few undergarments, no crinoline, no bustle...the hidden cages women adopted during the high point of the Victorian era were discarded once again for lighter and simpler garments.


Promenade suit, 1911, Callot Soeurs



This is partly due to the fact that women, not men, were suddenly the toast of Parisian fashion design.

The Callot Soeurs had burst upon the scene, their salon opening in 1895. Over the next several decades it challenged and in large part replaced the House of Worth--now run by son Jean Philippe--for primacy in women's dressing rooms.












The Callot sisters in their work uniforms


The French word Soeurs means Sisters in English. Callot Soeurs was comprised of four of them: Marie Callot Gerber, Marthe Callot Bertrand, Regina Callot Tennyson-Chantrell and Joséphine Callot Crimont. The eldest, Marie, was trained in dressmaking. Their mother was a lacemaker. The women began by fashioning ribbons and lace--trimmings, in essence--for other designers. By 1900, however, the three surviving sisters (Josephine committed suicide several years earlier) were featured at the Paris World Fair. They employed a staff of two hundred and were earning two million francs in sales; by the following year, those figures had tripled.
Callot Soeurs salon interior, 1910, G. Agié - Les Createurs de la Mode (1910) by L. Roger-Miles (1859-1928)

By 1916, at the height of the Great War, American Vogue dubbed the sisters The Three Fates, and proclaimed them "foremost among the destinies that rule a woman's life..." Turns out American money was critical in keeping Callot Soeurs going during World War I. Here's an image of American Hortense Mitchell Acton, along with the Callot dress she wore in the photograph.
Courtesy of the Acton Foundation, Villa Pietra, Florence


By the late 1920s, the sisters' reign was ending--Marie died, and her son failed to sustain the women's artistic vision. Notice, however, how women's clothing evolved during the decades the Callots dominated: From the Titanic-era silhouette we associate with the Edwardian period, to the looser outline of the Great War years, and finally, to the bustless, waistless, knee-skimming dresses of the Flapper era.  Fascinating! These are all Callot dresses, images courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Fashion Collection.


Callot Soeurs, 1908


Callot Soeurs, 1911


Callot Soeurs, 1915





The Roaring Twenties Flapper period. Both gowns, 1925.

And my clear favorite: Something Daisy Buchanan would certainly wear--

Evening ensemble, gown and coat, Callot Soeurs, 1920s

The Callot sisters' influence waned as they aged, but they left an important legacy: Madeleine Vionnet, one of the great Parisian designers of the pre-World War II years, trained at Callot Soeurs and was eventually head seamstress there, before breaking out to found her own label. She later credited the Callots with teaching her the essence of couture.

Women empowering women.
Something Jennie Churchill would have loved.