Mainboucher’s Jewelry Dress

“What you don’t do with a dress is at least (as) important as what you do, do. Too many gadgets can spoil the dress, just as surely as too many cooks, the broth.” A quote from Mainbocher while speaking to the Fashion Group of Chicago in 1940. The wise words above are from the Chicago History Museum’s catalog titled, Making Mainbocher: The First American Couturier’, which accompanies an exhibit of the same name currently on view at the Chicago History Museum through August 2017. It is the first exhibit focused solely on the designer, Mainbocher. This is fitting as Mainbocher was born on the West side of Chicago and attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Through a very circuitous route and no formal training, Mainbocher ended up in mid-life (age 40) becoming the first American Couturier in Paris.

Mainbocher’s designs were practical, exacting and tended to have an emphasis on minimalism. Mainbocher did not follow trends but set them. He was responsible for introducing the world to the short evening dress, jeweled sweaters, the cocktail apron, the strapless bodice, and reviving the corset eight years before Dior’s ‘New Look’.

Being a collector of vintage jewelry, I find the gowns that Mainbocher created in the 1940s to be the most appealing because of their jewelry-like embellishments. During World War II, because of fabric rationing and not wanting to appear too extravagant during war-time, Mainbocher repeatedly used the same dress silhouette. To create interest and make his gowns beautiful, he added embellishments. Oftentimes these embellishments looked like jewelry. They were beautifully constructed of beads, rhinestones and sequins and mimic the look of necklaces and bracelets.

Mainbocher was very exacting in his vision. By creating gowns embellished with ‘built-in-jewelry’, he could more easily ensure that a customer would not change his intended vision by trying to accessorize the gowns themselves. According to the curator of the exhibition, Petra Slinkard, Mainbocher did not disallow his clients to wear jewelry, but rather made it easier for them to forgo the selection. The use of trompe l’oeil as a design tool was one he revisited frequently, as evident in his 1940s designs.”

In 1947 Mainbocher created a red velvet strapless gown for Mrs. A. Watson Armour III. Although there was no neckline or cuffs to embellish, Mainbocher created bracelets and a choker made out of red velvet covered balls, beads and sequins to be worn with the dress in order to complete the look. When the fabric rationing of World War II ended, Mainbocher could turn his attention away from embellishments and concentrate more on textiles and garment construction to create beautiful clothing. He did, however retain his minimalist aesthetic and ascribe to the notion that, “Too many gadgets can spoil the dress.”

All rights reserved. Article by Stuart Mesires for Sarara Couture. Stuart is a vintage shop owner, as seen on 1stdibs and former fashion veteran.

JUDITH LEIBER: Crafting a New York Story

Photo by Jenna Bascom. Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

JUDITH LEIBER AT MAD

April 4-August 6, 2017

by Harrice Miller

The first time I met Judith Leiber was in the early 90s when we were both doing Personal Appearances at Saks. She looked so real, so like a kindly grandma, I was struck with the dissimilarity between her appearance and the wildly glamorous and bedazzling jeweled purses she designed. Decades later, at the opening of her exhibition, “Judith Leiber: Crafting a New York Story”, at the Museum of Arts and Design, Judith, now 96, sat regally with Gerson Leiber, her artist husband of many years at her side, like a queen whose adoring subjects were stopping by to pay their respects.

Judith with friends in Greece. Courtesy of Judith Leiber.

Photo by Jenna Bascom. Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

 

Photo by Jenna Bascom. Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

The exhibition illustrated, through a series of extraordinary, iconic purses, the story of her rise as a handbag apprentice in her hometown of Budapest during World War II, to the last bag she designed before her retirement, in the shape of a jeweled peacock in 2004. In 65 years in the handbag industry, Judith revolutionized the concept of craftsmanship, with her bags ranging from beautifully fashioned leather and textiles to the Swarovski crystal-encrusted figural bags we know today to be her signature look. From the founding of her company Judith Leiber Handbags in 1963 until 2004, she designed more than 3,500 bags. She began first with leather examples and designed her first metal bag in 1967. 

Exhibit image by Sarara Couture. This was the first metal bag Leiber created and it was based on a Chatelaine made in 1967.

Rare 1968 metal bag, by Judith Leiber. Image courtesy of Sarara Couture.

Judith’s handbags have been carried by First Ladies, Hollywood actresses and opera singers, including Mamie Eisenhower, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Greta Garbo, Mary Tyler Moore, Claudette Colbert and Beverly Sills. Current wearers of Leiber bags include; Chanel Iman, Kelly Osborne, Sarah Jessica Parker, Chrissy Teigen, Diane Kruger among many others. They are cherished the world over by collectors who are attracted to their often whimsical shapes including fruits, vegetables, animals, birds, foo dogs, books, musical instruments, sea creatures, Fabergé-inspired eggs and even a Buddha!

Photo by Jenna Bascom. Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

 

Handbags, wax models, personal letters, and archival photographs create an atmosphere that personalizes the woman behind her creations. Judith’s inspiration stemmed from her love of travel, art, textiles, and materials, creating a body of work that MAD envisioned as exploring the gendered significance of the handbag in the 20th century and in the importance of immigrant entrepreneurship to the fabric of New York.

Photo by Jenna Bascom. Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

The exhibition was curated by MAD’s Assistant Curator Samantha De Tillio, with the support of Curatorial Assistant and Project Manager Angelik Vizcarrondo-Laboy. Be sure to visit the Leiber Collection, the museum is located in the East Hampton hamlet of Springs, NY.

Relevant links:

http://www.leibermuseum.org

Purse Perfection: Judith Leiber on Faberge, Rhinestones, and Her Favorite First Ladies

Jewelry History Spotlight: 1955 Gripoix Brooch for Chanel

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I was honored to have had this piece for just a bit, before it was acquired by a Chanel collector. This very interesting brooch was from the collection of Robert Clark of Haskell and De Lillo.  He had an extensive archive and this piece was sourced directly from Gripoix in the 1950s.  It was one of 6 created  in reference to a jeweled piece that Coco Chanel had made by Verdura earlier. She is also said to have also had one of these copies. Stamped Made in France and in very good condition for it’s age, it was one of the more interesting piece coming through the doors as of late, and I couldn’t resist a little highlight on it for others interested.

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Vintage ad from Sotheby’s concerning the original Verdura piece which they auctioned off.

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1955 Chanel Gripoix brooch.

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Signature detail/ construction.

Dragon of the East: Jute Magazine features Sarara Couture Jewelry

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Love a good dragon? Feeling a bit Daenerys Targaryen?  Well, so do we; the “webitorial” now posted on Jute Fashion Magazine’s website today, shot by none other than the talented Hannan Saleh, features our jewelry. That’s our Miao collar, Judith Leiber handbag and a big vintage Accessocraft dragon necklace, one of my favorites.  Hannan let us have a few extra images and I’m posting them below.  The editorial went live today so be sure to check out the complete photo story on Jute. 

 

 

 

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