Thinking about Things Canadian

For the 150th anniversary of the legislation of Canada as a nation, I have been reviewing recent photos from Ivan’s shows to focus on those items that capture aspects of Canada’s material history.  

I have a limited recall of his comments on the various outfits. I was, however, struck by the opening number for his October show on the Sinister Little Black Dress.
Even though this is beautiful dress, on the equally beautiful model Shelia, it does have a tragic overlay. This is a glamorous mourning dress. In an era of significant mortality through infectious disease, you wonder whom exactly the owner of this fashionable dress was mourning.

This is a subject that appeals to me as I prepared my Master’s thesis “On Death and Dying in the British Seventeenth- Century.” When, during the 1980s, people politely asked what I did in life there was distinct backing away as I enthusiastically explained my research. I thought this was a wonderful topic to investigate, while most considered it just peculiar. The fact is that people in earlier centuries handled death is very different ways. In the twenty-first century, we don’t much handle it at all.

I would date this dress as from the turn of the nineteenth century, or a year or so later, to be fully Edwardian.  The Victorians, and their near relative the Edwardians, were even more obsessed with death than my seventeenth-century cavaliers and puritans. The dress has interesting agenda: to be chic, while considering eternity.
 
 

Until I attended Ivan’s fashion shows I never much thought of the shape of clothing design: now I see it everywhere. Our mourning dress demonstrate the essentials of the Edwardian silhouette: front-flatted corseted waist, full chest, ample hips, pronounced posterior, forming the s-shaped side view. It was mature form meant for an imposing woman. All would change with the Great War –including those years of obsessive mourning—but that is another story.

Written by Denise Jacques

Greetings from Vienna!

 
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Maxie Schwerin, Claus Jahnke, Lynn Katey, Roz McNulty and Gisela Mueller at the opening of ‘Buy From Jews! Story of a Viennese store culture’ at the Jewish Museum in Vienna, Austria.

Last winter we made tentative plans to join Claus Jahnke for show at the Jewish Museum in Vienna. Historical clothing from Claus Jahnke’s collection of Austrian Jewish pre-war clothing were included in the display. 

The opening night was special with many of Claus' friends from around the world. Plus the President and Vice President of Austria. 

Julie Christie and My Basement Apartment

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In 1970, fresh from his success with the movie Mash, film director Robert Altman began work on a hillside near West Vancouver, to create his new film McCabe & Mrs. Miller. The well-known critic Robert Ebert included this Altman work in his list of “Great Films” of all time.

Altman was famous for wanting his audience to experience the spirit of the past, in this case the 1890s. He used special techniques to replicate the sepia lighting of archival photos, he asked his cast to remain in the same costumes for the months of shooting.  Ivan Sayers, SMOC’s curator, made a contribution to the film’s verisimilitude by supplying some authentic garments of the period.
The timing of the McCabe & Mrs. Miller was providential for a youthful Sayers as he was short on rent.  The film has strong memories for Ivan and he has been known-- in the course of one of his many fashion shows-- to blandish the petticoats wore by Julie Christie in her role as Mrs. Miller.  These have layers of flounces, decorated with hand-crochet lace.

Ivan in the course of his work on McCabe & Mrs. Miller learned that its female star had an intense interest in vintage clothing and, being hospitable, invited Ms. Christie to view his collection in his extremely humble basement apartment in East Vancouver. This first visit was followed up by a subsequent excursion to local vintage clothing shops and bargain-priced thrift stores.

For a younger audience, it should be pointed out that Julie Christie was one of the major stars of the 1960s and 1970s. Not only had she played the female lead in Doctor Zhivago, 8th highest-grossing film of all time, but she was Warren Beatty’s girlfriend for seven years and the masterpiece of his career, the film Reds, was dedicated to her. Beatty was in fact her co-star in the Altman film.

It was inevitable that the one garment that the charming Julie (a fact-- according to Ivan) wanted to purchase was one of the jewels of his collection. This was a bias-cut black crepe evening dress, heavy with silver beading across the front. Later research has revealed that this 1933 creation was a copy of a Worth design. It looked particularly fine on Ms. Christie’s slender petite figure, but she was graceful is accepting Ivan’s refusal to sell and the episode ended cheerfully.  It still is a fantastic dress.

by Denise Jacques

The Maguire Collection within SMOC

Joyce Maguire

Joyce Maguire

Joyce O. Maguire was one of the most committed collectors of children's clothing and textiles in Vancouver. She had been collecting for many years. 
She was originally from England and her own interest career wise was music especially classical music and piano. 
Joyce was very active with the children's Bach choir here in the city. She was a good teacher, encouraging and never critical. Reassuring and admired by her students.
Her interest in children manifested itself by her developing a collection of children's clothing, toys, games, books and baby furniture. Over a period of about 15 years she accumulated one of the most important collections of children's clothing I've ever seen. Certainly in Canada it was probably without rival. 

Her collection pretty much took up the entire basement of her home. When she died, her husband Jerry was kind enough to turn the collection over to SMOC on the understanding that we would sort it out, keeping those items which are considered to be serious artifacts and selling the rest at our discretion in order to support our cause and look after our general collections. 

The quality and eccentricities of the collection are spectacular. Once the collection was sorted we set aside 500 items to keep. This includes children's clothing from the latter part of the 18th century and two pairs of underpants that are said to have belonged to Edward VII when he was a baby in the 1840s. 

The items that were multiples or of lesser quality or less interest we decided we would sell. Some small things have been sold at SMOC events since 2010 but the larger items like baby buggies and bassinets have not made it to the sale table. We hope to put more items up for sale on our online store at in the near future. Please contact us if you want to know more. info@smoc.ca

SMOC can use the freed up storage space for its collection and put the money raised into the care and upkeep of the collection.

by Denise Jacques
Excerpt from an interview with Ivan Sayers

Silk Dresses, Champagne and Confederation

Among the treasures collected by SMOC curator, Ivan Sayers, is an 1860s ribbed silk dress. This is the oldest of the cache that Ivan acquired at the Salvation Army thrift store in the 1960s—the foundation of a lifetime of collecting. While it is possible that this garment is British in origin; it could also have been made in Canada.

Fashion traveled as quickly as fast steamer carrying the mail could arrive. Instead of being hopelessly provincial, Canadian women of the period followed fashion and were serious readers of The Illustrated London News and the popular American publication, Godey’s Lady’s Magazine.

The latter had reasonably circulation in Canada, as many local libraries have ample copies of this publication, acquired from Canadian sources.

Fashionable silk textiles in the latest patterns and colours were also in wide circulation in British North America— to be federally united into the Dominion of Canada in 1867. 

King’s Museum in New Brunswick has a handsome example of a crazy quilt made from remnants of ballgowns by a local dressmaker of the period. She used the left-overs taffeta and embroidered silk from her efforts to supply the ladies of Charlottetown with suitable dresses for the many social events and balls organized to celebrate the pre-Confederation Charlottetown Conference of 1864.

The fathers of Canadian Confederation-- for all their dark suits and long beards-- traveled with crates of champagne.  Dresses were also excessive, often requiring more than15 metres of fabric, and the abundant scraps of fabric remaining could readily be recycled into something sensible such as a quilt.

Whatever is the exact origin of this elegant dress, we can be certain about its date. Our dress was very much to the taste popularized by the then Princess of Wales, Alexandra. A shy princess from the modest Danish court, Alexandra strove for a characteristic, but chic look. Dresses of this time generally had bodices buttoned to the neck, with sleeves curved to the arm and tight at the wrist, while skirts were gored and pyramidal in shaped. The desired dress- shape required stiff crinolines, or a cage-like hooped underskirt. The Princess also loved stripes. In its line and tailoring, our silk 1860s dress fits neatly within this style canon.  Its youthful and optimistic look makes it a wonderful example of women’s fashion in this dramatic period in Canada’s history.

Written by Denise Jacques

The Ivan Sayers Story

It is popular to offer the fatuous advice: follow your passion. It is inspiring to meet someone who has done that very thing. The eminent fashion historian and collector, Ivan Sayer, planned his first museum as a child in the Okanagan. 

Located in the family garage, he collected perceived treasures from the dump and thrift shops, carefully hand-labelling the artifacts. By 20, his plans had matured and he began assembling old, but still extraordinary, clothes to create a museum of costume.

If the study of fashion history was to change Sayer's life, his personal history was forever tied to the Salvation Army. Badly shaken by Ivan's mother prolonged ill health and considerable pain, his parents found faith and solace in the Salvation Army. The Army gave new scope for Ivan's father who found fulfilment in mission work--particularly with the homeless and alcoholic. From successfully fund-raising for a new mission building, to work as a chaplain for a Canadian penitentiary, the Army helped both parents to fulfil latent potential. 

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The drawback was that God's work didn't pay well and a teenage Ivan needed a strategy if he was to complete a degree in Classics at the University of British Columbia in the 1960s. Following his passion for antique and designer clothing, Ivan developed a scheme to collect for his museum and provide for his keep. An engaging young man he prevailed on two middle-aged employees, named Gwen and Ethel, at the Salvation Army store on 12th Avenue, Mount Pleasant to put aside the older and more interesting clothing donations. The better examples would be kept and the lessor sold to antique stores and at garage sales for Ivan’s living essentials. Gwen and Ethel were endangering their jobs, or at least the wrath of their supervisor, but it is likely that they caught Ivan’s enthusiasm for preserving articles of cultural importance. Without Ivan, and his unlikely co-conspirators, many objects of beauty would have a one-way trip to the dump. The Salvation Army provided the structure of Ivan’s burgeoning collection.  While many of the clothing items found were divorced from their histories, Ivan had to rely on research and his expanding knowledge to place the articles within an appropriate social context. Starting with a fringed 1860s dress in ribbed silk, Ivan has a parade of clothes—all drawn from the “Sally Anne” that embody the spirit of each decade. There is pretentious German expression for this: the zeitgeist.

But each fashion artefact captures a unique time and places when people had different priorities and fresh beliefs. More importantly each garment presents a visual and tactile history of ordinary people, and the often hidden lives of women. A fragment of lace or bolt of silk is an eloquent witness to the ephemeral beauty of everyday life.

Written by Denise Jacques

The Woodwards Wedding Dress Aquisition

written and researched by Denise Jacques

 
 

Things often reveal a deep human history. In May 2016  SMOC received a superb donation of a wedding dress from the extended Woodward family of Vancouver. Consistent with the period of the Great War and celebrating a youthful nation now mobilized for war, this gown was beautifully made. The design emphasizes the maidenly qualities of the wearer and is replete with lace, flounces and velvet. 

Interpreting public documents and local histories for traces of the dress’s history, one can establish that in 1914, Marion Douglas, a Saskatchewan daughter of a prosperous farm family, travelled to Winnipeg to have her wedding gown made. She called on the two Irish Presbyterian Dysart sisters-- with an established reputation as dress-makers-- to create a stylish silk gown that would be lovingly maintained in the family for the next hundred years. Marion had the money to buy well, as her father had died leaving $94,000 and his daughter inherited a portion of the estate on her coming of age. 

The groom in the upcoming marriage was Percival Archibald Woodward or Puggy. He made a good match if one overlooked his pugnacious nature; he was expelled from the Vancouver Club on three different occasions for quarrelling with other members. In the period from 1912 to 1918 he appeared to have resigned from his father, Charles Woodward’s, booming Vancouver department store twice. Indeed, it was unclear whether Marion and Puggy were living in her hometown, Indian Head, in exile from the Woodward’s expanding empire, or Marion had returned to her family home to have her son, William Douglas Woodward, and named after her dead father. Puggy-- with then added responsibilities—re-entered the family firm in 1918 and ran the company with his brother Billy for decades.

The wedding dress, and the union it represented, are forever linked to Vancouver’s history. William Woodward died at 18 from Hodgkin’s disease leaving his then wealthy, but grieving, parents childless.  Perhaps sensitive to aspirations of young people, as a permanent legacy, the Woodwards left a portion of their considerable fortune to the University of British Columbia. As both husband and wife had suffered deeply from the loss of family members prematurely cut down by disease, they heavily endowed the principal medical institutions within the city. 

SMOC is immensely grateful to Sydney Elizabeth Russ and Rebecca Stewart for this fine donation its collection.

The Summer Solstice Event at Mountain View Cemetary

 

Parker McIntosh, Roz McNulty, Ivan Sayers & Carla Elm Clement dressed for Summer Solstice at Mountain View Cemetery

 

We attended the Summer Solstice Celebration in Dance and Music in full dress-up. The Summer Solstice was held at Mountain View Ceremony on June 19th 2016. Our own Diane Park was the project director for 'The Little Chamber Music Series That Could' www.littlechambermusic.com

Check out the photos that were taken by Wayne Worden. A wonderful overview of an excellent event!  https://www.flickr.com/photos/wayneworden

The new SMOC Board

 
 

The first meeting of the new board. Welcome to our new president Dianna Drahanchuk, seated centre. 

Clockwise members.... Our new president Dianna Drahanchuk, Vice President - Roz McNulty, Parker McIntosh, Lynn Katey, Ivan Sayers, Margaret, Nancy-Jean, Irina Molohovsky-McKenzine - Events &Social Media and Operations, Melanie MacIntosh - Community Marketing and Collectibles, Anna Knowlson and Denise Jaques - Volunteers