We all know how much fashion brands love to borrow from the archives and revive the decades each season. However, we’ve noticed a new vintage trend sweeping the fashion industry; the revival of 20th century fashion houses.
We explore some of our favourite vintage labels that have recently been relaunched and look at the original philosophy and history behind them.
Designer Chris Benz (formerly at J.Crew before setting up his own label) is hoping to make a success of the relaunched Bill Blass label which launched online last month.
Bill Blass was hugely instrumental in defining American fashion in the 20th century. He studied at the country’s most prestigious fashion school, Parsons School of Design, defined the quintessential American sportsluxe style during his career and was a founding member and president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
He began his design career with Anna Miller in 1959. The company merged with Maurice Rentner in 1960 and Blass worked his way up to Head Designer. In 1970 he bought the label and rebranded it under his own name, a mark of his marketing know-how. He was the first American designer to have his name on the clothes he designed.
His signature looks optimised comfort for wearers while retaining a feminine charm with details such as frills, prints and colours that was extremely popular with shoppers.
After the designer’s death in 2002, a number of people have bought the brand and tried to keep it going with mixed success but largely failing to get Bill’s magic formula from the brand’s hay day in the 1970s.
In 2013, in the wake of a major Met Museum retrospective, Elsa Schiaparelli’s name was put back in the fashion spotlight by the CEO of Tod’s. Maison Schiaparelli now shows at Couture Fashion Week in Paris and has had support from a number of top actresses on the red carpet since its revival.
Elsa Schiaparelli was born in Italy in 1890. By the time she set up her atelier in Paris in 1927, she had already lived in London and America which would inform her Euro-American hybrid style. She also collaborated with a number of artists including Elsa Triolet, Jean Dunand and Salvador Dalí. She had a number of friends who were part of the surrealist movement and it heavily influenced her work, in particular her signature trompe l’oeil prints and quirky accessories. In addition to couture and accessories, Schiaparelli perfumes were also a huge hit for the brand. Her most popular scent was ‘Shocking’, a musky scent in a bottle designed on Mae West’s hourglass figure.
In 1934 she became the first female designer to grace the cover of Time magazine and in 1938 was the first designer to give her collection a theme, much the same as designers do today.
Prior to launching their own eponymous brands, Pierre Cardin and Hubert de Givenchy were both employed by the brand. It closed in 1954 and was immortalised in Elsa Schiaparelli’s autobiography ‘Shocking Life’, until its present day reincarnation.
Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has announced he is overseeing the relaunch of the brand founded by renowned ball gown couturier Charles James with Zac Posen consulting on design.
Though he was born and raised in Britain, Charles James went on to be known as ‘America’s first couturier’. He moved to his mother’s hometown of Chicago to begin his design career in 1926 as a milliner.
In the 1930s he returned to London and established his own dressmaking business, making friends with influential European artists and designers including Elsa Schiaparelli, Paul Poiret, Cecil Beaton and Christian Dior (who is said to have developed his New Look after being inspired by James’ designs.) He was entirely self-trained which resulted in his own unique style which was structural, architectural and experimental.
In 1939 he moved again to New York, where he would remain until the end of his career. He worked for Elizabeth Arden before setting up his own salon on Madison Avenue and building a prestigious client base including Gypsy Rose Lee and Millicent Hearst, wife of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst.
Business began to dwindle in the mid-1950s and eventually it reduced to James working by himself and making couture dresses for loyal customers and friends. The label officially closed upon the designer’s death in 1978.
Charles James has not enjoyed the same modern day fame as the great couturiers of the 20th century such as Dior, Chanel and Balenciaga whose houses continue today but that doesn’t mean he was any less well-respected amongst his peers, picking up two Coty awards during his lifetime, and is still a huge inspiration to designers today for his masterful cuts.