Category Archives: Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

The Colour Purple (and pink, red, yellow, orange, blue, green……)

A few blogs ago I wrote about the colour white, the use of it in fashion and society.  I love colour and our Resource Centre allows me to indulge in a visual feast every time I do a display.  A few weeks ago our display focus wasn’t on a particular period in fashion history, instead we chose to do a rainbow theme in the garment and accessories displays we arranged.

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Colourful garments from Seneca’s Fashion Resource Centre

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1960s Purple Breton and assorted accessories in all the tints and tones of purple.

I think the topic of colour fascinates me almost as much as does the history of fashion and its social implications. Colour is such an integral element of fashion and our choice of colour is always personal (whether we recognize it or not).

For this blog I am going to focus on purple. The colour has been one that has been associated in western culture with royalty and nobility. The scarcity of the raw material found in nature to create purple caused its cost to be high. As a result garments which would be dyed this colour would be available only to those with the wealth to afford it. And as a result came to be a signifier of status.

Photo of hat and dress

Hat from 1960s (Left), Victorian Dress from 1885 (Right)

During the 19th century and the industrial revolution the creation of aniline or chemical dyes changed all that. Now any colour could be created and the most desirable shade for members of the rising middle class was the colour that had previously represented those of higher social status.

Purple is a colour that swings on the pendulum of fashion trends. When it is fashionable it is very popular and when we have had enough of it the colour becomes gauche.

During the 1960s the colour palette we saw in fashion was comprised of more secondary colour – green, orange and purple – than primary colours (with the exception of yellow). These bright colours were the representation of the psychedelic ‘60s. Juxtaposing purple with yellow or with other colours like green and orange which are made with yellow made this an incredible bright colour story and one that was quite at odds with the elegant black, white, navy blue and “Dior” red of the previous decade.

 Purple Givenchy Cocktail dress (Left), Purple Hot Pants (Right)

Purple Givenchy Cocktail dress (Left), Purple Hot Pants (Right)

As the fashion pendulum swung to the natural fibres and earthy tones of the 1970s, purple fell out of favour. We saw some purple return in the 1980s’ jewel tones in power dressing. And, in the minimalism fashion styles of the 90s and 00s any appearance of purple was used in deep tones or greyed tones.

Purple also seems to be a colour that individuals will be passionately in love with or they will be in the group who would “never be caught dead wearing it”. We have seen it come in the faintest of tints and the deepest of shades.

Photo of Prom Dress & Power Suit

“1980s Purple Strapless “Prom” dress (Left), 1980s “Power Dressing” Suit (Right)

From a psychology of colour perspective, purple can be seen as representing royalty (which may be why Cadbury chocolate continues to use purple in its branding) and elegance – the majesty of a king’s royal robes.

Photo of Purple Garment

Photo of sandals

Strappy Sandals

As a secondary colour it is created with red and blue and so is a blending of a warm and a cool colour. It is also created using the passionate nature of red and the calming influence of blue. No wonder it is interpreted as a colour of mystery, spirituality and enjoyed by very creative individuals.

Within our collection we have some examples of purple which are particularly representative of these different interpretations. From the iconic Victorian dress to strappy sandals when purple is on display attention is certainly generated.

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A Year of Anniversaries

Mini Dress by Marilyn Brooks (Unicorn Label)

Mini Dress by Marilyn Brooks (Unicorn Label)

Before November, the month of Remembrance Day, slips away I am looking forward to creating events to remember in 2017. There are several anniversaries that we will be celebrating which will allow us to once again showcase items in our Fashion Resource Centre.

As a Canadian the celebration of the founding of our country in 1867 will be highlighted not only on Canada Day but throughout the year. Our first centennial celebrated in 1967 occurred in the midst of the “Youthquake” of the 1960s. (right, pink Mini Dress by Marilyn Brooks’ Unicorn label).

Canadian Designers who are well represented in our collection, Claire Haddad, Marilyn Brooks and Elen Henderson gained recognition with consumers and established some of the foundation and organizations that have continued to provide ongoing support for new fashion designers.

The late Claire Haddad showed her Canadian patriotism by featuring the (then) newly created Maple Leaf tartan which included all of the colours of the maple leaf transitioning from summer to fall. This green, gold, red and brown tartan was created by David Weiser of the Highland Queen company.

Tartan by David Weiser of the Highland Queen Company

Tartan by David Weiser of the Highland Queen Company

I look forward to seeing what our contemporary Canadian designers may produce to celebrate and highlight their patriotism as we celebrate 150 years of our wonderful country.

One of the initiatives sparked by the centennial of the country was the establishment of our community college system. 2017, then is also the 50th anniversary of Seneca College. Its original mandate was to provide an alternate path to university, providing post secondary education in fields that were often quite specialized but not serviced by any university. One of the first graduating classes at Seneca College was in Fashion and over the 50 years we have seen the programs within our School of Fashion expand to prepare graduates for the fields of Cosmetics, Esthetics, Visual Merchandising, Floral Design and Event Design. I am pleased to have been a product of this education system, graduating from my first program in 1976 and as a member of the School of Fashion for many years.

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Thanks to the foresight of my colleagues Claire Becker, Bev Newburg, Caroline Routh and many more, we established our Resource Centre more than 25 years ago. We will be able to support the celebrations of this anniversary with displays of the fads and fashions that graced the halls during that first decade and for those of the following four.

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of Fashion Group International’s Toronto chapter. This organization has been a volunteer operated association that has worked tirelessly to support its members and the Fashion industry in Toronto. They mentor new members, provide networking opportunities and highlight the contributions the fashion industry provides to society in general.

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We have had wonderful links with Fashion Group International and its members over the decades as we share many of the same supporters. Many of those early supporters of Fashion Group (Marilyn Brooks, Claire Haddad, Shirley Cheatley of Elen Henderson designs) were on the early committees that helped establish our Resource Centre. Many of these members have also contributed through donations made to the Centre. We will be working with FGI to help highlight their anniversary too.

In 1947 Christian Dior’s “New Look” brought haute couture to the world but also made the house a name synonymous with fashion. The 70th anniversary of the house will certainly be a cause for celebration.

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Last December we welcomed Severine Breton from Christian Dior Paris to research and photograph the “Diors” of our collection. The house was searching to find the Dior items which have been preserved at various museums throughout the world and is working on a book to celebrate this auspicious anniversary. We happily provided the items within our collection for examination and were very grateful to receive from Dior information that we have added to our research files about the designs. Included in the information were copies of some original files showing sketches, design names and fabric swatches. While each of the garments in our Centre has had information catalogued from the donor about the items having additional information directly from the designer and/or the house increases the information we can provide researchers in the future.

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Each succeeding year seems to bring with it an array of diverse tasks and opportunities for our collection, but clearly, 2017 will be a year beyond the norm.

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Fashion Resource Centre Book Launch

By Dale Peers

What a wonderful crowd came to out to celebrate at The Spoke Club in Toronto the launching of two new cross disciplinary projects.  The one that I am most proud of is our Fashion Resource Centre book!

Book Cover

Book Cover

The project was completed in an incredibly short period of time and would not have been possible without the vision of our Dean of the Faculty of Communication, Art and Design, Michael Maynard and the students who were (almost) as excited as I was to embark on this project. The students from the Corporate Communications post-graduate certificate (Laura Kelly, Kate Knight, Chantelle Ormond and Hillory Renkema) were mentored by Professor Tom Bartsiokas who I also had the great good fortune of working with on this project. Tom managed not one but two projects – this and the Art Collection Seneca @ York book. We spent many hours choosing photos, editing my descriptions and deciding where to place the most pithy comments from donors, alumni, students, designers and industry experts.

Sample pages from book

Sample pages from book

Also on our committee/support team was Chair of the School of Fashion Gitte Hansen who lent her excellent eye and assisted the students in contacting many of the industry experts who made such lovely quotes an extra special element of the book.

Snapshot of garment

Snapshot of garment

Working with photography student Roberto Vazquez and graphic designer Lily Nguyen was delightful and has resulted in a “look book” that far surpassed anything I could have imagined.

Dress from Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

Dress from Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

I am thrilled to have been given the time by Michael and Gitte to work on this project which allows us to show the incredible and unique Resource Centre we have at SenecaCollege. I know the books are disappearing quickly, and can only hope that this means we will have an opportunity to begin Volume II.

Next year is the 50th anniversary of Seneca College and the 150th anniversary of our country. I already have a list in mind of garments that would be a wonderful celebration and tribute to these two special milestones.

Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

It’s a Rarity

What qualifies as rare in fashion?  Is it the singular genius of a designer’s work?  Is it the incredible delicacy of hand embroidered cotton or lace?  Is it the one-of-a-kind couture garment? We certainly have our share of beautifully designed, constructed and embellished garments in The Fashion Resource Centre Collection.  And many of these have been lovingly preserved by their owners or their owner’s descendants before making there way to us.  Ceremonial garments like christening gowns, graduation robes, bridal attire and formal wear, such as tuxedos, fall easily into this category.

I would agree that all of these qualify as rare but there is another, often overlooked classification of rare fashion: those items which we rarely see.

In our collection I believe some of the rare pieces are those that we preserved while others of the same category have been discarded.  If you think about what you have in your closet that you never seem able to send off to a Value Village or consignment store, what would it be?

Would you save underwear?  Would you save a ski suit you wore 15 years ago?  Would you save the maternity clothing you wore?  How about a simple day dress?

These are some of the pieces that I consider to be rare.  The everyday garments that we might describe as ordinary, but which are actually quite interesting to someone studying the clothing worn by members of a society decades ago.

These pieces are part of our Zeitgeist.  They reveal details of the people who have worn them.  The activities they engaged in and the type of clothing that may have been required either physically or socially.  They may illustrate the decorative arts popular in a particular period.  And, they may reveal the social position of the individual wearing them.

In a future blog my colleague Rhonda Roth has chosen to explore one such group of individuals who played an integral role in society in earlier centuries.

These are images of what I consider are rare garments within our collection.

Hope you enjoy!

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A woolen, one piece bathing suit from the 1920s

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A hand crochet vest for a “love-child” of the 60’s/70’s

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Maternity wear from the 1950s

A day suit from the 1920s with an icon Art Deco pattern (and square, not round buttons!)

A day suit from the 1920s with an icon Art Deco pattern (and square, not round buttons!)

It’s in the details

While the devil may be in the details when it comes to fashion, I must say I welcome Satan. Put the magnifying glass up close to a fashion item, and it reveals so many different things from a variety of perspectives. One question leads to a plethora of even more questions. This detective work is at the foundation of the study of fashion! I personally love it!

Take any item in our extensive collection (by the way we have over 15,000 items in the Fashion Resource Centre). Depending upon who you are and what your interests are you can study the item from multiple angles.

Let’s choose a cocktail gown from the 1950s.

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1950s gown from Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

If you are a student of design you may examine the garment from a structural perspective. Just why did the designer decide to use a strapless neckline? Was it because the “Nude Look” had become all the rage? (The “Nude Look” was a play on Dior’s famous “New Look” as strapless gowns became popular and gave the shoulders great exposure!) Was it because the sensual shoulders of their client deserved to be highlighted? Did the structural technique required to create a strapless gown provide an interesting challenge to the designer? Simply questioning that small detail results in even more questions and digging to figure out the motives behind the creation of this dreamy dress. It’s enough to stump Sherlock Holmes!

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Gown from 1950s, Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

A student of design may choose to look at a different aspect of the dress. In this case, the detail may be the embellishments on the cocktail dress. A close examination of the choice of lace, beading or rhinestones reveals whether this was a handmade or utilized machine production. If it was handmade how was it done? What impact would this have had on the value of the garment then, and what impact does it have now?

If you are a student of textiles you may be interested in the choices used to create the fullness in the skirt and the tightly fitted bodice. In a period when stretch fabrics as we know them today were not available and the choice to design a strapless gown would have required the consideration of structures within the bodice to fit as well as to support. The lovely fullness required of the silhouette of this period would also mean a choice of fabric for the skirt and/or the crinoline which would support that fullness. Considering the colour of the garment now versus then reveals fume fading that has changed the colour of parts of the dress rather than the whole. Is it of interest to the textile student that while the skirt and bodice have faded the seam binding and zipper have not?

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Gown from 1950s, Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

A student of history may look at a different detail in the dress. He/she may examine the garment from the perspective of its silhouette. Can we determine the date of the item from this silhouette? Is the silhouette in keeping with the fashion of the period? The strapless neckline and full skirt may emulate the work of Christian Dior or other designers of this period. If there is a label we can determine where this might have been purchased which will also tell us whether this is an inexpensive reproduction of Dior’s “New Look” or one which made its way to a Canadian fashionista via special contracts retailers had with couture houses at the time.

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Scan from 1950s issue of Echo de la Mode, a French magazine. Source: http://bit.ly/1iemAwe

The stylist, in contrast, may look at this garment and imagine the woman who wore it and what she would have worn with it. Considering the time period which hats, handbags, jewellry and gloves would have been worn with this? It’s like putting the pieces of a puzzle together.

From a social perspective when might this dress have been worn? What season? What time of day? To what event would it have been worn? The answers to these questions help to determine whether the appropriate hat would be for daytime or cocktail, and if the jewellery would be encrusted with rhinestones (perhaps only after 5:00pm). Would the shoes be dark or light? Would the wearer be a young debutante or a more sophisticated woman?

So, it is the details that often inspire the journey students and stylists alike take when looking at fashion pieces of the past. It gives us an appreciation for the time and devotion required to understand the pieces we are lucky enough to still have. And in the case of our cocktail dress – so many questions – and just about one garment!
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Seneca’s Rich Fashion History

Welcome to the inaugural blog post of Seneca’s Fashion Resource Centre! I can’t tell you how excited I am to share the wealth of information and fascinating stories that have developed over the years. So, why not start from the beginning so you have an idea of how we got to where we are today.

One of the things I like to share with new colleagues at Seneca College is its rich fashion history. In order to give the full picture, I have to go right back to the College’s inception. When the Ontario Government began its expansion of post-secondary education in the Centennial year of Canada; 1967, Seneca College was one of the first colleges to recognize the opportunity presented. And, it was a small group of Fashion students who were in the very first graduating class.

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First students to graduate from Seneca College’s fashion program in 1967

From this auspicious beginning there was no stopping the expansion and impact that Seneca would have on the fashion industry. The 1970s saw increased growth in programs which provided career paths and opportunities for studying fashion. The Fashion department diversified so that those who were interested could study the Business as well as the Art of Fashion. Our eclectic faculty now included Visual Merchandising, Cosmetics and Floral Design.

By the next decade fashion programs had solid support from Industry and allowed us to provide workplaces with well-prepared employees. Our School of Fashion continued to grow and continually upgrade its labs and methods of engaging our students in learning.

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Students of Seneca College’s School of Fashion

In 1989, we officially opened our Seneca Fashion Resource Centre, the first of its kind in Canada. I’m not shy to repeat that – it was the first of its kind in Canada.  Thanks for allowing that indulgence but it needed to be said.

Dale Peers working with students at the Fashion Resource Centre

Dale Peers working with students at the Seneca Fashion Resource Centre

As Faculty sought out different and interesting ways of delivering curriculum, they did it through collecting, recording, accessioning and finding industry support for its unique collection of clothing and accessories.  What helped the Fashion Resource Centre really take off was the joint efforts of the Fashion Group International, members of Seneca’s Fashion Program Advisory Committees and  the Costume Society of Ontario as well as wonderful Canadian designers like Claire Haddad, Marilyn Brooks, and Vivienne Poy.  These individuals saw what a wonderful opportunity this Centre could and would be and supported it by donating large portions of their design collections, giving their time and “spreading the word”.

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Costumes donated to the Seneca Fashion Resource Centre by Claire Haddad

Marilyn Brooks, Dale Peers, and Claire Haddad at Seneca Fashion Resource Centre's May 3, 2011 exhibit celebrating Canadian fashion

Marilyn Brooks, Dale Peers, and Claire Haddad at Seneca Fashion Resource Centre’s “Oh Canada” exhibit, May 3, 2011

Great relationships with curators at the ROM and the Bata Shoe Museum helped to get us off on the right foot by creating policies and procedures that would serve the collection, the college and all our stakeholders immediately as well as in the future. We owe a great debt of gratitude to all the pioneers who helped make the Fashion Resource Centre the rich, unique institution it is. This collection is ours to protect, conserve and continue to grow.

What continues to amaze me are the treasures we acquire!  A month rarely goes by when we are not contacted by someone who has heard of the collection and has something they think might be of value.  Everything from the smallest measuring tape rewound into the belly of a tiny donkey by its tail to the rhinestone encrusted dress with matching cape that weighs at least 15 kilos; the civil war widow’s black and pink silk dress to the tiny 19th century high button baby boots; bog oak mourning jewellery to a gentleman’s gibus (collapsible top hat) to an Alexander McQueen baroque inspired pant suit.  And the list goes on… It’s a veritable feast for fashion lovers. And each addition to the collection provides an opportunity to learn more about our past – how we lived and what we have worn, and as this study inspires future designers, what we may wear in the future.

Measuring tape that rewinds into the belly of a donkey

Measuring tape that rewinds into the belly of a donkey

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19th century baby boots

In 2013 we began another amazing project that is sure to be our next milestone: the 360 degree photography of our collection.  This project will allow many more visitors to examine the collection through a digital portal.  All of this information is being shared with the public through our Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter sites…things that could not have been imagined back when the College was built and we were wearing go go boots.

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360 degree photo project

So, in 2014 I am happy to launch this blog which will be yet another pathway to learn about and enjoy our one-of-a-kind collection.

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