Just as today’s music is a product of past influences so too is fashion. Here are seven of the 1950s fashion designers still influencing us today.
Christian Dior as a turning point in Fashion
Christian Dior, born in Granville, Normandy, was an influential fashion designer known as the founder of one of the world’s top fashion houses. Although his family wanted him to become a diplomat, his wishes were to be involved in the arts, such as fashion and sketching. He began by selling his sketches on the streets for about ten cents each, and after graduating from school, his father helped him to open a small art gallery. After a family disadvantage, he had to close the art gallery and it wasn’t until 1946 that Dior founded his own fashion house.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that Dior took the lead in the clothing and fashion industries. His designs gave women a much more feminine look such as the Princess Line, in 1953, that soon became popular with the A-Line skirts. He also challenged the wartime austerity look by his lavish use of bold material. It was after the war that women desired a more feminine and elegant kind of look and Dior gave it to them thus becoming the leader of a major turning point in terms of fashion.
Elegance dictated the new trend and even though Dior was producing what women elected as the new trends, Hollywood had a major role in fifties’ fashion because they helped with their indirect advertising. Elegant and classic styles, such as the ones Christian Dior was offering in combination with flowers, stripes, spots and abstract shapes, were splashed across fashion and glamour magazines like Vogue and Women’s Weekly; and Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, idols of the time, became style icons by using these new designs, portraying a continental alternative defined as chic and modern.
However, Dior was not the only brand that was emerging in the post war era. Christian Dior faced a challenge when Chanel appeared in the industry with a new design: The Chanel suit. The collarless, fitted jacket bonded with the skirt below the knees was all about elegance and sophistication and women were rapidly, as what happens with the fashion trends, changing their minds about the new and upcoming designs.
Chanel’s 1950s Designs
Chanel has been a predominate name in the fashion industry, even today it is a household name that is a synonym for chic style and sophistication. In the 1950s, with the re-opening of Chanel’s fashion house, came the advent of the new line of Chanel suits. They were designed with lavish fabrics, trimmed with luxurious braid work, and lined with soft, delicate materials.
The suits had an almost blocky quality about their shape, which is a notable characteristic of 1950s suits. While the suit jacket was the most notably blocky part of the suit, the skirt was on the slim side. When the suit was worn, it would produce a flowing silhouette that was beautifully linear, breaking free of the current trend of the nipped-in waist. The main fabric used in the construction of the suit was chiefly high quality tweeds, occasionally these wool materials would be designed by Bernat Klein.
The new line was revolutionary not only for its design, but for the fashion industry as well. Chanel’s knowledge of the fashion industry and market lead her to a conclusion that couture’s reign was coming to an end. With a survival hinging on a depleted customer base, Chanel decided to focus on selling her designs to the mass market.
Establishments like Macy’s and Wallis soon began carrying Chanel’s designs, which provided the fashion house with a great source of income. Some companies would pay an incredibly high price for a singular linen copy of a designer model garment. With this purchase, every detail of the garment was included so they could properly reproduce the design for mass markets or create a more exact copy of the original design.
Brioni Suits – what men really want
While the turning point in the fashion industry during the fifties is mainly concentrated on the women’s change toward elegance and sophistication (as it happened with fashion houses Dior and Chanel), men’s dress code also changed dramatically during the post war era. Men were looking for a different life after the war, they wanted a change in their uniform because they wanted style and elegance as opposed to austerity and plainness.
It was in 1952 that Brioni’s first fashion show was held in Florence giving exposure to the brand worldwide. Two years later, they began their tour in the United States, starting with a show in New York City, following it by eight more in different cities. The fifties were a time of change and Brioni gave men the opportunity of a transformation.
Brioni is an Italian fashion house founded in 1947 that specializes in hand-made suits, named after the Croatian Islands of Brijuni (pronounced Brioni) widely visited by aristocrats and glamorous personalities in the 20’s and 30’s. The first suit shop opened at the end of World War II in Rome’s Via Barberini by master tailor Nazareno Fonticoli and his business parner Gaetano Savini who dedicated themselves to offer elegance and style, while their hand-made suits represented, and still do, good life, suave attitude and uniqueness.
It was during the fifties that American actors and celebrities searched for a unique sense of style and the brand, by offering perfection and innovation, attracted clients such as Clark Gable and Gary Cooper. By offering a totally customized suit, in terms of personality and bodily proportions, Brioni has been able to maintain their high-end clientele, 25,000 and counting, since their beginning.
A typical Brioni hand-made suit goes through ten hours of sewing by hand, more than double the amount of time of fine craftsmanship for buttons and about four times the amount of time ironing to perfection. The brand maintains perfection as their ideal, which explains why they keep being on top of the game. Brioni, as in the 1950’s, gives their clients the possibility of feeling secure and elegant in a hand-made suit that defined the same ideals as the men wearing them.
The Mainbocher Influence in the 1950s
The Chicago-born American designer, Main Rousseau Bocher, best known for the wedding gown designer for the Duchess of Windsor, remains influential with his eye for elegance, glorious fabrics and is still nothing short of magical in his way of details. A Mainbocher cardigan might have been designed with stunning jeweled buttons that announced excellent taste of the wearer or for those who coveted his evening and ball gowns, it was all about femininity, lace and sheer fabrics.
Think Katherine Hepburn alongside Cary Grant or Spencer Tracy or Grace Kelly alongside any of her Hollywood co-stars. Those classic high-waisted trousers that made women’s legs appear far longer than what they were, but also magically reduced a woman’s waist size, are the essence of the Mainbocher influence.
Bocher made a significant contribution to stage productions and even designed war uniforms. He is solely responsible for strapless evening gowns, those still worn today on red carpets across the globe. The difference then was the inclusion of those ultra-girly short white gloves. It was all about the blacks and whites with this renowned designer.
One tell-tale sign of a Mainbocher creation was the sleeveless white blouse that fell just below the waist and rested atop a flowing full length black skirt. Paired with the classic gloves and stiletto heels, magic was born. The Mainbocher designs were expensive, indeed; however, women flocked to each season’s new arrivals with the anticipation we now have for contemporary designers such as Donna Karan or Versace.
Mainbocher, now in his late seventies, has declared himself the “Rolls-Royce of the fashion trade” and we couldn’t agree more. Some things never change and there are those styles, courtesy of great designers such as Mainbocher, who as revered now as they were in the 1950s.
Norman Hartnell, fashion royalty
Norman Hartnell was the appointed dressmaker to the British Royal family and an English fashion designer. From an early age he had a great talent for design and sketches, but it wasn’t until he was studying architecture at Cambridge that he started to design clothes. He began his career by opening his own dressmaking business in 1923, establishing his name as one of the most popular couturier in Britain. Located in the heart of London, Norman Hartnell’s shop received visits from socialites, artists, film stars and royalty, for which he became known.
His style is known for intricate and extravagantly embroidered gowns, using fabrics such as satin and tulle. His first wedding dress was described as “the eight wonder of the world” when the bride of Lord Weymouth worn it at their wedding. From then on, hundreds of socialites and celebrities wanted to be dressed by him, even though his clothes was nothing alike the “conventional” fashion because of its theatrical and costume-like styles, very lavish and excessive. In the words of the English designer, “Simplicity is the death of the soul.”
In 1935 came the first big break; the Royal commission to create a wedding dress for Lady Montague Douglas Scott and the dresses for the bridesmaids, two of them being Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. Norman Hartnell was officially chosen dressmaker to the Royal Family in 1938. But it was in 1953 that he created the Queen’s remarkable coronation dress, a dress that greatly influenced Dior’s new collection, the collection that took a new step towards feminism in the post war era. A dress that is widely recognized as a symbolic royal look.
During the early 21st century, the house of fashion of Norman Hartnell was still dressing the Queen Mother. After his death in 1979, Marc Bohan, a French couturier, intended to continue his legacy. However, with the recession of the early years of 1990’s, Norman Hartnell closed its doors in 1992. Nonetheless, his own personal legacy, his royal dresses, are still alive in the history books and museums, and his name is recognized as one of the most influential dressmakers of the Royal Family.
1950s Fashions of Hubert de Givenchy
According to Givenchy’s official website, Hubert de Givenchy arrived on the Paris haute couture fashion scene in 1952, after studying with such notable Parisian designers as Jacques Fath, Robert Piquet and Lucien Lelong. That year, Givenchy introduced his line of separates, which showed tops with puffed sleeves paired with simple skirts.
Givenchy, however, was probably best known for the designs which highlighted his love affair with the female form. His creations showed a woman’s curves with distinct femininity—off the shoulder or strapless bodices drawn to a small fitted waist and skirts that flared out beautifully with lengths ranging from just below the knee to others that barely cleared the floor. His designs featured matching stoles made from the same material as the dress to round out the look.
A chance meeting with Audrey Hepburn turned out to be quite lucrative for Givenchy. In 1953, he was expecting to meeting with Katherine Hepburn, when Audrey Hepburn showed up. Thus began a professional relationship that would span over 40 years, with Hepburn inspiring Givenchy to create some of his most beautiful pieces and then modeling them for him both on and off screen.
Givenchy became one of the premier designers to the stars and royalty alike, dressing such beautiful women as Lauren Bacall, Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy, Princess Grace of Monaco, as well as Hepburn.
Toward the end of the decade, Hubert de Givenchy came up with a design that ran contrary to what he was famous for, i.e. beautiful form-fitting gowns. The sack dress, a shapeless chemise, was a straight up and down dress with no form; however, it caught on in women’s fashion for the fact that women who wore it felt freed from the constraints of form-fitting clothing.
Givenchy was one of the first designers to realize that women wanted designer clothing, but didn’t want to necessarily wait for it to be custom made for them. In 1953, he launched his own luxury made-to-wear fashion line and opened a retail store in Paris, catering to women all over the world. And the rest is history.
Gucci’s success in the 1950s
In fashion, the popularity of trends and styles are unpredictable and changeable. Occasionally, however, there’s a brand that can reach into the hearts of the consumers and knows exactly what they want and how to give it to them. These are the brand and labels that remain on top of the game. Gucci, with its blending of the classic and innovative, have formed part of the fashion world nearly for one hundred years. However, it was in the fifties that Gucci became the elegant brand that we know now of.
It was in the 1950’s, after the war, that brands and designers had to create new fashion trends. They were looking for changes in the way people view clothing and accessories. The 1950’s clothing was being led by Christian Dior whose garments gave a more feminine appeal for women, such as the A-line skirts, as opposed to the classy and dull styles of before the war.
Women were using trendy coats instead of the traditional shawls and the fabrics used were those who accented the woman’s curvy body. The 1950’s were the times that led to the liberation of the sixties; therefore, men and women were looking for a medium of expression, of uniqueness. It was during this times of change that Gucci became known.
The House of Gucci was created in 1906 in Florence, Italy by Guccio Gucci who originally sold leather goods to horsemen in his town. Later on, by 1938, he transformed his shop to his first retail shop in Rome. It was between the fifties and sixties, with his two sons as the leaders of the house of fashion, that Gucci the brand became a symbol of elegance for women and men all over Europe.
They began making leather handbags, shoes and luggage with the unique designs they are known for. It was after a few years that the brand reached an all time high when celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly were seen using their classic designs. Gucci became a sign of status and power, of elegance and style. After the war, people had more spending power and an appetite for change, therefore, women wanted to invest in luxury and elegance, and Gucci was there for them.