Every closet has a story to tell, and Katie and I love the stories behind all of our pieces. It's bittersweet when we find exceptional wardrobes that we know were carefully chosen by interesting women who are no longer with us. We can even sometimes feel the very energy of the women who filled those closets and we always want to know more about them.
The same is true of designers. We get attached to them, study their lives, and even start to believe we somehow know those incredibly talented men and women who created the vast collection we have acquired. That's an illusion, of course, but when you have done this for many years and you recognize the hook and eye used by one designer, the content label used by another, and the signature seams by another, you start to feel like you are in on an intimate, beautiful secret.
Designer France Andrevie photograph by Antonio Guccioni
It always makes us sad to see a designer fall off of the map and no longer be talked about, given museum exhibitions or mentioned in reference to their contributions. Many talented and well respected designers disappear from fashion school textbooks and become nothing more than a small footnote in design history. Clare Potter, Harry Collins and Sylvia Peddlar are just a few of the designers who have been largely ignored by modern day fashion historians.
Recently, we were absolutely thrilled to find a rare dress designed by the incomparable France Andrevie.
In 1978, the New York magazine called Andrevie, along with Claude Montana and Thierry Mugler, "among the most experimental members of the fashion world." Naturally, we wanted to tell you all about her and assumed the internet would be filled with volumes of information. We were shocked at how wrong we were.
But, thanks to the amazing photographs shot by Paul Van Riel available on the Europeana Website, old newspaper articles, the half a hand full of articles available online, and from interviewing a few kind people who knew her, we are hoping you can start to appreciate the unique vision that France Andrevie brought to the fashion world.
In 1980, The San Francisco Examiner called Andrevie the "princess of new wave fashion" and in 1981, "one of the fashion world's most militant feminists."
The writer Jean-Pierre Fily described her as "a lioness in the world of ready-to-wear."
Designer France Andrevie by Antonio Guccioni
So who was she? France Andrevie was originally from Belgium and she started her own line of clothing there called, Laurent Vicci, a name she invented. She then moved to Paris in 1976 to start over again as she was approaching 30, this time, using her own name.
She would later say that she had no support from the French, the banks, or the journalists. She claimed that her first real support came from the Japanese and then the Americans.
Andrevie's favorite designers were Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons, Claude Montana, Thierry Mugler and French designer Anne Marie Beretta (another somewhat forgotten name).
Known as a passionate designer who would work all night, often in silence, she was driven to achieve. She lived in hotels, surrounded by her cats and dedicated her life to her craft.
The New York Times described Andrevie as a workaholic who was "her own business manager, accountant, designer and, if need be, shipping clerk."
The master of layering, France Andrevie was layering different patterns, textures and color ways and creating a high fashioned "immigrant" look long before Gucci.
France Andrevie with her entourage of runway assistants & MUAH professionals
Successful make-up artist, Linda Mason, created many of the most memorable runway looks for France Andrevie models.
"She was fabulous, I loved her clothes, very exciting to work with as she had a strong vision, so strong that you could intuitively pick up on it. She wouldn't second guess your ideas she would just let you create what you felt for her." Linda Mason
Manfred Millicent, textile designer, worked for the first time in fashion with France Andrevie. She remembers her as being very advanced for the time, or a "visionary."
Backstage at France Andrevie Show Photograph by Paul Van Riel 1980
Photographer Paul Van Riel remembers the Andrevie runway shows as having colorful, graphic clothing that was always more interesting that the more famous labels at the time. She even had a live band on stage with percussion instruments for one of her shows!
Perhaps my favorite remembrances of France Andrevie came from her dear friend Coco, who at first echoed the other voices who said it was hard for her to stop working and that she was a warrior and a thinker, who spent all day and all night thinking of new looks. But then she humanized her in a genuinely connected way, "..we were soul sisters. She had an amazing smile and an intense, beautiful look in her eyes." I can see that intensity about which she speaks in the scarce images of Andrevie available.
It should come as no surprise that France Andrevie's favorite writer was Colette, 'a vanguard' as she called her, 'outside the norms.'
There were famous designers who actually decided to become designers after being inspired by one of her several avant garde runway shows.
''What I have always wanted is a mix of masculine and feminine clothes, I love the simplicity of what men wear and I've tried to reinterpret it in a feminine way, but without the froufrou that the word 'feminine' usually implies.'' France Andrevie
France Andrevie died of a heart attack in her workshop in 1984 at the young age of 38. She was survived by her husband and 6 month old son. The obituaries were brief and not very descriptive. Not, in my opinion, an appropriate legacy for such a groundbreaking designer.
Back to that dress we acquired, I am happy to say that a museum in Belgium purchased it from us, so maybe there is hope in honoring the Andrevie legacy.
As for me, I don't think my research into France Andrevie can stop now. I have been somehow captured by the bright, brief light she shined on the world with that wild talent that ultimately consumed her short life. I hope to encourage fashion lovers to re-discover the world of France Andrevie, where all things are possible and where a dreamer's imagination becomes a brilliant reality.
But when you're gone, who remembers your name? Who keeps your flame? Who tells your story?
Lin-Manuel Miranda - Hamilton
We recently acquired this vintage dress from a Northwest estate that had some exceptional pieces of turn of the century and early 1900's - 1920's clothing and accessories. When we saw the label, we knew we had found a rare treasure.The details were so fine and we had never seen this quality of work in what would have been considered a "day dress", especially from that era. It was obviously a dress deserving of the Harry Collins label.
But, who was Harry Collins? Lady Astor and Matilda Dodge were two of his clients and he was considered the creme de la creme of American designers during the Edwardian and Art Deco eras. A well known, equally admired contemporary of Lucille, his designs were recognized as America's version of the work of famous French designers of the time including the Callot sisters, Lanvin, Poiret, Doucet and Paquin. He played a huge role in defining the American style of the 1910s and 1920s. So, if he was so big at the time, why haven't most of you heard of him? That's a good question.
Today, while wondering how to write this post, Katie remarked that Harry Collins is our Alexander Hamilton. (We even thought, for a brief second, of re-writing Lin Manuel Miranda's lyrics to fit the designer's life - it was a quick fail). But when you think about it, there are some similarities between the two men. Like Hamilton, Harry Collins helped write a chapter in American history. Okay, maybe he didn't help form a democracy, or create the treasury, but he did create a look for American women. His contribution to the fashion world was well respected and admired in the day. Like Hamilton, Harry Collins wasn't given the credit he deserved from the institution to which he dedicated his life. But, unlike Hamilton, Harry Collins is only known today to a small group people - mainly fashion historians and collectors.
1919 Evening Dress by Harry Collins owned by Matilda Dodge from The Meadow Brook Hall collection
I have a soft spot for forgotten fashion designers. Vera West, Clare Potter, and Sylvia Pedlar of Iris Lingerie are just a few of the talented designers that I believe never received the recognition they deserved. So naturally, when I wanted to write about Harry Collins I developed a soft spot when I discovered that no one seems to mention him anymore. The more I looked, the further down the rabbit hole I fell. For someone obviously so well known during his career, there is virtually no information about his life. Other than a few grainy images from newspaper archives, there seem to be no images of the man himself.
In terms of his famous dresses, other than this one we have listed at Dressing Vintage on 1stdibs, they all simply seem to have vanished! We could only find only a couple of dresses that had already sold online. I believe the red dress was sold by Past Perfect Vintage and the Orange dress was sold by Antique Dress.
There are only a few books that mention his name, and a handful of websites that make any reference to his career.
Dress designed by Harry Collins in peach silk chiffon with turquoise, chartreuse, and pink silk ribbon and metallic trim for Mrs. Francis Garven (Mabel Brady) 1921The Philadelphia Museum of Art
Philip A. de László Portrait of Mrs. Francis P. Garvan (wearing the Harry Collins dress designed or her) and Her Four Children
Florence Harding's dress, featuring pearlized sequins on tulle and blue velvet ribbon trimmed with rhinestones.
There are a couple of references to Collins on some fashion museum websites and in other places in regard to the dress he designed for first lady Florence Harding in 1921. Though he was a Broadway and Hollywood film costume designer, he never achieved acknowledgment for his work.
Elsie Lawson, Emilie Lea and Marguerite St. Claire in Gloriana, the cast of Oh My Dear in 1920 at The Princess Theatre and Miriam Collins in Oh My Dear 1920
Vivienne Segal and Carl Randall in Oh Lady! Lady! 1918
Yansci Dolly of the Dolly Sisters in Harry Collins designs
But, if you spend days pouring through archives of vintage fashion magazines, as someone I know just did, you will find his many fashion articles and numerous clothing advertisements. You only have to look at the sheer volume of 1920's Harry Collins advertisements to get an idea of how prolific his design career was during the teens and 20's.
The US Patent office has a few of his patents on file.
Harry Collins Undergarment Patent 1942
1923, Harry Collins published a fashion book called The ABC of Dress. That is something that actually IS available online.
In that book, you can learn a lot about what Harry Collins thought about fashion. He believed, for example, that the term "chic" really just referred to "line" as in the line, or posture of your body. "..grace and charm are a result of training the body to express one's mind with sincerity and poise." I love that.
But what about the man himself? What can we find out about his life? You will find conflicting information about the year he died - one source says 1958 and another says 1980. And after the patents applied for in the 1940's, he virtually disappears. After spending many hours on genealogical websites, (I already explained that I'm obsessive), I discovered that he married Hattie Manluck in Manhattan on March 19, 1913, and he had 2 children.
The plot thickens. This is where I found that Harry Collins, like Alexander Hamilton was touched by controversy, although more indirectly. One of his children, Richard Collins, was a famous Hollywood screenwriter who was blacklisted for his association with the Communist party during the McArthur era. I found the following from his obituary in the LA times regarding that period:
"He borrowed money to open a dress-cutting business but couldn't make a go of it. He was by then caring for his aged parents and raising two children from his marriage to actress Dorothy Comingore, best known for portraying the character modeled on William Randolph Hearst's mistress Marion Davies in "Citizen Kane." He and Comingore were divorced in 1945. She lost custody of their children in a highly publicized 1952 court hearing, at which she was accused of being an unfit mother because of alcoholism and her Communist leanings. A few weeks earlier, she had been an unfriendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee. (In a 1991 movie about the blacklist era, "Guilty by Suspicion," the character of an emotionally troubled actress hounded by the committee was inspired by Comingore.)"
Hoping to work in the film industry again, in 1951, testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He named more than 20 colleagues and friends in the film industry as belonging to or sympathizing with the Communist party. Though his career was once again intact, a cloud hung over his life from that testimony.
So from Richard's obituary, we know that Harry Collins has two living grandchildren; Michael Collins and Judith Collins Collard. I would love to get into contact with them and ask them about their grandfather. So Michael and Judith, if you find this blog - please contact me! I believe your grandfather, like Alexander Hamilton, needs someone to keep his flame and tell his story.