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A Fashionable Summer ~ Hattie Carnegie

Discussion in 'A Fashionable Summer 2005 (Asst. Designers)' started by fuzzylizzie, Aug 2, 2005.

  1. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Welcome to VFG's workshop on Hattie Carnegie. This afternoon we will be focusing on Ms. Carnegie's legacy as a fashion stylist, or editor. Later this afternnon, we hope to be joined by Carnegie fan and expert Amy Wiggins, who runs a website devoted to Ms.Carnegie. I'm sure Amy can give us a lot of insight on Hattie Carnegie, the woman.

    A note about references: My favorite references are primary ones - items written during the time being studied. A delightful little book - <I>Fashion Is Our Business</i> by Beryl Williams was used extensively in my writing of this workshop. It's a great little book that profiles several important designers of the 1940s. If you do not have a copy, then you need to find one!

    As always, I welcome your questions and comments. The purpose of the workshops is to learn a little, but also, to have a little fun and conversation while do so. So come along and learn how a poor immigrant girl from Austria became one of the great taste-makers of her time!

    <b>Hattie Carnegie ~ 1889 ~ 1956

    The Early Years</b>

    Hattie Carnegie was born in Vienna, Austria in 1889. Her name was Henrietta Kanengeiser. In 1900, she immigrated to the United States, and settled with her family in New York City. There is a famous story that while on the ship to America, Hattie asked a fellow voyager about who the richest and most prosperous people in America were. The answer was, "Andrew Carnegie" and according to the story, young Hattie decided to change her name to Carnegie. Eventually the rest of her family dropped Kanengeiser and adopted the Carnegie name, a practice that was common among immigrants.

    By the time she was a young teenager, Hattie was already working. She worked at various millinery establishments, and at Macy's. But in 1909 she, along with friend Rose Roth, opened her own business, a tiny hat shop. It was called "Carnegie - Ladies' Hatter." They also sold dresses, which were made by Rose, as Hattie could not sew. Hattie did the hats. The place was a huge success, partly die to Hattie's sense of style and appearance, and four years later they moved to a larger place and were able to incorporate as a business.

    As the business grew, Hattie and Rose were able to hire workers who made the designs that Hattie developed. At this time, ALL fashion came from Paris, and so Hattie studied the Parisian styles, choosing only the best, and adapting them for her customers. And while she could neither sketch nor sew, Hattie was very good at communicating to her workers exactly what she wanted them to do.

    In 1919, Hattie bought Rose Roth's share of the business, and Hattie Carnegie, Inc. was born. This was also the year of her first buying trip to Paris. As I said before, during this time it was generally believed that all good fashion orininated in Paris. It was common practice for American specialty shops like Carnegie's and like Bergdorf Goodman to go to the Paris shows. They would buy dresses, bring them back to America where they would be adapted and/or copied for the American market. The best description of this practice is in Elizabeth Hawes's book, <I>Fashion is Spinach,</i> another vintage book that I highly recommend to students of fashion history.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarnegie1.jpg>
    This ad was in the October 1921 <i>Harper's Bazar. </i> Notice the mention of adaptations, but also notice that she was importing "foreign creations". Carnegie continued this practice throughout her career. One could buy a Chanel at Hattie Carnegie, or they could buy her intrepretation of Chanel's work.

    Carnegie made as many as seven trips to Paris a year, and even kept an apartment there. At the height of her influence (the 1930s), Hattie Carnegie was buying as many as 75 dresses from each Paris collection!
    Peter Sheriff likes this.
  2. Patentleathershoes

    Patentleathershoes VFG Veteran VFG Past President

    So an adaptation in most cases was not referring to the garment being an adaptation of a particular designer's work, but was referring to the designer who adapted the work.

    It seems that Ms. Carnegie was not like some of the previous designers we have covered such as Louella Ballerino and Madame Carven who actually draped and sewed the original versions of their garments, and were sewers primarily, rather her expertise layed in millinery and then she was just very adept at communicating what she wanted on the clothing end, and someone else's hands created it. Much like a costume designer in a very very large costume department who was more of an artistic director rather than hands on with a needle.

    Am I understanding this correctly?

    Thanks for presenting this workshop, btw Lizzie!

  3. I guess all is fair in fashion design. Take a little from this collection and a little from that one.

    Thanks for having this workshop, Lizzie. I, too, admire Hattie's work.
  4. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    To clarify - an adaptation was when an American (or British) designer or Department store or manufacturing house bought a dress from a French couturier, brought it home, MADE CHANGES, and then made and sold the changed, or adapted dress.

    Adaptations could be very similar to the original dress. In the case of Hattie Carnegie, her adaptations were often seemingly identical to the French original, but changes were made in the sizing. Often a Carnegie adaptation would cost as much as the imported original.

    Another major buyer and adaptor of French Couture in the 20s and 30s was Bergdorf Goodman. They too did very high quality, almost couture adaptations.

    Most adaptations were, however, of a lower quality and price. Cheaper fabrics were used, fancy or costly detailing was omitted. I have a 1929 Sears/Roebuck catalogue that shows Patou and Agnes adaptations for $9.99!

    Linda, all was fair, as long as the adaptor actually *bought* the dress they intended to copy. At the time there was an entire industry in Paris of Copy Houses, workshops that got their hands on couture designs by any means possible, and that included sneaking sketchers (Like Elizabeth Hawes) into the collection shows.
  5. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    It would not be accurate to call Hattie Carnegie a designer. During her time she was called a fashion editor. And yes, the modern term would most likely be "Artistic director."

    And while she did not do the actual designing for her company, she did often suggest designs, and she always had the final word on how any garment would be constructed. She might change the shape or placement of pockets, add or subtract trim, change the fabric or color of a design.

    But what she was really good at was recognizing design talent in others. More on that later.
  6. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    <b> The 1930s</b>
    Until 1928, all the dresses at Hattie Carnegie were made to order, but in that year she started her first ready-to-wear line. Also in that year, Norman Norell was hired to design the ready-to wear line. By this time, Hattie's business had grown to be the size of a small department store. In 1929, before the Stock Market Crash, she did $3,500,000 worth of business! And at first the Crash seemed to have little effect on the business at Hattie Carnegie, but then many of her formerly wealthy patrons found they could not pay their bills. Carnegie decided to start a new division which was much lower in cost per dress. This new line was called Spectator Sports, and dresses in that line sold for about $40 each (Still high for 1934, but much lower than her custom work!)

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarnegcoat.jpg>
    This is a Hattie Carnegie Original Coat from the late 30s. It's beautifully finished and lined in silk.
    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarnecaot3.jpg>
    Collar close-up

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarndglabel.jpg>
    Coat label

    So in spite of the depression, Carnegie's business thrived. She opened even more departments in her store. It was said that a lady could be dressed from "Hat to hem" at Hattie Carnegie (the one item she did not have being shoes!) By the 1940s, Carnegie's store was actually a department store. There was a handbag shop, where a customer could order a bag to match an outfit or hat, the fur salon which was next to the Custom Salon, a millinary shop and a ready-to-wear hat shop, her jewelry department, an antique shop that sold furniture, china and glass, a cosmetic and perfumes department (Some of which were packaged in Lenox china containers), the Jeune Fille shop which sold Spectator Sports and ready-to-wear from other design houses.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarnegie8.jpg>

    All the items seen in this 1937 <I>Vogue</i> ad - dress, hat and gloves, were offered at Hattie Carnegie and at better department stores and specialty shops around the country.

    She had begun selling her ready-to-wear dresses, hats and accessories in stores around the country by the late 1930s. Her clothes were particularly popular in California, and many Hollywood stars were known to wear Carnegie's clothes. This helped spread her reputation and helped establish her as a taste-maker across the country. She also began to market her cosmetics and perfumes in stores across America. She was well-known enough to be asked to endorse other products:

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarnegie11.jpg>

    In the 1/1/40 issue of <i>Vogue </i>
  7. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    <B>Elegance and Good Taste</b>
    Hattie Carnegie is very often associated with elegance and high fashion, and even her ready-to-wear and more casual clothing always had a touch of the elegant. Carnegie's fashion philosophy is often summed up as the woman should wear the clothes, not the clothes wear the woman.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarnegie15.jpg>

    "A dress of chamois-yellow linen, with dark red and green dots like twiddlewinks." <i>Vogue</i>, 5/1/39. A simple day dress made mysterious by the proper use of the correct hat!

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarnegie9.jpg>

    This Florida shorts set was made from silk and embroidered and sequined! 1/15/41 <I>Vogue </i>

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarnegie101.jpg>

    Casual Navy-inspired dress has matching hat and look at the navy tights! <i>Vogue, 1/1/40</i>

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarnegie111.jpg>

    Probably the look most associated with Hattie Carnegie - the perfectly tasteful black evening dress that made the wearer look and feel like $1,000,000!
    November 1940 <i>Bazaar</i>
    "The paillette pinafore for evening, shining like coal over a magnificent lingerie blouse of lace and organza, Hattie Carnegie."

    Hattie Carnegie's jewelry is highly collectible today. This elegant set dates to the early to mid 40s.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarnejew.jpg>

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarnejew2.jpg>
    Thanks to Connie at CosmicCat Vintage for the use of these jewelry pictures.
  8. Oh, wonderful workshop Lizzie. I have really been looking forward to it!:roll:
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!
  9. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    You are very welcome, Marie. I chose the topic of Carnegie because I really didn't know a lot about her and wanted to learn myself. I always thought that it was a bit odd that a label that was basicly a store in NYC was found so often by people all over the country. Of course what I learned was that her R-T-W lines were marketed all over the country.
  10. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    <B>The 1940s</b>

    By 1940, Carnegie's operation was so large that it employed over 1000 workers. Most of them worked in the manufacturing of her ready-to-wear lines, but her custom shop continued to be the foundation of her business and reputation. Carnegie became known as a woman of taste, and she was so renowned that she was often featured in her own ads.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarnegie2.jpg>

    This jewelry ad from the November1, 1946 <I>Vogue </i> has a drawing of Ms. Carnegie wearing her pearls...

    and here is a portrait from about the same time.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarneport.jpg>
    From <i>Fashion Is Our Business</i>, 1945

    During the War, Carnegie continued to be a leader in the American fashion scene. But because access to French fashion and fabrics had been curtailed, she had a very prominent place in the fashion publications of the era. And during the War, she began to rely more on American fabric designers and manufacturers, and she continued to use them even after the War ended.

    After the War, there was a new feel to fashion, which was summed up in a feature in <i>Life</i> in 1945:

    <I>'Custom-made Fall clothes give U.S. women best chance to splurge since War began<P>

    This winter American women will feel free to dress up as they have not dressed up in four years. What they will wear has already been determined... and, this year, will make U.S. women more expensively and prettily dressed than they have been for almost two decades.
    New York's custom dresses are high fashion, right now the best and most varied in the world. They are the ultimate big-city expression of the small main-street dressmaker. Usually they are rather conservative, which makes them stay in style longer and seem a good investment to those who buy them. This year most of the dresses tend to ballooning skirts, smaller waists and rounded shoulders.' </i>

    Interesting, as this was 2 years before Dior's 'New Look'.

    <img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/hattieC1.jpg">

    <img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/hattieC2.jpg">

    My thanks to Lin at Noir*Boudoir for the use of these pictures.
  11. tab

    tab Registered Guest

    I am just testing the forum. This is Amy and I created the first website dedicated to Hattie Carnegie.


    I am so looking forward to sharing my love for Hattie and the reason why I started my site and not only love her designs, but Hattie herself is very special to me for a number of reasons.

    Thank you Lizzie for logging me in. I am just getting home from work will be online tonight after six EST and looking forward to the discussion of Hattie herself the very most, because her life was very inspiring.

    Thank you

  12. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    If anyone has any additional pictures of Hattie Carnegie items, please feel free to post them. I'd especially like to see some jewelry pictures.

    Something I meant to mention earlier, was the different labels that are often found. The best - and most expensive - clothing at Hattie Carnegie came from her Custom Salon. I've never seen a label that reads Custom Salon, but I assume that is how those items were labeled. I could not find any definite reference to the Little Salon, which is on our resource. And despite the name "Hattie Carnegie Originals" was the ready to wear label.

    The "Jeune Fille" shop was the cheapest label in the store. And according to <I>Fashion Is Our Business,</i>, the "Blue Room" was only open between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and that it was a shop for men to go buy Christmas presents for their wives and girlfriends!
  13. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Yea! Amy! I'm so glad that you were able to get logged in. I'm looking forward to discussing Hattie in depth.
  14. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    <b>The 1950s</b>

    During the 50s, Carnegie continued to make the types of clothes that women across the country had come to expect from her - chic but conventional dresses and suits. She especially liked the little black dress, and was known for using a particular shade of blue - "Carnegie Blue."

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/carnegie3.jpg>
    A little black dress from Carnegie's Blue room...

    And a very similar dress in shades of red.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarnegie13.jpg>
    Thanks to Candy at Contentmentfarm Antiques

    And a "Carnegie Blue" Suit:
    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarnegie6.jpg>
    "Silk Faille coat in beautiful new fitted Silhouette with front folds, by Hattie Carnegie ~ 2/51 <I>Ladies Home Journal</i>

    And from the same year, a suit in the black of which Carnegie was so fond...
    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarnegie3.jpg>
    A Hattie Carnegie Ready-To-Wear New Look Suit, ad in 9/15/51 <I>Vogue.</i>

    She continued to make hats, accessories and jewelry.
    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarnehat.jpg>
    1950s Hattie Carnegie Hat.

    During the 50s, Carnegie also produced ballgowns, often adapted from the French couturiers.
    <Img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarnegie4.jpg>
    "Ensemble designed by Hattie Carnegie expressly for the Cadillac Coupe De Ville" ~ from a Cadillac ad, 5/1/55 <i>Vogue</i>

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarnegie5.jpg>
    5/1/55 <i>Vogue</i> "A Dior design, copied (to order) at Hattie Carnegie"

    Hattie Carnegie died in 1956. Her business remained open, first under the direction of her husband, John Zanft, and then by a former employee, Larry Joseph. Unfortunately for the business, much of the disirability of the label lay in the woman herself, and after her death, the label lost a lot of its luster. The Custom Salon was closed in 1965, but the company continued to produce jewelry, hats and accessories. The business closed for good in 1976.

    Even after her death, Carnegie accessories were highly prized.
    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarnegie7.jpg>
    April 1959 Ladies' Home Journal "Captivating addition for nights - electric pink chiffon stole with a rose by Hattie Carnegie."

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wscarnegie14.jpg>
    An early 60s hat, courtesy of Linda at Vintage ClothesLine
  15. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    Finally I've had a chance to sit down and read thru this! It's absolutely fascinating.

    I do find, from what you write, my curiosity about her further aroused. Where did she get this self-created instinct to be an arbitrix elegantiae as a random Roman might say?

    Was it thru close training in the Paris salons?

    I also wonder about this:

    Interesting, as this was 2 years before Dior's 'New Look'.

    I've seen mentions of both a pre-war Paris gown, and the work of Digby Morton in the UK immediately post-war (45-46) that they were edging towards the New Look Look, but just didn't have the access to the textiles (in the British post-war case) or the impetus (pre-war).

    I guess Dior's success there shows what success you can have with the right amount of exaggeration and well-tuned marketing.

    And you're right, Lizzie, I only recently read Elizabeth Hawes merciless account of the Paris copying, and nothing beats it for putting you right in that feverish atmosphere...

    Talking of which, Hawes always talked about Chanel having the model T 'Fords' as the wearable core of a collection, and I guess this is what HC had to be so well attuned to selecting and adapting.

  16. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Lin, from what I gathered from all my reading, Hattie must have had an inate sense of style. From the very beginning in her little hattery, she evidently was able to command high prices for her work because she, herself looked so stylish. Maybe Amy can comment on this when she returns.

    Before the War, styles were headed back to an hourglass figure. In 1940 or so there was a lot of talk about the new waist-cinching corset. There is a story in <I>Fashion Is Our Business</i> about Ms. Carnegie trying one of the corsets, wearing it on an airplane flight . After 30 minutes she went to the lounge and had an assistant help pull it off!

    Of course the War put this trend on hold, but in the States, the post-war recovery was much faster than in Europe. Skirts had already begun to fall and to get fuller. I'm sure this trend was not lost on Dior's backer - textile maker Marcel Boussac!

    I loved Elizabeth Hawes talking about the "Fords" of the collections. The "Fords" were the dresses that ended up being the hits of the season - the dresses everyone wanted. The trick was figuring out what the Fords were while viewing the collections.
  17. Hattysattic

    Hattysattic VFG Secretary

    excellent work lizzie! i have a hattie carnegie hat which you have made me want to go find and stare at now :USETHUMBUP:
  18. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Harriet, I'd be interested in the label if it is different from the ones we already have! And thanks for the kind words.
  19. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    <B>A Lasting Legacy</b>

    One of Hattie Carnegie's most important legacies to American fashion was that her workrooms were a sort of fashion designer incubator. Starting with Norman Norell, in 1928, there is a long and impressive list of noted designers who passed through the Carnegie organization. Some sources note that part of this was that Carnegie herself was notoriously hard to get along with so many talents designers left after a short time with her, but all agree that she had an amazing ability to recognize design talent.

    Unfortunately, these designers were never given credit on the label for their work. Many collectors look for Carnegie garments that show characteristics of the work of these famous designers.

    Norman Norell - 1928 -1940

    Norman Norell started working at Hattie Carnegie after designing movie costumes. He worked primarily in her ready-to-wear division, but he often went with her on her trips to Paris. In this manner he was able to study the construction and quality of French couture clothing, which he was able to incorporate into his ready-to-wear designs. Norell left Carnegie in 1941, reported after an argument over a sequined skirt. Even so, years later he said, "I learned everything I knew from her."

    Travis Banton - late 30s

    Details are sketchy about Banton's time at Hattie Carnegie, but I think it must have been after he was fired from his job in Hollywood because of his drinking problem.

    Claire McCardell 1938 - 1940

    Claire McCardell went to work at Hattie Carnegie after the firm she was working for, Townley Frocks, closed. She was to design a new, elegantly casual line called "Workshop Originals." However, it was not a good fashion fit, with McCardell's casual approach to clothing sharply contrasting with Carnegie's more chic image. McCardell left after only 2 years.

    Pauline Trigere - 1937 - 1942

    Pauline Trigere worked at Carnegie as an assistant to Travis Banton.

    Jean Louis - 1935-1942

    Jean Louis's first design was sold to movie actress Irene Dunne. In his 7 years at Carnegie, Louis designed for some of Carnegie's highest profile clients, including the Duchess of Windsor. He left Carnegie in 1942, and eventalyy went to Hollywood where his old friend Irene Dunne helped him get work in the movies.

    Gustave Tassell - late 40s- 1952

    Tassell started at Carnegie as a display designer, but ended up being so interested in the clothes themselves that he began designing. "I had never known before that clothes could be so beautiful or that women could look so wonderful as they did in the Hattie Carnegie custom-order clothes, " he wrote.

    James Galanos - 1943

    Before leaving New Youk for Hollywood, Galanos worked at Hattie Carnegie for a short time.

    Pauline de Rothschild 1943 -1953

    Pauline Potter, or de Rothschild, was hired in 1943 to replace Jean Louis. She was put in charge of the Custom Salon.
  20. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Well folks, that's about all for the first part of the workshop. I do welcome any discussion about any of the aspects of Hattie Carnegie's career.

    Later this evening, Amy will be here and we'll talk about Hattie Carnegie, the woman.

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