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A Fashionable Summer ~ Louella Ballerino

Discussion in 'A Fashionable Summer 2005 (Asst. Designers)' started by noir_boudoir, Jul 5, 2005.

  1. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    Hi there!

    After Lizzie's fabulous debut, I'm hoping to lead you further along paths exotick via the design career of Louella Ballerino.

    Now although she was fairly high profile in the 40s, Louella is nowadays more elusive. I've had a great deal of fun finding out more about her, and I hope you'll find what I've turned up interesting. I'm going to continue to research her life and work, so I'd love to hear comments, thoughts, info, or see additional pictures, or memories of any related clothes you may have seen. Anything, in fact!

    There are going to be 4 main installments about Louella, but even as I've been formulating them, I've been thinking of extra things to discuss, so I'd love everyone to contribute questions that occur to them.

    Hoping that this formatting works for you... here we go. :USETHUMBUP:
    <p align="center">
    <table valign="middle" bgcolor="white" border="0" width="610"><tbody><tr><td valign="middle" width="290"><p align="center"><img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/ballerinoportrait.jpg" border="2" width="270"><font size="-1"><br><b>P</b>hotograph by John Engstead, Beverly Hills; from 'Fashion is Our Business', B. Williams, 1946.
    </p></td><td valign="middle" width="290"><p align="center"></p><p style="line-height: 180%;" align="left"><font face="arial" size="2"><font size="+1"><b><u>Life</u></b></font><br><i>b. 1900, d. 1978</i><br>Louella Ballerino was a young mother when she first embarked on a professional design career in the mid to late-30s. She had studied with MGM costume designer Andre Ani (over 40 films, c. 1925-1930) while an Art History Major at the University of Southern California.
    When her family found themselves in financial difficulties after the Depression, Louella returned to a student money-making scheme of selling fashion sketches to wholesale manufacturers. She could make approx. $125 a month from these drawings.<br>
    </font></p></td></tr><tr><td valign="middle" width="290"><p align="center"></p>
    <p style="line-height: 180%;" align="left"><font face="arial" size="2">At the same time, Louella enrolled in pattern-making and tailoring courses at the Frank Wiggins Trade High School, Los Angeles, while gaining practical experience working in a prestigious custom dress shop. <br>
    Louella's designs started to be used in the dress shop too, while at the Institute, her teachers decided to promote her to tutor classes in Fashion Theory.</font><p style="line-height: 180%;" align="left"><font face="arial" size="2">After gaining further experience with manufacturers, Louella started her own custom business in partnership with a friend in the late 30s or c. 1940. The partnership later became a solo venture, illustrating the instability of a design-business without a full industrial co-producer, or a moneyed backer.<br>But apart from being fostered by the academic art school atmosphere, Louella Ballerino seems to have drawn strength and commercial support from the local California design movement, a trend driven both by the West coast lifestyle and the reponse to it by a new wave of fashion designers and manufacturers, a group of 'Californian Fashionists' with whom Louella consistently showed her designs through the late 40s.<br>
    <td valign="middle" width="290"><p align="center"><img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/48_39_30a-b2.jpg" border="2" width="280"><font size="-1"><br><center>A Ballerino design c. 1942 - rayon faille jacket & skirt with grosgrain and metallic trims<br> <b>C</b>opyright, the <i>Los Angeles County Museum of Art, inv. no.48.39.30a-b</i><br>Go to: <a href="http://collectionsonline.lacma.org/mwebcgi/mweb.exe?request=hiersearchimages&key=97356" target="_blank">http://collectionsonline.lacma.org/</a> and search by Designer</center></td></tr><tr><td valign="middle" width="290"><img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/landofpueblos.jpg" border="2" width="270"><font size="-1"><br>1947 Sante Fe line advert for an 'Indian excursus'<br><b>C</b>opyright noirboudoir.com
    </p></td><td valign="middle" width="290"><p align="center"></p><p style="line-height: 180%;" align="left"><font face="arial" size="2">

    <b><font size="+1"><u>California Design...</u></font></b>
    <br>In the late 30s and 40s, a great increase in the ability to travel by car, plane and boat led to a boom in American tourism to California and the South West. Society in resorts such as Palm Springs demanded a newly flexible, relaxed, yet still spectacular leisure wardrobe centered around coordinated sun separates, sportswear, afternoon and evening dresses. <br>The ingredients for this new style came from a striking rediscovery of California's Spanish heritage and Mexican surroundings, and, further afield, America's sub-tropical neighbours in the Pacific and Caribbean.
    </font></p></td></tr><tr><td valign="middle" width="290"><p align="center"><font face="arial" size="2"><font size="+1"><b>a 'fashion archaeologist'...?</b></font><p style="line-height: 180%;" align="left"><font face="arial" size="2">
    This was a movement out of which Tina Leser emerged so successfully. In contrast to Leser's globetrotting, however, Ballerino was home-bound and California-based. Her style-sampling and wide-ranging research originally largely took place in the library and, later, her own costume design collection, from whose tomes full of historical or ethnic fashions she sourced ideas.<br> In 1945, Beryl Williams commented 'She likewise studies in museums and galleries and history books, and whenever she has a chance she travels to further enlarge her sources. Every imaginable type of native art has been investigated... and every time she puts even the narrowest border around a cotton skirt, she is careful to be sure that its basic pattern is an accurate representation of the traditional one from which she derived it.'
    </td><td valign="middle" width="290"><p align="center"></p><center><img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/barrelskirtdetail.jpg" border="2" width="280"><font size="-1"><br>A banded peasant 'barrel' skirt, detail of embroidery and fringe trim, c. 1949<br><b>C</b>opyright noirboudoir.com


    Installment two in about an hour and a half!
  2. ellenm

    ellenm Registered Guest

    So that is where she came from and how she got started. She's a fascinating character. Now I can't wait to see more of her designs.
  3. Thank you, Lin. The formatting is wonderful and she is so interesting.
  4. bartondoll

    bartondoll Guest

    Lin, I was totally unfamiliar with this designer until coming across
    some of her dresses in an old 40's magazine (will hunt it up and scan
    the pics).

    The info on her is fascinating (also like the format - very easy to

    No questions at this point, just appreciative of the background information
    on this designer!

  5. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    well, the second installment is almost pasted - just my laptop is soo sloooooowwww today!! couple of minutes...
  6. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    What's so fascinating to me, as a lover of both fashion history and travel, is the connection between the two. And it's really neat that California and the Southwest were at one time, exotic destinations.

    Loving this, Lin.

  7. Patentleathershoes

    Patentleathershoes VFG Veteran VFG Past President

    I expected from your hinting beforehand that different exotic motifs would be Ms Ballerino's forte. However, what is interesting is that she took a trip 'round the world at the library versus travelling the world herself. (good example to kids who think reading can't impact their lives!)

  8. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    <i>What's so fascinating to me, as a lover of both fashion history and travel, is the connection between the two.</i>

    Exactly, this is what really attracts me to her career and her interests too - she seems to have really delved and ranged widely to produce some intense collections of ideas in quite a short time.

    As someone who travelled in the library before taking a plane anywhere, I sympathise!

    Sorry for the slight delay for part 2 - I'm working between 2 computers here, and one isn't cooperating... be with you shortly.

  9. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    p.s. remind me to post another Sante Fe railroad 40s ad - they're fantastic, evoking Indians and conquistadores....

    meanwhile, we have lift-off:<center><p align="center"

    <table valign="middle" bgcolor="white" border="0" width=610><tbody><tr><td valign="middle" width=290><p style="line-height: 180%" align="left">
    <font size='2' face='arial'>
    <u><font size="+1"><b>...fashion ethnographer...?</u></font size></b><p style="line-height: 180%" align="left">
    <font size='2' face='arial'>The leisure and play-wear repertoire around which Louella based her collections consisted of one-piece informal dresses, both casual and smart 'sports' separates in matching or coordinating sets, and beach-sets. The popularity of this leisure wardrobe ~ and the new ethnic mixture of styles that came with it ~ reflected a shift in everyday Americans' lifestyle and identity. Louella Ballerino's own exploration of this trend took it to ever more novel and distant destinations... <p style="line-height: 180%" align="left">From the <b>New York Times</b> Dec 5 1943<br><u> (right)</u>
    "Los Angeles designers have once again come through with interesting designs keyed to present times. They show and all-American influence taken not only from our own Indians but also from our Latin-American neighbors. Mexican colors are strongly in evidence. Designs are taken directly from old Guatamalan patterns. Styles are feminine..."
    </font></p></td><td width=290 valign="middle"><p align="center"><img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/guatamalandress.jpg" width=290 border=2 alt="1943 Guatamalan dress"><br><font size="-1">From the New York Times, 1943: 'A Guatamalan design in purple and yellow on a natural cotton dress. The border pattern is used on bodice and skirt. Designed by Louella Ballerino.'</td></tr>
    <tr><td width=290 valign="middle"><center><img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/barrelskirtfull.jpg " width=290 border=2><br><font size="-1">Embroidery-banded Barrel/Peasant skirt, c. 1949<br><b>C</b>opyright, noirboudoir.com

    </td><td valign="middle" width=290><p style="line-height: 180%" align="left"><font size='2' face='arial'>The dirndl skirt, separate, or in a dress, was one of Louella Ballerino's first and continuing successes; the barrel or horizontal banding visible here on a c. 1949 skirt, and on her 1942 evening suit (post 1, above) was one of her favourite and most characteristic adornments. A banded decoration gave Louella the opportunity to lift authentic designs direct from two-dimensional book illustrations, or in transferrable rolls of appliqué direct from a cottage-manufacturer and apply them on to her garments.
    <p style="line-height: 180%" align="left">The popularity of a single design, a hop-sacking dress with a dirndl skirt decorated with an African yarn figural design from the Tongan tribe, gave Louella the wherewithall to start her own idiosyncratic design house.</td></tr><tr><td valign="middle" width=290><p style="line-height: 180%" align="left">
    <font size='2' face='arial'><br>From 1949 (above), a later version of the banded full skirt, similar to one shown in a group of 'Cotton Fashions' at the Ritz Carlton Oval Room, New York, April 1949: "Louella Ballerino’s contributions spoke of the outdoor life of California. A hot-orange denim was made with front-buttoned bra and shorts. In the peasant mood was a white cotton with off-the-shoulder decolletage and barrel skirt banded in peasant embroidery over the hips." (Virginia Pope)<p style="line-height: 180%" align="left"><font size='2' face='arial'>Experimentation in pattern and ethnic style led to greater experimentation with form: Ballerino followed her dirndl launch with a range of 'full-trousered Dutch-boy slacks, with short double-breasted jackets in a contrasting colour.' and her later frock and beach set designs (below...to come) show a desire to innovate in how each garment is worn - for example, doubling a overskirt on a dress, or a wrap skirt in a beach set, as a bolero shoulder cover-up, or a cape...
    <font size='2' face='arial'>
    <td width=290 valign="middle"><center><p align="center"><img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/ballerinoshorts.jpg" width=300 border=2 alt="White Shorts with Guatamalan embroidery"><br><font size="-1"><b>C</b>ourtesy of Lizzie Bramlett: "Long shorts of white cotton thickly banked with black Guatemalan embroidery. <i>Jinx Falkenberg</i> wears them with a black bare shoulder bra. By Louella Ballerino." Glamour Magazine, February 1946.</font>
  10. artizania

    artizania Alumni + VFG Past President

    Very interesting indeed! - thanks!
  11. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    And another... I miscounted, there are 5 installments! :BAGUSE:

    <p align="center">
    <table valign="middle" bgcolor="white" border="0" width=620><tbody><tr><td valign="middle" width=290><p style="line-height: 180%" align="left">
    <font size='2' face='arial'>
    <FONT SIZE="+1"><u><b>South South-East</b></u></font size><p style="line-height: 180%" align="left">Guatamalan and Mexican-patterned sports separates like Louella's quickly became popular in the 40s. The Second World War brought the rest of the world closer, and specifically for America's West Coast, built on an existing fascination with Hawaiian styles and in addition heightened awareness of south-east Asian silks, brocades and patterns. <br>But influences came west, too. This mid-40s sculptural sundress seems to reach beyond Californian villas for inspiration, to Old World Spain.
    </font></p></td><td valign="middle" width=320><p align="center"><img src=" http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/ballerinomid40ssundress.JPG" width=290 border=2 alt="mid-40s Sundress"><br><font size="-1">A flouncy mid-40s sundress with a Spanish/Latin-American flavour, reproduced in <i>California Casuals</i></td></tr><tr><td width=290 valign="middle"><p align="center"><img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/ballerino40soutfit.jpg" width=280 border=2><br><font size="-1"> 'Colourful embroidery from a distant land was the inspiration for Louella Ballerino's Peasant-Skirted Play frock, in which American girls feel very much at home.'<br>From Williams, 'Fashion is Our Business', 1946</td>
    </td><td valign="middle" width=320><p style="line-height: 180%" align="left">
    <font size='2' face='arial'>
    In the 1930s, Austrian manufacturer Lanz had already scored a great success in California with their Germanic-peasant influenced designs, a popularity that persisted through the early years of the war. <br> Ballerino's 'play frock' (left) from the mid-40s seems to pick up on the trend for Mittel-European milkmaid freshness, again using embroidered motifs with delicate precision. This might be the outfit described in the New York Times of November 8th, 1945 when Ballerino, one of four exhibiting designers, showed a 'black peasant dress bordered at the deep, round neckline with white lace.' although the journalist here saw it as drawn from 'Mexican inspiration'. <br>And now for the dress nominated <b>My Most Desired Ballerino Design</b>, a 1946 'Sari Dress' illustrated in the New York Times of Jan 15th. *
    </font></p></td></tr><tr><td width=290 valign="middle"><p align="center"><p style="line-height: 180%" align="left"><font size='2' face='arial'>The caption reads: 'A print showing an Indian derivation is used in a frock of rayon jersey. The scarf may be looped through the waist or worn over the shoulders. A Louella Ballerino design at Stern's.<br>Now the overall effect may be pseudo-Bombay, but the details are all Ballerino-esque - a print featuring strong stripes which are played with in the cut, a flexible scarf, to be worn like a semi-detached peplum, or like a shawl... According to one contemporary report ('Fashion Fundamentals' 1947) Ballerino, like Tina Leser, pioneered the use of hand-blocked printed designs on dresses, and her taste for innovative prints only continued.<br>With the close of WWII, the next few years saw a great period of success for Louella Ballerino, as wider partnerships gave her access to the raw materials and distribution which allowed more people to appreciate her designs.</td><td width=320 valign="middle"><p align="center"><img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/saridress.jpg" width=320 border=2 alt="sari sundress"><br><font size="-1"><b>New York Times 1946</b> 'For Now or Later'<br> By Louella Ballerino. New York Times Jan 15th
    * with apologies for the quality of the picture - this is a scanned, printed and re-scanned newspaper picture...
  12. I wondered when women began wearing shorts. Would you say late 40's? I think they began wearing short shorts in the 50s, right?
  13. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    Lizzie would have an idea - but Linda, you're about to get some illustrative material on this to consider! ;)
  14. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest


    <p align="center">
    <table valign="middle" bgcolor="white" border="0" width=610><tbody><tr><td valign="middle" width=290><p align="center"><p style="line-height: 180%" align="left">
    <font size='2' face='arial'>
    <b><font size="+1"><u>Louella & Jantzen ~ 1946-48</u></font size></b><br>Louella's work for wholesalers was diverse and often apparently fleeting, but one of her most successful partnerships with a manufacturer was a two to three-year design contract with Seattle swimwear manufacturer, Jantzen. <i>LACMA</i> now holds several 1954 men's suits donated by the company's designer Maurice Levin, 'in memory of Louella Ballerino', a gift which seems to acknowledge the importance of her designs to Jantzen. in 1946, the collaboration was first promoted equally with the third link in the manufacturing chain, Bates Fabrics: <p style="line-height: 180%" align="left"><b>Right:</b>"Louella Ballerino looks with approval on her newest double-exposure… one of a collection of beach clothes designed exclusively for Jantzen, who knows there is something new under the sun, and sees that young America gets it..."

    </font></p></td><td valign="middle" width=300><p align="center"><img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/ballerinobatesjantzenad.JPG" width=300 border=2 alt="Louella reviews Bates Fabric"></td></tr><tr><td width=300 valign="middle"><p align="center"><img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/wsjantzenbates.jpg" width=280 border=2><br><font size="-1"><b>C</b>ourtesy of Lizzie Bramlett, Fuzzylizzie Vintage</td>
    </td><td valign="middle" width=290><p align="center"><p style="line-height: 180%" align="left"><font size='2' face='arial'>"...For Ballerino, as for other leading American designers, Bates custom-makes fabrics that keep their lovely, under-water colors through salt, sun and soapsuds… stay bright and shinging as a mermaid’s fins."<br>From an ad in Vogue, 1st Feb, 1946 - reproduced in <i>California Casual</i> by Maureen Reilly.
    <font size='2' face='arial'>
    <p align="left"><p style="line-height: 180%" align="left"> And here's a surviving suit in the very same Bates 'Sea Fern' fabric; these Bates fabrics were specially ordered by Ballerino for her Jantzen range and this set echoes the print/black alternating design of the advert - although she is not credited on the label, this must be one of Ballerino's designs. It was perhaps only the following year that her stock had risen sufficiently for Jantzen to weave Louella's name into their labels for the high profile promotion of a new range of innovative play outfits she produced for them.<p style="line-height: 180%" align="left">
    </font></p></td></tr><tr><td width=290 valign="middle"><p align="center"><p style="line-height: 180%" align="left"><font size='2' face='arial'><i><b>drum beats</i></b> from the new Jantzen beachwear collection By Louella Ballerino<p style="line-height: 180%" align="left"><font size='2' face='arial'> Each style group was tailored to tune into a spectacular, specially selected fabric pattern, so that each evoked specific exotic or historical themes. Two other lines which accompanied this Africa-themed set included: 'Candy Cane' a strong black and white striped American-retro styled set, and the beautiful 'Carte Blanche' white rayon set, with scrolling green border-work.</td><td width=290 valign="middle"><p align="center"><img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/ballerinojantzen2.jpg" width=280 border=2 alt="Jantzen ad"><font size="-1"><br>Jantzen's Ballerino collection, as advertised in Resort, 1947.

    </td></tr><tr><td width=290 valign="middle"><p align="center"><img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/ballerinojantzensets.jpg" width=295 border=2 alt="2 x Ballerino Jantzen Beach Sets, from the Alexander estate"><font size="-1"><br>Ballerino Jantzen Beach Sets, from the estate of Helen South Alexander, modelled and photographed by Margaret Wilds/courtesy of M.Wilds/Denisebrain.<br><img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/greenjantzenswimset5.jpg" width=270 border=2></td><td width=290 valign="middle"><p style="line-height: 180%" align="left"><font size='2' face='arial'>From perhaps the same, or a subsequent year, a charming cotton plaid three-piece beach set preserved in two colourways, from the extensive, top of the range wardrobe collected by Helen South Alexander of Spokane, a lady of great discernment, going by the rest of her high-fashion, made-to-order wardrobe. <p style="line-height: 180%" align="left"><font size='2' face='arial'>The set's ruffles show the influence of a favourite inspiration piece: the peasant apron; the use of plaid draws on American folk-history. Simpler fabric designs drawing on historic national styles balanced out the exotic in the Jantzen Ballerino ranges. <br>The style of these more mass market sets was perhaps prefigured by Louella's 1945 collection, which included a 'lime-green shorts-and-bra costume worn with a full wrap-around peasant skirt inset with black-diamond motifs'. In 1946, she showed a beach-set at Altman's Sun and Surf shop featuring a three-tiered skirt which doubled as a cape. Characteristically, the most basic three-piece leisure garment could be converted into a deceptively simple combination of ingenious features. <p style="line-height: 180%" align="left"><font size='2' face='arial'>Louella is credited on the label of these sets, unlike the earlier Bates/Ballerino/Jantzen products (above).
  15. Aha!!! Wow, those are great pictures and Maggie looks stunning as always!
  16. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    here's the other two lines I didn't include in the formatted version. I really want the Carte Blanche set, which really makes me think Ballerino was onto the Riviera style before it was a speck of sand in the rest of the world's eye...

    <img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/ballerinojantzen3.jpg" width=450>

    <img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/ballerinojantzen1.jpg" width=450>

    And yes, I was really lucky that Maggie had had those two marvellous sets - in fact, it was seeing those up for auction that really made me investigate Louella Ballerino, and then I got completely hooked after reading more about her.

    Got a career overview to come up...

  17. Patentleathershoes

    Patentleathershoes VFG Veteran VFG Past President

    Interesting that Lizzie's workshop mentioned that Tina Leser partnered with Gabar, and here you are saying Ballerino partnered with Jantzen. It makes sense because of the more casual nature of their clothing but an interesting parallel in careers. Interesting that she went "uncredited" though until later with the signature prints, so to speak. There could be a lot more Ballerino for Jantzen out there than we realize...
  18. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    Yes, I'm looking a lot closer at Jantzen suits now!

    It's really intriguing how many firms Ballerino might have designed for. There's a frustrating vagueness in the rather smooth (though useful) account of Williams.

    Certainly, when her early sketches were used by the 'custom dress shop' she's unlikely to have been credited. But on the other hand, the Williams account represents that first dirndl-skirted model, which gave her a flood of cash, as the real first expression of Louella's full wackiness, which she'd held in check before.

    But that sari dress I really want, above, is incredibly tantalising, since it seems to indicate yet another design collaboration. It seems to me to be a style which Leser and various Hawaiian shops were to adapt to more authentic fabrics before the 50s were out...

    When Louella showed in general 'California fashion' shows in the second half of the 40s, she showed with Rose Marie Reid, Cole, Catalina and Mabs Barnes. But she was also alongside Dede Johnson, Peggy Hunt... so these were designers seen as distinct cross-over people.

    I'll have more material on this to come, but her career trajectory is interesting - she was so intensely original for just over 10 years or so, but then doesn't appear to have the big business backing to become a long-term 'name' like Leser.

    Makes you think about hindsight and fashion history...

  19. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    If that Carte Blanche set ever comes up on ebay, I'm afraid there will be a bit of a bidding war! It is the BEST!

    And I think the unlabeled bathing set I have really points out the importance of collecting primary material. I had just sent the article with the ad to Lin when I found the bathing suit on eBay. We did not realize at the time that she was not on the label of all her Jantzen designs, I guess because she was credited on Maggie's labels. I almost fell out of my chair when I spotted it!

    So yes, I'm sure too that there are many unlabeled Ballerino designs out there.

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