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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. bartondoll

    bartondoll Guest

    I agree with you Lizzie - that carte blanche set is dynamite!

    I do think a lot of the fun of collecting vintage is not only in the search for treasures, but also in the mystery of some garments and trying to solve
    it. I'm sure a lot of us now will be looking at Jantzen stuff with a different

    Lin, again, thank you for this presentation!

  2. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    thanks Sue! Ah, yes, the pitfall of doing a workshop... now everyone else will be bidding on Louella too! :P

    Mind you, it helps to recognize the label and spell the name right. I'll post the late 40s-1950 label shortly...
  3. :horny: What would ever make you think that?
  4. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest


    I can't imagine...
  5. Patentleathershoes

    Patentleathershoes VFG Veteran VFG Past President

    Another thought - sari dress, southwestern motifs...is it possible that a lot of items we debate about "maybe this is ethnic guatamalan" so on and so forth could actually be by some california designer even though sometimes the side of caution is it being an ethnic/traditional garment? I know obviously some construction or the hemline, etc, would give something away as a designer interpretation, just like there could be a lot of Jatnzens out there that one wouldn't know they were a Louella Ballerino - i bet that some garments listed as ethnic, etc could possibly be as well to the untrained eye or to the eye that is trained...but is deceived by a "stumper"
  6. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    <i>is it possible that a lot of items we debate about "maybe this is ethnic guatamalan" so on and so forth could actually be by some california designer even though sometimes the side of caution is it being an ethnic/traditional garment?</i>

    Oh absolutely! Although I think in terms of guatamalan or South American garments, the type of garment is really going to make a difference. For instance, I have an unlabelled Guatamalan-weave short-sleeved wrap jacket, but I would never think it was <i>actually</i> ethnic; it's constructed in a classic 40s-easy-wear kind of way.

    It's when we get to souvenir-wear, or 'Americanised' styles that it gets ambiguous. For instance, the 50s painted Mexican circle skirts. Yes, they were made in Mexico (or many were), but when they became popular, everyone started making them. And the 'Mexican' part becomes debatable. I saw a printed version by Nelly de Grab, New York sold as a Mexican painted circle skirt. Great skirt, but just another stage along from authentic 'ethnic'.

    Ballerino tended to get authentic decorative elements, but put them on essentially Californian models, so she's not as likely to be the subject of confusion (I think...).

  7. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    that label - with California in capitals...

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

    I'll need to start working out how to boil some of this down into a bio!

    Another 'page' to come later, plus a reading list...

  8. I had a 50s Jantzen swimsuit sell 2 years ago, however, it was just plain hot pink. Do you think most of hers were print or were some solids?
  9. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    Some of her own were solids, and there's one mention of a salmon pink set by her c. 1946.

    However, I do think that the point of having a special range was having <i>some</i> kind of name recognition in there.

    Ballerino's name wasn't on Lizzie's Jantzen two-piece, but the Bates fabric label (I think the label? or just selvage?) was. In any case, it was a big deal that it was a special Bates fabric (and possibly those kind of unusual prints). As soon as Jantzen decided that Louella was a Good Thing (and she branched out to other textile suppliers) they switched to using her name.

    I'd say the 'unlabelled' Ballerinos are likely to be the early 40s dresses and suits, the ones released under shop names. In general, I'd expect them to have some other name on them, since she was selling them to larger firms. Thing is... without more direct, unmistakable press-extant e.g. comparisons, we'll never know...(!)


    ps. I'm also not sure her collaboration with Jantzen went on that long, and certainly probably not into the 50s. There's some ambiguity about what she did after her 50th birthday... I'll come back to that.
  10. I guess you would just have to become very familiar with her work and then if you find something similar just hope and pray and dream, it is hers.
  11. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    To talk about Linda's earlier question about shorts:
    Women started wearing shorts in the mid-30s. We tend to think of the 1920s woman as being very liberated and modern, but they rarely even wore pants. The first pants for women (except for jodphers and other strictly sports clothing) were pyjamas and were really at-home wear. Women began wearing them on the beach as cover-ups to the swimsuit, and eventually they shortened to above the knee. I've seen them in ads as early as 1931 or 2, but by 35 they had become common as beachwear.

    They never would have been worn except in the most casual of occasions, even in the 40s. And there was almost always a matching wrapskirt or front button skirt to slip on when leaving the beach.

    By the 50s, shorts - and pants too, for that matter - became much more common. A woman might wear them to a picnic, or at home on the patio. But I can remember my mother putting on a dress to run to town, and I was born in 55, so that had to be the early 60s! And where I lived, short-shorts were considered to be a bit trashy.

    Sorry for the hijack, Lin!
  12. Patentleathershoes

    Patentleathershoes VFG Veteran VFG Past President

    Interesting Lizzie.

    I sold a set that was capris, blouse, and wrap skirt. The skirt did not wrap over enough to be worn seperate, so i assume it fit into the holdover that capris/shorts were too casual. I.E. fun in the sun, then cover up to walk into a restaurant/"Public" This was set from about 1960 on the nose.

    Definitely lots of food for thought here. I imagine she would also have a following in the Tiki/Rockabilly crowd because of her tribal and somewhat ethno-polynesian motifs - the palm trees on the bathing suit for example (not that both are always linked). I am surprised that we don't know more about her in general because of that - it seems like people would have caught on to that now in a big way

  13. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    the hijack's very welcome Lizzie! :)
  14. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    <i>I imagine she would also have a following in the Tiki/Rockabilly crowd ... I am surprised that we don't know more about her in general because of that - it seems like people would have caught on to that now in a big way

    You know what? I think it's numbers and supply... Louella Ballerino never, as far as I can tell, hit the 'big-time' in the way that Tina Leser did after she set up her own label in 1952. She was high profile and, I guess, popular with the clientele of certain stores, but I'm not sure if her garments are going to be out there in the numbers that are needed for her to become widely collectable.

    You know what I mean? For ebay-level collectability, you need the image of exclusivity combined with actual availability to produce a real demand. Lilli Ann - there's a 50s jacket coming around every other week or so, if not every week (or am I exaggerating?) similar with Ceil Chapman - there's usually something there for people to obsess about.

    With Ballerino, I'm not sure she sold in the right country-wide numbers for long enough. And then, it's like Lizzie said about Leser, the good playclothes are worn into the ground...

    And image: although when showing outside her normal coterie of fellow Californians, Louella Ballerino is referred to as injecting 'young fashions' into a show, she was actually a decade or so older than many of the contemporary fashionable leisure designers. Not only that, but although her styles are what we'd think of as fitting well in rockabilly requirements, her heyday falls just short of the peak appeal 50s period.

    And she's not alone, there are names mentioned alongside her: Addie Masters, Agnes Barrett, who I guess aren't collected either.

    Maggie's beach-sets went very high, particularly the blue one, to a collector who will have had the same reference books in front of her that we've been referencing. But that collector maybe only wants one set. Or that one set plus a suit like the one in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

    Ballerino, I think, stands out because of her high levels of idiosyncracy, but I'm guessing she was one of several who aren't recognized now, because they didn't hit the right vein of off-the-rack success in the 50s...

    At least that's how it seems to me right now...

  15. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    and rounding up (well, partly...) - I have some further reading to add.
    I welcome comments on this workshop, as I will be wanting to improve or revise it a little before adding it to my site, and perhaps also as an article for the VFG. Do contribute!

    <p align="center">
    <img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/ballerinobutton.jpg" width="230"></p><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'>
    <b><font size="+1"><u>Retrospective...</u></font size></b><br>
    </font></p><p style="line-height: 180%" align="left">
    <font size='2' face='arial'>
    The most visible phase of Ballerino's career is the 40s decade. She is first noted nationally c. 1941. After her success with Jantzen, Louella's fashions are regularly given favourable notice in reports on Californian fashion. She became part of the group of 'Affiliated Fashionists of California' as it crystalized on the national stage in the late 40s, appearing particularly consistently alongside Agnes Barrett, but also, c. 1949-50 with Peggy Hunt, Marjorie Montgomery, Viola Dimmitt and other prominent Californian sportswear firms. <br>Where the personnel of the shows fitted, this group would style themselves 'designing women', although the composition could be fluid.
    Ballerino also appeared outside the umbrella of Californian fashion, showing in New York in themed shows for Bogart's Cotton Shop and Altman's Surf and Sand shop, among others.<br><b>Right:</b> 1948, Ballerino's new matching 'Mother & Daughter' fashions (along with herself) featured in an 'American Cotton' ad;<b>Below Right:</b> 1949, a fashion spread of California resort styles places a Ballerino outfit in 'wines and grays, with olive green' featuring a 'court jester jacket' next to a fringed calico frock by fellow California Fashionista, Agnes Barrett.
    </td><td valign="middle" width=300><p align="center"><img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/ballerino-americancottonandamericandesigners.jpg" width=300 border=2 alt="mother and daughter set"><font size="-1"><br>Reproduced from 'American Ingenuity'<br><img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/jesterjacket.jpg" width=300 border=2 alt="Court Jester Jacket in Satin-Finish Cotton"><br><B>F</b>rom the New York Times, Nov 20th 1949</td></tr><tr><td width=290 valign="middle"><p align="center"><font size="-1"><img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/ballerinopocketdetail.JPG" width=280 border=2><br><font size="-1"><b>C</b>ourtesy of Lizzie Bramlett, reproduced from 'California Casual' by Maureen Reilly</td>
    </td><td valign="middle" width=290><p align="center"><p style="line-height: 180%" align="left"><font size='2' face='arial'>
    But where next? Press references to Louella Ballerino peter out c. 1951-52, just as some of the leisurewear design elements she pioneered had permeated popular fashions country-wide. Her industry collaborations over the years had been interesting but not long-lasting, and it is possible that she dropped off the radar in response to a necessity for wider distribution in the 50s, which she did not, for one reason or another, meet.
    <p style="line-height: 180%" align="left"><font size='2' face='arial'><b><font size="+1"><u>Louella's Ideas</u></font size></b><br><b>Originality</b> - Louella taught her students to give up on originality, since everything - a line, a colour, a feature - had been tried before somewhere, sometime. She turned this fatalism into a strength, researching the world in the firm expectation that it would present her with something interesting to look at.
    <br><b>Interest</b> - the 'point of concentration' was where Louella's ideas started, whether it was a costume print, piece of embroidery, or merely a scattering of 'coloured paper scraps'. When in doubt, the rule was, create a focus of interest; this was Louella's strategy when stuck for a lesson plan: 'I deliberately wore bizarre clothes to class... they were, I admit, rather extreme... frequently a daring drapery line or a great clanking piece of jewellery served the purpose of distracting my students...'
    </font></p></td></tr><tr><td width=290 valign="middle"><p style="line-height: 180%" align="left"><font size='2' face='arial'><b><font size="+1"><u>Recurring Themes</u></font size></b><br><b>~ Prints on warm colour backgrounds</b>, contrasted with dark blocks of colour (right), <b>bold stripes</b> used to compliment the garment structure.<br>
    ~ <b>embroidery or raised design appliques</b>, frequently in horizontal bands, or single decorative features (see the skirt pocket, above) acting as a focus of interest<br>~ <b>ruffled edgings</b> used to evoke peasant or country styles<br>~ <b>Round the World themes</b> - Louella sourced designs, patterns or merely lines from Bulgaria, Holland, Russia, Norway, Poland, China, Mayan design, American Indian culture, South East Asia and Latin America<br>
    ~ <b>'Transformer' outfits</b> - convertable capes and overskirts, dual-use drapes, capacious pockets and self-fabric ties; Louella made her students study anatomy to understand how they must make clothes easy to wear. <br>~ <b>Fascination</b> - most importantly, a determination not to be boring...</td><td width=290 valign="middle"><p align="center"><img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/M91_218a-b.jpg" width=290 border=2 alt="Cotton Print Dress ~ LACMA M91.218a-b"><br><font size="-1"><b>C</b>opyright, the <i>Los Angeles County Museum of Art, inv. no.M91.218a-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
  16. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    How interesting. So in a way, it's possible that the success of her designs actually led to her demise as a designer, as her work stopped being novel and became the norm. It is puzzling that she completely dropped off the fashion radar in the early 50s.
  17. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    At first I wondered whether it was her health - but she was only 52, and died in 1978!

    I also wondered slightly about what the Jantzen items donated to the LACMA collection could mean - they are dated through the 50s, but seem to have been donated in 2001.

    The Williams book hints that Louella had her mind on wider concerns than just the fashion design business, and it's entirely possible that, without a big wholesaler to please, she just went off and did something else.

    I may be missing a whole chunk of evidence, but I'm beginning to believe that it really is a change in the industry c. 1950-54. The local city/area groupings of designers become less important, as it becomes less viable to have numerous local low-volume designers. The smaller firms are, perhaps, bought up by the larger, unless you hit on a particularly good combination of high fashion visibility and lucrative licensing.

    I could be talking rubbish here, but something like this seems to be happening across America during this time - designers and firms either sink or swim into a greater boom.


  18. Patentleathershoes

    Patentleathershoes VFG Veteran VFG Past President

    """"I could be talking rubbish here, but something like this seems to be happening across America during this time - designers and firms either sink or swim into a greater boom."""

    There was probably "a lot out there" trying to meet the compete for a woman's disposable income. All conjecture but here are two theories -

    One, the war was over. Although many women returned home from the work force that they entered due to the men being away at war in the 40s, and married and raised children, women working not out of total necessity became a more acceptable idea, thus more disposable income. I am not saying women didn't work before, but for the average american this was more of a viable idea. Designers realizing they had money to spend and would oblige.

    Number two, by this time, and maybe more accurate, America was in a better state of prosperity, the children born right after the war would have been school aged most definitely and the family would have been more established/better off than in their "newlywed days". And because so many marriages happened with the hopefully spirit directly after the war, many women were in lockstep at the same phase in their family building/assets/establishing at the time. So Mr. working at the same company for 10 years after the war, kids not in diapers (or at least not most of them), pension secured, etc, women had a household budget to include "keeping themselves up" unlike their older sisters who rationed in the 40s. The outlook was hopefully, and many makers tried to compete for the ladies shopping sprees.

    I mean, i guess that psuedo-conjectures the "market flooded" with numerous imitators at lesser prices perhaps theory

  19. bigchief

    bigchief Alumni VFG Past President

    Wow, Lin!

    I'd be typing forever and no-one but you would read it all if I were to start on a list of Reasons This is Great :) Suffice it to say that I knew nothing - nada, zip - about this designer, not even her name, before reading the foregoing and now I have a decent - way more than rudimentary - knowledge about her life and work, in context. So well-written that even an ADHD poster child (child?!) such as myself was not just able but willing to read straight through, and beautifully designed and illustrated to boot--

    In short: you're hired! Would that I could :)

    The questions and comments posted were so edifying too - so thanks to all who contributed to this - another teriffic workshop.


  20. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    Thanks so much for your kind words, Carolyn! :wub:

    It's been really fun working out how to try and get across some of this info. I really must pay tribute to Lizzie, who's been an indispensable ally in research on Louella, and Chris, who is keeping us all on the right tracks this summer.

    And everyone's contributions have been really interesting and thought-provoking - it's made me think far more deeply about what I knew/don't know about Ballerino's work, and how we can analyse it.

    I ultimately want to work up something longer and a lot more researched on LB, and for the time being will be posting this article on my website; so any suggestions or criticisms are very welcome.

    In the meantime, I've put a very brief further reading list attached to this text on my website - click the button:
    <center><p align="center"><a href="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/ballerinoVI.html">
    <img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/ballerinobutton.jpg" width=130 border=2></a>
    and to finish up, as promised way back, a favourite ad - 1946 Santa Fe line - again, another wonderful example of how different elements of America's identity became important in the 40s.
    <center><p align="center">
    <img src="http://archive.noirboudoir.com/uslabels/louella/santefeconquistador.jpg" width=450 border=2>
    'Shades of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado on his search for the Seven Lost Cities of Cibola - and of Juan de Onate and his stalwart band on their march across the sun-baked desert! Imagine the travel hardships they bore.'

    It was this non-American American history which Ballerino was so keen on accessing just few years before, and suddenly, you could sell long, boring train journeys with it!

    Next week, I'm attempting to turn around and do it all again with Carven of Paris... Guess what? More travel and exoticism? You bet...

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