Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Working Wardrobe: A Marthe Callot Evening Cape

Well it's been all quiet on the blogging front since my last post--it's been nearly two weeks, and that's nearly two weeks too long.  I've got some exciting stuff to talk about, so let's catch up!

Last week, I went to the wedding of a friend of ours in Baton Rouge.  I'd love to say I got a good shoot in, but the weather wasn't particularly cooperative-- it rained off and on throughout our visit, and when it wasn't raining, it was really humid.  I grew up in Texas, so I can hang with humidity, but seriously, it was so humid the crease fell out of my skirt.  I did, though, get one photo while Kate and I walked around the day after the wedding.  I'm wearing a circle skirt I made from a pattern of the Amalfi coast, which is as random as it is colorful.

The day after we left Baton Rouge, we settled into our home for the summer: a wonderful summer theater in the woods of Pennsylvania.  Kate's been working here for over a decade of summers, and this is the first year I'll be joining the staff, working wardrobe.  It's a really exciting opportunity-- I'll be able to sharpen my sewing skills, learn a ton about what goes on from the other side of the proscenium arch, and hopefully laying some groundwork for the future.

Now, I'm super jazzed for what this means for my blog.  Access to what's essentially a vault of vintage clothing? Um, sign me up.  But it's going to be a definite, temporary shift away from the more outfit-oriented posts I like to create.  Between the (really) long hours I'll be pulling and the move back to Mondays-only off days, I won't have much time to shoot outfits.  And with the realities of working wardrobe in a forest, I'll be wearing less than Outfit of the Day-worthy getups.  

But don't jump ship yet!  This job means I'll be encountering gorgeous garments to which I'd never, ever have access otherwise, and I'll be photographing and sharing them with you right here.  My hair won't be done, I'll be sans makeup, and I'll be wearing pretty unremarkable clothes-- but I bet you won't even notice, and to prove my point--this is my first Find of the Week.

Photos after the jump!

It's a 1920s beaded satin evening cape by Marthe Callot Bertrand, of the Callot Soeurs, a Parisian house of couture.  The Callot Sisters were known for their luxurious designs, their use of unusual materials, and for one small historical detail-- they trained Madame Vionnet, pioneer of the bias cut.  Before Vionnet, most clothing was cut on a straight grain, in line with the weave of the garment, yielding a garment without much give.  Vionnet cut on the bias, the 45-degree angle between the crosswise and lengthwise grain, which allows for greater elasticity in the fabric.  Her use of the bias cut in her designs created garments that molded to the shape, cutting close to the body and revealing the figure, rather than merely covering it.  Her innovation essentially made possible the fashion of the Golden Age of Hollywood, changed fashion history.

This cape was designed by one of Madame. Vionnet's. Mentors.  

The manufacturer's label below it, from Stecker in Philadelphia, may indicate that it's a U.S.-made copy of a Callot original-- I'd absolutely love for anyone with more knowledge than me to leave a comment about it.  Either way, it's a phenomenal piece.

Label for comparison, from the Vintage Village
The Callot Sisters began their careers in fashion by designing fine lingerie, and soon expanded into a full couture house.  You can read more about these fashion titans, the eldest of whom was called the "backbone of the fashion world of Europe" in the 1920s, at the Fashion Model Directory.

As you can see, the cape fits just beautifully-- it drapes close to the form and comes in at a drop waist typical of 1920s fashion.  

I feel like thousands upon thousands of bucks.
Seriously, this cape is a dream, and I don't even care that I'm
wearing no makeup and a beige t-shirt to show it to you.

Until recently, this cape, indicative of the sisters' interest in decadent fabrics and embellishment, lived in a bin in the theater marked "unwearable."  

To be fair, the silk lining is shattered, making it difficult to wear.  But other than that, it's in gorgeous condition, so the fact that it's been packed away in a plastic bin for however many years sort of blows my (and my boss's) mind.  Of the many thoughts this serious find sparks, such as the amazing treasures theaters hold, and the incredible opportunity theaters have to preserve and present fashion history, the biggest has to be the extreme importance of being able to recognize garment quality when one deals in antique and vintage clothing.  Even without knowing the history behind the label, the weight of the cape's satin and its detailed and intact embroidery ought to have made clear how spectacular this garment is.  It may not belong on stage, but it certainly doesn't belong in a Rubbermaid bin.  

Thankfully, the leadership in the costume shop has since changed, and the pieces here are in good hands.  And, at least once a week, they'll be up for view here.  I do have a few week's worth of outfit shoots I've stored up, and I'll parcel those out in the upcoming weeks, but I'm excited to see what other finds the summer brings, and to share them with you.  Stay tuned!


  1. Oh Marthe Couture ... Seems like it ring a Bell ... Anyhoo this first skirt is lovely !
    And then this 20 s atmosphère With the cape strikes me !


    1. Yeah I was really surprised to find the Marthe here. And thanks for the compliment on the skirt! xo

  2. is the cape yours now or will it go back to a dark storage box in the theatre? anywho, it's an amazing find!
    can't wait to read more about your summer in the forest.

    1. Oh I wish it was mine! It'll go back to storage, but more carefully this time!

  3. I can't help a lot except to say that quite a few fancy department stores and specialty shops were importers of couture as well as reproducers. This is the type of thing that could be easily imported and sold without fitting due to the looseness of it. Simply spectacular!

    For years I knew that local thrift stores were sending anything that looked old to our little theater group. Honestly, I pictured rows of 1970s prom dresses waiting to be used in "Gone with the Wind" or something. I had my eyes opened when I took a tour of a theater in Connecticut's wardrobe storage. Racks and racks of the best 50s dresses, 40s suits and such. It was amazing.

    Proper storage for old clothing is very expensive, and I can't help but think that it would be in the best interest of the clothing (and also of the theater) to sell it. I'm convinced that theater wardrobes are probably the largest untapped source of old clothes left!

    1. Absolutely, some of the pieces here are really incredible. You're probably right about selling it, but we'll see what management decides. It's great think it might be an original, rather than a reproduction--thank you for the insight!

  4. Whoa! That is crazy humidity! For it to take out the crease in your skirt!

    Your summer plans sound amazing and if this is just the tip of the iceberg, I can't wait to see what else you uncover! I also love how your talked about the position you are in, and how it ties to preservation and history!


  5. That cape is a piece of history, it's fantastic!! How exciting that it was designed my one of Vionnet's mentors, that's truly incredible. A gorgeous piece. Thanks for sharing, and i look forward to seeing more pieces!! P x

    1. Thanks for your comment! I'm glad you're as excited about the cape's history as I am-- and if you like that, you might like the next set of finds I'm posting about!

  6. The material is of very high quality, the style is same as seen on the picture online and the fitting is perfect. I sent my measurements to the designer and the dress fits just as I wanted it.
    Sigrid Olsen Clothing