Thursday, June 3, 2021

Simple and Chic: A Salute to Halston

"Good fashion must last for years," said the late, great Halston in an interview for the Boston Globe. Fifty years ago, one of the top figures in the world of high fashion was a tall handsome American known by his middle name.... HALSTON. Once dubbed "the premier fashion designer in America" by Newsweek, Roy Halston Frowick's simple yet dramatic style became synonymous with the 1970's luxury and the glamourous era of New York City's infamous club, Studio 54. It wasn't simply a question of sleek and chic clothing, Halston also became the celebrity designer thanks to his glamorous lifestyle and pop culture connections including the likes of  Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger, Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minelli and his entourage of supermodels who accompanied him everywhere. 

As we emerge from a pandemic where everything fashion has either come to a screeching halt, or has fallen down a pit of chaotic concepts, the simplicity of Halston's  high fashion seems befitting right now.  "I got rid of all the junk, all those extra details that don't work," he told Vogue magazine after a decade of mini-skirts and mod,  psychedelic patterns and clashes of neon color. Halston's clothes served as a cleansing of the palette. They were sexy and streamlined, allowing for the natural flow of the fabric to create its own shape.The "patterns" for his iconic gowns were not drafted on paper. Instead they were draped directly onto the body and adjusted until the look was pitch perfect. When finally translated into paper patterns they often resembled abstract art.

For this project, I first chose the looks I felt were indicative to that period and of course, those looks that worked in 1/6 for the doll. This required a LOT of thought, a LOT of experimentation and time. In the spirit of Halston, I faced challenges. There were limitations in terms what even the best, lightest weight of fabrics could and could not do over the tiny frame of the doll. I wanted to keep seams to a minimum, avoid darts and even cut out closures whenever possible. What I ultimately learned was that fabric is everything. The master only worked with luxury fabrics: silk jersey, silk charmeuse, and sometimes cashmere. Many of his dresses were also cut on the bias, resulting in a look that literally melted over the body. Simplicity is hard to do in a way that looks good. My recommendation to you is to use really nice fabric! 

The Toga

It was as if Halston was inspired by ancient Greece when he launched his famous "toga," an asymmetrical column dress with drapery flowing down from one shoulder. There are many variations of this dress. So that you do not have to think about placement of a closure, I suggest using a 2-way stretch jersey. That way, the dress can slip on and off the doll without need for hooks, snaps or zippers.

In creating these togas, it is most helpful to have some sort of foundation or under dress. This allows you to drape the actual toga over it and tack in place the folds.

This starts with a simple, jersey one shouldered dress cut from a thin rayon jersey. If you haven't already visited our post on the dartless sloper, consult the video tutorial on developing the jersey sloper HERE and for the asymmetrical adaptation, look HERE. The toga is cut from the same fabric, double the length of the doll with a ribbon tied tight at midpoint and looped into a sweet bow. After you place the bow on the shoulder, the fabric is partially draped over the bust and top of the back of the under dress and a few of the folds are tacked in place with a few stitches. Because this is stretch rayon jersey, the whole thing slips on and off without removing the toga.

Keeping with the spirit of Halton's philosophy which favored the practicality of working with separates, I began the cream white toga with a jersey one-shouldered top and matching tube skirt. 

1. My dress begins with a top and skirt. I will build the toga onto the top. Use the the jersey sloper to create both the top and the skirt.
2. Cut a rectangle from your fabric approximately 11" long by 12" wide (28x30cm). Round off the corners as shown.
3-4. Tie the left hand corner into a knot.
5. Keeping the knot on the right hand shoulder, wrap the rest of the fabric across the bust, under the arm and around the back of the body, placing the opposite corner just under the knot. Pin and then tack in place with a few stitches.
6. Arrange the folds so they fall gracefully from the knot and tack in place.
7. Do the same thing for the the back. 

Because everything has been made using 2-way stretch jersey, you can slip this dress on and off the doll without the need for closures. The skirt also slips off easily. From front to back, this is the look you are going for. Question: can you use a woven fabric instead of a stretch fabric? Yes, but you will need to plan for a closure to ensure the doll can get in and out of the dress. Also, be careful with the weight of the fabric. You want a "draped" look, but not a look that is "puffy." This dress is not lined so you can turn down the edges and stitch or (fabric) glue in place. Or, use a very sharp pair of scissors and leave the edges as is. Jersey will not fray.

The Sarong

There are also a few different variations of Halston's sarong. This one, I think is the prettiest. It is a simple tube with a cross sash incorporated at the top. The model slips into it and wraps the sash around the bust. Does it have a tendency to slip off the bust? Yes...just like the human scale version which also did not have structure or underwires (LOL). For Nadja's dress, I used a white satin devore fabric (woven not stretch). I did not put so much fullness in the front because, once again, I wanted to create a garment without a closure, but allowed the figure to slip in and out. I draped this pattern. Arriving at my goal was a real trial and error experience. So feel free to trace and tweak to fit your doll. 

The dress is essentially a tube with the front and back in one piece. As you can see, the body of the dress is a rectangle where the top is wider than the hem. For my FR doll, this tube is 6" (155cm) at the top, sloping down to 5" (128mm) at the bottom. For this doll, the length is 10 3/4" (27cm). Create a facing by cutting a strip of fabric that is the same width of the top of the dress by 1-1/4" in length. 
1. Because I am working with a woven (non-stretch) fabric and I want the dress to slide on and off the doll without a closure, I decided to cut the pattern on the bias. That means, you will place the pattern and its facing at a 45 degree angle to the straight of the grain as shown.
2. Right side to right side, attach and sew the facing along with the top of the dress.
3. Press. Be careful because the edges of a bias cut dress easily stretches. Press downwards with the iron as opposed to scrubbing from right to left.
4. Cut 2 more strips of fabric (always on the bias). Each strip should measure 1-1/4" (32mm) by 11" (320mm). Turn down the edges and sew (or fabric glue) in place. Then make a running stitch and gather one edge.

5. Pin in place, right side to right side on the dress' edge just under the facing. 
6. Stitch in place
7. It looks like this in the front.
8. Repeat on the other side. 
9. Turn down the seam allowance on the side of the facing and press. 
10. Fold the facing over the side sashes, then pin and stitch in place.
11. The top should look like this. Finish the dress by folding the dress over so that the wrong side is up and stitch down the center back, leaving a 1/2" (2cm) space near the top.
Again, this is another simple idea easily adaptable for my 16" Tonner girls.

There is another, even more simple way to create a sarong. I featured this in jersey in our little black dress post. You can do it in woven fabric as well.

This is a simple rectangle of striped satin with a snap sewn on both top points. 

The rectangle wraps around the back of the doll and from each arm pit, wraps around the back of her neck and snaps in place. 

The Kimono

Halston was known for his loungewear worn as eveningwear. This consisted of kimonos and caftans. For this project, I chose the kimono. I've posted a tutorial on the kimono before. This time around, I tweaked the pattern a bit (deepening the sleeves, for example), and cutting it out of silk charmeuse, a very luxurious satin fabric.

The original pattern is really in two parts. The top is gathered as is the bottom which is then joined at the waist. This controls the folds. But for the doll, a gathered waistline is too bulking to achieve such a slinky garment. So, I used the basic kimono pattern which I then belted and adjusted the folds. The secret to this garment is the falls better over the body than polyester.

It's a Wrap
Many of the garments for which Halston was best known included those with elements that wrapped around the body. There are different variations of this theme, but most iconic is this dress which is super easy to recreate. 

I've made it in two parts, although you could make in a single piece. For this dress you need to cut three strips of 2-way stretch fabric. The waistband measures 1-1/2" (4cm) long by 3-3/4" (9.5cm) wide. Cut one. You need to cut two strips for the straps which measure 10-3/4" (273mm) long by 1-1/2" (4cm) wide. 
1. For the waistband, fold the pattern in half, horizontally. Stitch on both sides and turn right side out.
2. Mark the front center point with a pin.
3. Using a running stitch, gather one side of each of the straps.
4. Attach each strap to either side of the waistband along a single edge.
5. Turn down the edges of both sides of the waistband, catching the straps and hand stitch together.
6. Sew on a closure (hook & eye or snap) to the ends of the waistband.
7. The straps go up and over each shoulder and crisscross in the back.
8. Wrap them around the front, again in the back, then tie them in the front.

9. Before you put the top on the doll, be sure to start by dressing her in a circle skirt. Wrap the top over the waistband of the skirt.

Here's the end result front to back. If you make this in two pieces, the top can also be worn with full palazzo pants!

\I did not have enough jersey to make this dress, so I used instead, a micro-pleated sheer chiffon. I was a bit conservative in the amount of fullness I built into the front of the dress because I wanted to avoid bulk. I also wanted a dress that could be slipped on and off without a closure. This dress has fullness in the front and hugs the back of the body, My graph paper is 1/4".  
The proportions look a bit strange from front to back but this is due to the fact there is much more fullness in the front. You will also need  1/8" ribbon that is 24" (60cm) long.
1. Trace the pattern directly onto the fabric. This will help in cutting out each piece. 
2. Wrong side up, layer the front on top of the back being careful to line it up at the curve of the waist, since the back slopes down from the sides of the front. Sew the side seams and press. 
3. Turn down the top edges of the dress. 
4. Turn the edges once again and pin and press. This will be the casing.
5. Before you stitch this down, find the center point of the ribbon and lay it in under the top fold. Pin.
6. Stitch down the casing, being careful to avoid the ribbon trapped underneath. 

7. Bring the straps over the shoulders and crisscross the back.
8. Bring the straps back to the front and crisscross.
9. Wrap around the front once again and tie in the back.

Here is my dress front to back for Barbie. Fit for a goddess.
Same dress, but this time cut from satin for my Tonner doll (1/4 scale).

The Catsuit
This is essentially, what is called a "unitard" (bodysuit and tights in one piece), borrowed by Halston and renamed a "catsuit." This very comfortable garment was quite popular at this time, largely because it could be dressed up or down and took the wearer from daywear directly into the clubs at night. Here is Tatjana wearing her catsuit only accessorized with jewelry inspired by Tiffany's designer Elsa Peretti and a pair of silver heels.

And here is Noor, completely in daywear. She wears her catsuit under a leather jacket, a swashbuckling wrap and a pair of boots.

To create the bodysuit, I started out with the pattern I developed for the jumpsuit. I cut up an old Tshirt which I pinned to the body, Then stretched out the excess fabric and traced around the body. Don't forget to turn the doll over and pin the fabric to the contours of the doll's back so that the end garment will hug her hips.
Make the adjustments so that the front to the back will line up when you put the pattern together. Where there is a difference, compromise....raise your point on one side, lower it on the other. When you place the pattern pieces together, they should line up at the shoulders, the sides and the inseam.

The Ultrasuede Connection

We cannot talk about Halston without mentioning a fabric innovation he was associated with and that is ultrasuede, a non-woven material with the feel of suede that was machine washable. Though he did not create the material himself, he used it in much of his daywear. Silhouettes were, in general kept simple...Shirtwaist dresses, jackets and skirts. 

As you can see, I spent a lot of time preparing this post right down to the jewelry. Elsa Peretti, he late model turned jewelry designer for Tiffany's, was one of Halston's best known collaborators. Known for her very sensual, sculptural designs, she created cuff bracelets that resembled liquid metal pouring over the wrist bones of the wearer, lima bean pendants, earrings and clutch bags, snake head belts and pendants shaped in the form of tiny vases that could actually hold a small cut flower. If you look at my images close up, you will notice a number of my dolls are wearing tiny accessories inspired by Peretti's work. Next up, I'll do a short post showing you how I made these. Stay tuned! 

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Monday, May 3, 2021



How refreshing it was to see a real, in-person red carpet event where the stars had to actually dress up and pose for pictures. That was the good part. On the other hand, due to Covid restrictions, there were fewer people on the red carpet which meant a smaller number of fashions to choose from. Nonetheless, a few trends emerged....metallics (gold in particular), bare midriff gowns, and the color white... To be frank, I wasn't all that enthralled with what I saw, but at least it gave me something to work with. 

The one stand out gown that I truly loved was by Alexander McQueen, worn by award winning actress, Viola Davis. The original gown has an art nouveau embroidered pattern over a micro gathered chiffon skirt. I will admit, I tried several ways to duplicate that bodice without success. The main problem is scale. The intricacy of the floral pattern with leaves swirling throughout simply didn't translate into a simplified 1/6 application. I nearly gave up on this dress until I came across a triangular cotton embroidered lace insert I removed from an old bustier. I started to cut away the pattern near the bottom, but then I decided I really liked my bustier fell into a point over the gathered skirt. The result is not as close to the original as I had hoped, but I was still able to the verve of the Alexander McQueen gown.

I remember seeing a version of this Valentino dress and thinking the bare midriff top didn't seem in balance with the skirt. That it is a shiny gold is another challenge. However, I do admit that Carey Mulligan wore this dress very well. Unfortunately I did not have gold lame on hand, so I had to get a little creative. I chose a golden polyester organza instead. I also simplified the skirt a bit, largely to save time and fabric. Instead of doing a skirt with deep pleats, I used the method from my "Fit For a Queen" tutorial. It is a slim skirt with a high waistline and bustles added to both sides. To make up for the "bareness" of the Valentino, I added a statement necklace to complete Zoe's look.

Angela Bassett in Alberta Ferretti's gown was simply stunning. I loved everything about this dress, but for my girl Sonya, I wanted to soften the sleeves a bit. Instead of "wings" I thought "roses." I started out with a simple V-neck strapless sheath to which I added the side gathered "poufs." I pinched them and tacked the fabric in place to arrive at the desired shape. When the two sleeves are finished, I tweaked each one so that they closely resembled each other before definitively stitching them in place. To the back I've added tulle on either side of the center back seam. Then a square of red silk allowed to fall into points is tacked at the top of the back near the center back. I did not allow for a front slit because I did not think this style needed it. 

Laura Dern's dress was actually on many people's "worse dress list." Me, I saw the "Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers" aspect to this Oscar de la Renta gown. Vanessa's gown is actually in three pieces: a velvet bustier with removal sleeves worn over an asymmetrical skirt created from a square piece of faux fur. 

Well.... this Vera Wang original worn by actress Angela Day, made both the "Best Dressed" and the "Worse Dressed" lists. Personally, I found it surprising to see this dress at a time when we have not completely emerged from the pandemic. While I empathize with the desire to resemble an old fashion "movie star," shiny gold is VERY difficult to pull off. (Personally, I would have preferred to see Ms. Day in white shimmery satin a la Billie Holliday.) To add to the challenge, the material here is chain-mail,  which is metal. The drape of this bare midriff dress is, for me, extremely ambitious and I with the Vera Wang atelier had handled it more simply. So for Radiah, I made a complete overhaul. I kept the concept of the bare midriff dress with an asymmetrical top, but I kept it simple and I chose silver which is much easier (and more modern). I did like the slant of the skirt, but on the original look, the slant seems to go against the movement of the hips and the placement of the deep slit. Since I didn't have access to chain-mail, I used a flat, silver lame often used for theater curtains. It stretches and does not fray. I chose not to turn down the edges. Instead I cut the material with a sharp pair of scissors so that the dress would lay perfectly flat against the body like liquid metal. 

I had to zoom in close to see the details of the fabric here. This is Margot Robbie in Chanel. At first glance it looks like a little floral slip dress. But in reality it is silver lace. I had a small scrap of silver lace, though the pattern is not as tiny as with the original dress. While I was figuring out whether or not to do this dress, I discovered that the over-sized scale of my lace gave the dress a more luxurious edge, especially when lined with pewter toned satin. Since the Chanel dress is so simple, I decided Estelle's version could use a simple, unlined over coat from the same silver lace.

A white pant suit is always a glamorous way to show up for a fancy event. The original pantsuit worn by Tiara Thomas was designed by Jovana Benoit. Here again, I made several tweaks. The proportion of the jacket to the pants seemed to be a bit overwhelming. For Iman, I chose a shorter, more form fitted jacket and straight legged wide trousers (as opposed to bells). I did like the feathered cuffs on the jacket, but felt it didn't need them at the hem. As far as her top.... I did not care for the flat placard. I decided it have more dimension so I created one with pleats and more of a drape. 

When the jacket is on, you see how it fits perfectly over the body, is in perfect proportion to the trousers and how the V-neck is deep enough to allow the top to fit in unison with the rest of the look.

We also liked simplicity, especially at this particular point with the pandemic. Our girl Roshumba mimics the elegant white gown worn by Lauren Domingo. It's cream white jersey that is simple in the front with a plunging cowl neck detail in the back.

And finally.... this princess gown. It wasn't anything we haven't seen before, but it was very pretty....the Louis Vuitton tulle gown worn by actress Maria Bakalova. And yesfor our girl Margot , we went a little crazy with the tulle!

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