Fashion secret: it’s all about the fit

Elvira Eckermann

The fascinating exhibit of garments designed by costume legend Edith Head at the El Paso Museum of Art underscores not only the value of rich fabrics and innovative design, but also the fundamental, critical importance of fit in fashion.

It’s all about fit. When you see “Designing Woman: Edith Head at Paramount,” you notice that garments are fitted to perfection. Not pretty good, but to perfection.

Whether you are looking at a tailored suit or a finely draped evening gown, the lines of the fabrics and the seams are precise. Superb fit is a key secret of couturiers and the difference between looking good and looking amazing.

The first time I saw the exhibit, I went with my sister from Florida. All the gowns and garments hung perfectly on the dress forms that were selected and sometimes modified to mimic a particular actress’s exact body measurements.

The exhibit gave us a whole new appreciation for fit. My sister said she was going home and tossing anything that didn’t fit her perfectly.

Exhibit curator Charles Horak, founder and director of the Plaza Classic Film Festival, has said that finding the proper dress forms was much more difficult than even locating the movies shown in the festival. The process took weeks and weeks of research.

Women in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s were much smaller than today’s typical figure. For instance, the smallest dress in the exhibit – a red and white sundress worn by Elsa Cardenas in the 1963 movie “Fun in Acapulco” – features a 19-inch waist, virtually unheard of in an adult today.

The search for available small dress forms finally led to a firm in France, where women are more petite than the average American women, for whom American dress forms are designed.

The exacting work done by the costume designer who repaired each of the exhibit’s garments and matched them to dress forms reminds me of the incredibly detailed and expert work that our own alterations professionals do here at Tres Mariposas.

Alterations professionals, costume designers and restoration experts know things the rest of us wouldn’t dream of. They are true craftswomen in the sense that each task they undertake is one of a kind and requires ingenuity and creativity.

The lead alterations professional at Tres Mariposas is Elvira Eckermann. We often call her our in-store magician. Her world is about exacting fit, detailed work, and making women look much, much better.

Proper alterations will show a gorgeous woman off to her best. Similarly, good alterations can camouflage the less-than-perfect body.

For instance, Elvira says that a woman with a small waistline should not be wearing a so-so fitting garment that hides her beautiful waist.

Often a waistline needs to be shortened or shaped to better fit a client, she said. But how many people know that they can look significantly better in a dress with the right tailoring?

It’s amazing how much difference a simple alteration can make, like shortening sleeves or adjusting a side seam.

But not all alterations are simple by any stretch. Elvira says one of the most challenging alterations is narrowing the shoulders of a garment, which requires absolute precision for the best fit.

First the seamstress takes off the sleeves and carefully recuts the shoulder line. Then the sleeves are carefully sewn back into the modified armhole, a task requiring considerable skill, says Elvira. Truly it is the work of an experienced expert.

Whether one of Elvira’s alterations customers buys a garment from our store or brings in something she’s bought elsewhere, the goal is to make her – and her outfit – look great.

Any woman interested in looking her best would do well to focus on fit while shopping. You are likely to find that higher-end clothing tends to be designed for proper fit, rather than just what is the most economical use of fabric.

Yet even the most expensive garment can sometimes be improved for better fit with expert alterations, the kind of tailoring that Hollywood actresses had in their movie studios’ costume departments.


Exhibit of Edith Head’s fashion a big hit

Charles Horak with ‘Edith Head,’ as portrayed by Susan Claassen

This summer’s big buzz is the glamorous new fashion exhibit at the El Paso Museum of Art.

Women who haven’t been to the museum in ages are thoroughly enjoying “Designing Woman: Edith Head at Paramount,” the largest-ever showing of work by the most award-winning costume designer Hollywood has ever known.

As you know from last week’s column on what local women wore to the exhibit opening, the show features 40 outfits worn by movie stars in films dating back to the 1920s.

This unprecedented exhibit is certainly in keeping with the current trend of fashion exhibits in museums around the world, and is a real coup for El Paso.

This exhibit is so fabulous that visitors from other cities would like to see the landmark show in their own locales. One of our customers visiting from Lubbock is going to bring back some folks to see the exhibit and work on getting it installed there.

This El Paso show of Edith Head’s work may signal the beginning of a change of tune for the studio industry. It’s interesting that El Paso’s exhibit is nudging Paramount and other studios to value their precious costume collections and the work of costume designers.

As people walk through the free exhibit of sparkling and pristine outfits, it’s hard to imagine what these garments looked like just last winter.

As we learned from Betsey Potter, the costume designer and conservator who repaired and cleaned all the items for the exhibit, movie studios used to be very frugal.

No matter how valuable a garment might be or how famous the actress who wore it, studios would lend out and rent out costumes again and again for whatever show or event happened along.

Naturally, over the decades, many garments were severely damaged. Many were filthy and torn, and some of the delicate fabrics were shredded and deteriorating.

Thousands of carefully constructed costumes were crammed on hangers in a nearly forgotten warehouse, without heat, air conditioning or humidity control.

When Charles Horak, “Designing Woman” curator and director of the Plaza Classic Film Festival, was going through Paramount’s racks, the garments were so packed that he could only see an edge of a dress at a time.

After his selection, based on which movies that would be shown in this year’s festival and which pieces best represented the four decades Edith Head worked at Paramount, the restoration work began.

Six months of work

To do the restoration, Paramount hired Potter, a member of the board of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and an Emmy-nominated costume designer for more than a dozen TV series.

While Potter was here for the exhibit opening, she described how she worked in a tiny cubicle only big enough for one garment. For six months, she worked to clean and repair the 40 outfits, sometimes teaching herself the art of costume restoration through countless experiments.

Because some garments were terribly damaged, she tried some risky processes, knowing that failure was a possibility. However, she thought, the garments were already pretty much ruined, so why not take a chance?

My favorite story was how she tried washing a stained and yellowed white wool gown in her bathtub. She tried soaps, stain removers and other solutions, but simple shampoo and conditioner did the trick.

“After all, hair is a natural fiber, and so is wool, so let’s try it,” she recalled saying. I loved her dedication and passion!

Edith the El Pasoan

Did you know that Edith Head is believed to have once lived in El Paso? She was born in 1897 in California, but her stepfather was a mining engineer and apparently the family spent a year in El Paso, probably 1900 to 1901.

Interestingly, although her parents were Jewish, the stepfather was Catholic and young Edith Posener apparently converted to Catholicism, partly under pressure to assimilate.

She married Charles Head, the brother of an art school classmate, in 1923, the year before she began working at Paramount.

I hope you get a chance to see this exhibit before it closes Sept. 11. It’s a real bonus for our museum to be the first to show these fashion masterpieces, none of which have been outside Hollywood before.

Whether you are drawn to the idea that someone famous wore these costumes or you are interested in film, you can’t help but appreciate how showing these items at the art museum transforms them.

As Charles Horak said, “The exhibit’s not about kitsch or nostalgia – it’s about the art of movies and the art of the garments.”


Stripes, sneakers and other summer moments

The past month brought a series of market trips – to Dallas, Las Vegas and New York – which means that I’ve had some great fashion- watching opportunities.

I always enjoy seeing what common fashion threads turn up at airports, on the streets and in the New York showrooms. And I always study what the young fashionistas are wearing while they go about their work in this busy industry.

Speaking of trips, as you travel around this summer, you may notice that suitcases have gotten on the color trend bandwagon.

Not so long ago, it seemed like someone must have mandated that all luggage had to be either black or black. Today, you will see lots of cheery print suitcases pulled along in airport concourses and tumbling onto luggage carousels.

Some of these suitcase styles are indeed fun and cheerful, but it looks like the trend also can go too far into carnival garishness. Nevertheless, variety is a good thing.

The second color trend I noticed was in tennis shoes. Americans love to buy tennis shoes before a trip. For years neon striping and dayglo trims have been common. Now, look for a riot of all-over multi-brights.

The wearers seem so thrilled with all that color on their feet. Heaven only knows, any little mood uplift during travel is needed.

I wish I had been wearing riotously colorful sneakers to cheer me up when we struggled with weather, delays and other such fun to make it home late at night.

Going horizontal

The third trend I noticed: horizontal stripes. At the beginning of our trip, during our layover in Dallas, I began noticing how many chic travelers were wearing stripes going around their bodies.

After centuries of succumbing to the rule that “vertical stripes are slimming; horizontal stripes are not,” women are now willing to go round and round.

It’s a fun, sporty trend. In New York showrooms, many of the cute young women were also wearing black and white stripes: narrow or wide, horizontally or in a chevron pattern. Even our buyer Bobbie Baldridge showed up at market in black and white horizontal stripes!

What are you seeing in your travels this summer? I’m curious what fashion trends are percolating in different parts of the country and the world. Stop by Tres Mariposas sometime and let me know – or email me a picture or a description!


New York Moments – Shopping for the future

Marchesa Notte cocktail dress

Last week I dashed around New York City with Tres Mariposas buyers Bobbie Baldridge and Monica Armendariz. We shopped the fur market, the shoe market and a bunch of exciting new ready-to-wear lines.

We had a very productive trip and now we can hardly contain our enthusiasm for what’s coming your way. I hesitate to say too much about our excitement, because we were shopping for winter resort and pre-spring 2013!

The merchandise we ordered won’t be manufactured and delivered until January. However, I think it will be worth the wait.

Here are a few highlights from our whirlwind shopping tours:

• We were madly in love with the Stella McCartney for Adidas active wear line. I think El Paso women will really like their wonderful “lifestyle jackets” for after workout, coffee stops or grocery shopping.

• It was a relief that the shoe market is doing new and interesting styles in flats, platforms and wedges. We have been deathly scared that the trend would move away from these comfortable styles to which El Paso women have become addicted.

• The fur market was interesting this year – and oh, so colorful! Who would have thought that fur could be so fun in bright, fresh hues and primary colors?

• If you pay attention to Oscar fashions, you have often seen Marchesa’s exquisite evening wear. Red-carpet stunners and paparazzi-friendly cocktail attire are Marchesa’s stock in trade, with intricate craftsmanship and whimsical flourishes. Spurred by its remarkably quick success, the designers created a more casual and less expensive line, Marchesa Notte. We liked what we saw here and we think you will, too.

October show

Speaking of Marchesa, while we were in New York, we were discussing the blockbuster, over-the-top fashion show that Tres Mariposas will be presenting in October.

Some 2,000 women are expected at the event, which benefits the University Breast Care Center, and we want to make sure that the clothing we present is absolutely superb.

When the Marchesa staff heard about the show, they immediately volunteered to participate as the featured designer. Fabulous!

In another show of support for the El Paso community, the people we work with at Marc Jacobs handbags offered to donate exquisite leather iPad cases to auction at the UBCC fashion show. It is heartwarming to see people working in the New York fashion industry to be so eager to support our El Paso community.

What’s Happening in fine jewelry

Actress Krysten Ritter wears earrings by Ippolita

One of the most fun events in the whole fashion industry is the annual jewelry market each June in Las Vegas.

For a week each summer, the capital of the jewelry world is indisputably located in Nevada – and everything at the two big jewelry shows is over the top.

Touring the enormous and comprehensive JCK trade show at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Convention Center is a workout in itself.

It’s hard to convey how big this really is: Imagine how much jewelry you can see at a show with more than 2,500 exhibitors from some 22 countries.

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Designer Edith Head’s costumes coming to El Paso

Edith Head design

I continue to be amazed and delighted with fabulous things happening in El Paso.

Even though summer starts unofficially this Memorial Day weekend, we still have exciting events coming our way.

I am especially thrilled with the coup pulled off by the El Paso Museum of Art and the Plaza Classic Film Festival to bring an incredible exhibit of designs by one of the country’s finest fashion designers ever: Edith Head.

An eight-time Academy Award winner for costume design, Edith Head influenced not only fashion on screen, but also fashion everywhere.

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In celebration of being a mom: What went right

Well, today is Mother’s Day, and neither my daughter nor my son are anywhere near El Paso to help me celebrate.

Missing them? Yes. Wistful for the days when they were bringing me homemade cards from school? Of course.

But since I can’t see them and go to some nice brunch at the club, I’ve decided to have my own glorious celebration of motherhood. Today, I am going to simply sit back and be proud of what I worked toward: having happy, healthy, caring kids.

Nothing is more glorious in life than seeing your children become wonderful, effective, successful adults. After all that angst and worry! Who wudda thunk it?

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No texting for Mother’s Day The best and worst gifts for moms everywhere

Mother’s Day is next Sunday, that classic all-American holiday ever since President Woodrow Wilson made it official in 1914.

While it is now celebrated around the world, on various days in March, April and May, few countries celebrate it quite like we do.

The day reigns as one of the top days of the year for flower sales, gifts, greeting card sales, naturally, and churchgoing, as well as the top single day for long distance calls in the United States.

Did you catch that? Do not, I repeat, do not text your mom a “Happy Mother’s Day” message! Pick up the phone and join the long-distance marathon.

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Pantone – dictator of fashion?

Pantone Tangerine Tango

Did you know that “Tangerine Tango” is the Pantone color of the year?

If you answered “yes,” you can thank the Pantone Color Group, which launched a massive publicity campaign to promote that color, “a spirited reddish orange,” throughout the fashion industry and media.

In 2011 the color of the year was “Honeysuckle,” which according to Pantone’s website, “encouraged us to face everyday troubles with verve and vigor. This year, Tangerine Tango “continues to provide the energy boost we need to recharge and move forward.”

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