Monday, May 31, 2010

LILLY PULITZER, Fifty Years of Palm Beach Preppy Prints

vintage Lilly Pulitzer men's slacks, circa 1970, worn with a Lacoste polo shirt in the Palm Beach manner

1960s Lilly Butterfly Print Skirt
an array of 1960s-1970s Lilly Pulitzer Men's trousers, private collection

Summer is here, and the prospect of barbecues, holidays and relaxation stretches before us. Summer isn't just a season, it is a state of mind. One of the ways we enjoy summer is in the more casual way that we dress. Seersucker, linen, bright and light colours, all look and feel great and help us enjoy the season. What would July and August dressing, or for that matter resort dressing, be without Lilly Pulitzer? Lilly is the Florida designer known for her unmistakable, brightly coloured prints, who this year celebrates the 50 year anniversary of her first designs.

In the label's heyday of the 1960s, her fashions were worn by Jackie Kennedy and members of the Kennedy family, as well as Vanderbilts and Rockefellers. The look said, "Leisure class, preppy, country club, cocktails by the pool." It was establishment, but very funky and slightly eccentric establishment.

Growing up in cold Canada, I never really knew Lilly. When I was in university in the late 1970s, I used to frequent thrift shops. From time to time, I came across trousers in colourful prints with the label, "Lilly Pulitzer, Palm Beach." I had never heard of the designer, but the prints were so whimsical, so original, and so amusing, that I was smitten. At that time, I tried to research the designer but found that the label was out of production. The label in fact ceased in 1984 and was revived in 1992. In the 1980s, to most eyes, the prints looked hopelessly wild and psychedelic as the fashion industry embraced the haute Conservative, haute bourgeois propriety of the Reagans. Nonetheless, I continued to collect these powerful Pulitzers. Then I noticed, almost simultaneously with the revival and renaissance of Pucci fashions and that label, that hipsters and those in the know could be seen wearing vintage Lilly Pulitzers. Eventually, the label was revived and a new generation was introduced to the designs of Pulitzer.

At first glance, a Pulitzer print looks rather bold, especially in a world where so many are in black or beige. But look closely, and you will see that often only one or two colours are strong, and the rest are retiring. The themes of the prints are whimsical and charming. There is always something sophisticated or a certain finesse in the patterns that prevents them from looking comical or juvenile. These are not your typical 1960s wild flower power florals. Most motifs were based on nature and include subjects like pandas, seashells, butterflies, tropical fish, etcetera.
"lilly" signature concealed in the stripes on the zebra's back signature concealed, like camouflage, among the spots of a seashell
a wild, tropical pineapple print
signature in the fur of a panda bear early 1970s print of pandas and bamboo in a typical green and yellow colourway of the period this print was of yellow and aqua; the overprinted areas resulted in the verdant green Lilly Pulitzer fish and shell motif print, perfect for seaside resort wear; signature at edge of the shell
All the prints are discreetly signed. It is hidden, like a treasure to be found, in the design. "Lilly" might be spelled out in the veins of a leaf, or the stems of meadow daisies, or the fur of a panda bear's back. While current Lilly prints are charming, they cannot touch the vintage ones for charm, whimsy, and innovation. Really, I wish that they would periodically re-issue the old ones. Lilly is famous, but not nearly as famous as she deserves to be. It is my hope that there will be more research and documentation of her wonderful work. Porthault, Manuel Canovas, Paule Marrot, and Emilio Pucci prints are wonderful and unmistakable, but nothing says,"Fun in Palm Beach," like Lilly Pulitzer.

For summer or resort, the perfect look for a woman is a Pulitzer skirt and a Lacoste polo shirt, or a simple Pulitzer print shift like Jacqueline Kennedy wore when in Florida (even to church!). For men, the equivalent look is Pulitzer print slacks with a Lacoste polo shirt, worn with or without a tropical weight navy blue blazer.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the label, there will be an exhibition the the Museum of Lifestyle & Fashion History in Palm Beach County from August 3, 2010 until May 31, 2011.

vintage Lilly Pulitzer garment labels

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Sleeping Beauty Ballroom in the Heart of Old Toronto

the spectacular 20 foot windows of the Crystal Ballroom

In a thriving metropolis, an exquisite hotel ballroom lies unused and decayed like the palace of Sleeping Beauty. The huge room sits on the 19th floor of the King Edward Hotel on King Street East in downtown Toronto. The hotel was opened in 1903 and is an outstanding example of Edwardian Beaux Arts exuberance and style that is rich, but more restrained than the preceding Victorian style. Named the the Crystal Ballroom, it was added in 1922, two decades after the hotel was built, as the Jazz Age had begun. The style, which is derivative of the antique and classical, relates to styles is already established in the original hotel concept, however it is considerably subdued in expectation of the minimalist lines of Art Deco and Art Moderne.

For half a century, this room was the ultimate venue for weddings, receptions, grand parties and the most distinguished social events, but in the late 1970s, it seemed to go out of fashion with cotillions and debutante balls. A more casual lifestyle and less formality made it an anachronism. At that time, the King Eddy was very much down at the heels and in dire need of extensive renovation. It had ceased to be fashionable, and the rich and famous stayed at the Four Seasons in Yorkville, the Royal York, or the new Harbour Castle Hilton on the lake.

I had the pleasure of viewing the room for the highly successful Doors Open Toronto event on the weekend of May 29th & 30th, 2010. During this weekend, many of the city’s architectural wonders are opened to the public. The King Edward Hotel’s Crystal Ballroom was visited by large numbers, and queues stretched all the way around the hotel block. Upon arrival to the ballroom, one was struck by the immensity of the space, the incredible expanses of windows for any room, let alone one that is over a century old, the spectacular view and position, and the picturesque state of neglect in contrast to the rest of the impeccably restored luxury hotel. Musicians from Tafelmusic played in the generous room, and the combination of beautiful music and remarkable architecture made for a memorable experience.

The architectural embellishments of the Crystal Ballroom, including cornices, raised panels, pilasters, door pediments, and capitals, are blurred by decades of thick, oil based enamel. Many elements are broken or missing, and paint is peeling and flaking. Utilitarian wires and electrical cables are exposed and cross the fine architectural appointments. Nonetheless one can see that there is more than enough to make restoration worthwhile and successful. Most hotel ballrooms, even those in the greatest hotels, are windowless. This expansive room has incredible 20 ft windows with sweeping skyline views to the south, east and west. Immediately after viewing the room, visitors had the opportunity to view the currently used, much smaller Sovereign Ballroom on the second floor. With new carpets or parquet, replaced chandeliers, repaired plasterwork, and modern ventilation, the contrast between the restored and the unrestored is startling and gives an idea of how extraordinarily special and beautiful the restored Crystal Ballroom could be.

The King Edward Hotel is one of the unappreciated gems of Toronto architecture. Like the grand, turn of the last century Ritz Hotels in London, Madrid, and Montreal, or the Park Plaza in New York, the quality and fine architectural detailing demonstrate materials and the highly specialized skills of master carpenters, plasterers, tile setters, masons, glaziers, and decorative painters, that are prohibitively expensive today.

Without doubt, Doors Open Toronto brings an increased awareness of this Sleeping Beauty, and the lovers of heritage buildings look forward to the crown jewel of an architectural masterpiece being available to the public once again.

the bronze plaque placed at the entrance by the Ontario Heritage Foundation

the elegant entrance of the venerable King Edward Hotel in Toronto

the spectacular central vault of the 2nd floor Sovereign Ballroom

the gifted musicians from Tafelmusik added ambiance and charm to the elegant room

carved limestone architectural niche and coat of arms flanking front entrance of the King Edward Hotel

exterior of King Edward Hotel showing richly carved limestone Beaux Artes detailing, corner quoins, cornices, brackets, cartouches, and scrolls

gracefully curved corner of the facade of the King Edward Hotel

the wonderfully airy and spacious central skylit second floor arcade and lobby of the hotel

variation of an Ionic capital showing the extensive use of the beige "Perlato Sicilia" marble throughout the hotel; most of it is real marble, some is painted faux marbre, some is in scagliola

integrated ventilation grill designed as an architectural overdoor in the Crystal Ballroom

the stripped down, unrestored Crystal Ballroom of the King Edward Hotel in Toronto; note the exceptionally high windows

one of three ceiling medallions which mark the location where huge crystal chandeliers formerly hung in the Crystal Ballroom

the smaller, restored, currently used 2nd floor Sovereign Ballroom of the King Edward Hotel

detail of Crystal Ballroom wall panelling, pilasters, cornices and damage

detail of the capital of a pilaster in the Crystal Ballroom; note the layers of enamel clogging fine details of wood and plasterwork

Georgian inspired overdoor scrolls of the 1922 Crystal Ballroom

text and photos copyright of Square with Flair, 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Happy 15th Birthday, Bata!

the beautiful Bata Museum insignia, deeply etched on the curved glass surround of the front revolving door

the museum's bold, classic logo in a style reminiscent of early 20th century graphics
Raymond Moriyama's award winning design for the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada

Happy 15th Birthday, Bata!

This May, the Bata Shoe Museum of Toronto was officially 15 years old. It was 5 years in the planning, and after several difficulties and delays, it was opened on May 6, 1995.

The Bata is one of the most important shoe museums in the world, and it is a cultural treasure for Toronto. Some of their wonderful surplus has gone to other venerable and prestigious museums such as the Victoria and Albert.

The Bata is in a choice location on the southwest corner of Boor and St. George, surrounded by other buildings of interesting architecture such as the York Club, and the neoclassical style medical arts building across the street from it. Accessible by subway, it is near the ROM and the Gardiner Ceramics Museum, Yorkville, and it absorbs some of the atmosphere of academia where it is convenient for researchers from nearby University of Toronto.

the stately, richly detailed, late 19th century York Club, on the north east corner, opposite the Bata Museum

the Bata Museum seen from the manicured lawns of the historic York Club

Mrs. Bata’s attention to detail is evident in the superb custom bronze door handle medallions used on entrance and gallery doors, the reverse relief/ intaglio shoe carved in the stone facing beside the front entrance, the interesting prismatic glass appliqué on 42 foot high soaring the central hall window by Lutz Haufschild, and copper cladding on the jutting front entrance. These details go far to lend nobility, humanity, and elegance to the modern architecture and give the museum the aspect of a continental boutique museum. Mrs. Bata's European heritage has given her an acute awareness and appreciation for the craftsmanship of special artisans and ateliers.
the reverse-relief, carved. stylised shoe design and patinated bronze lettering beside the front entrance

a circa 1730 tin glaze blue delft decorative shoe from Holland painted with tulips detail of the hall window showing coloured glass appliques, reminds one of Matisse paper cut outs
shapes suggest pieces of cut out leather before a shoe is assembled
the applied, diagonally set flat prisms of the 42ft hall window softly screen out neighbouring buildings

detail of precision custom welding in the angled windows of the front entrance

the dramatically angled front entrance on the south side of Bloor Street

f ront entrance seen from the light flooded vestibule

front entrance facing west on Bloor Street

f ront vestibule area with detail of plate glass railings that contribute to a bright, spacious feeling

Recently, I enjoyed viewing a very interesting interview by George Stroumboulopoulos on CBC's "The Hour", December 3, 2008. He asked the charming Mrs. Bata about starting the museum and if her family considered it a bad idea. Mrs. Bata said that her son in particular considered a museum a big liability, and when she said she agreed, she laughed light-heartedly. The tone of her voice made it apparent that it was a labour of love that had brought her great personal satisfaction. In the interview, when asked about how the museum collection began she said,

“It started because when I got married I wanted to be an architect and then my husband really wanted me as a member of the team, and as I like design, I started working with collections, and merchandising. We were expanding into Africa and the far East and Latin America. I was very curious to find out what type of shoes do people really wear in these countries, what’s the traditional footwear like, and so it was really a market research collection. This is how it started. And then there were other reasons why I started being really involved in the subject of putting this collection together. I noticed that the indigenous footwear was disappearing very quickly, and partly it was our fault because we were making cheap sneakers, and later on, plastic sandals. Plastic sandals wear forever, so they replaced the traditional footwear in these countries, which in many ways, it’s very sad. It is not only in the craft of shoe making, but for example in pottery seen in Mexican markets, or textiles with beautiful vegetable dyes. So I felt it would be interesting to somehow put down the history of the shoe making trades of all the different cultures be that China or India, Japan or wherever it was, and form the museum. From the museum we fund field trips to various parts of the world. We have somebody now in Mongolia trying to get some of the ancient footwear or the traditionally made footwear.”

from Lapland, sealskin boots with colourful detailing
boldly colourful beaded plains Indian moccasins

Canadian Indian (Cree) moccasin boots with unique Moose hair tufting
late 20th century urban sophistication in the iconic horse bit Gucci loafers
extremely fine glass beading on Amerindian moccasins

I asked Mrs. Bata if any of her own personal shoes are in the collection. She said the only pair the museum has is the pair that she wore to the museum opening exactly 15 years ago this May. She laughed as she suggested that her feet were "big" and not really right for the museum!

On this 15th anniversary of the Bata Museum, we can be grateful that Mrs. Bata has done so much to make Toronto the cosmopolitan and interesting city it is in 2010. Many, many thanks Mrs. Bata!

detail of shard-like, flat, cut prisms applied to the front hall window recall the angular planes of the facade
detail from a 16th or 17th century spurred boot from the bronze door handle reliefs of the Bata Museum

All shoes from the Bata Shoe Museum collection, Toronto.