Saturday, May 15, 2010

Designer Profile: Hollywood Hot Stuff

OK, there is no designer called Hollywood Hot Stuff. In actual fact I'm referring to highly collectible mid-century American designer Ceil Chapman. I know I've posted about Ceil before, but now that I actually get to look at my own lovely Ceil everyday - in my wedding photos and now hanging on my picture frame (as opposed to hidden in the back closet away from prying eyes) - she is rather on my mind.

According to the Vintage Fashion Guild, Chapman was born on Staten Island in New York and first went into business as a dressmaker with Gloria Vanderbilt in the 1940s. She later partnered up with her first husband and went on to become a high-profile designer of mid to high end frocks for movies and television. She was also stocked in US department stores and boutiques. She specialised in cocktail and formal gowns and was renowned for her expertise in draping and tucking. Her favoured fabrics included silk, brocades, taffeta, chiffon and organdy and she embellished with beads, lace and sequins.

Ceil was friends with film star Deborah Kerr and also dressed Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. Elizabeth wore a Ceil Chapman gown when she wed Nicky Hilton. Apparently Ceil was also a glamorous lady in her own right, and lent her image and reputation to other products such as Cadillac cars.

Unfortunately by the 60s she had started experiencing financial difficulties and thereafter she designed under the Ceil Chapman for Miss Winston label. She passed away in the 1970s.

Above are some showstopping examples of Chapman gowns from American mag Ladies Home Journal circa 1951. Chapman must have been quite a prolific designer as it isn't difficult to ferret out examples of her designs. As with a lot of vintage formal wear, many items are in excellent condition, having only been worn once or twice.

Here are a few of my favourite Ceil items that are available for purchase right now ...


These two 50s cocktails frocks are available from the Paper Bag Princess. Prices on application.


This adorable party frock is available from Postscript for US$975.

A magnificent example of Ceil's draping technique, I adore the turquoise colour and the off the shoulder neckline on this frock. Available from Shrimpton Couture for US$775.

A classic black cocktail dress with a twist; the lace appliques around the neckline are to die for. From The Way We Wore for US$1,200.

A couple of Mad Men worthy numbers from Timeless Vixen Vintage. The black cocktail frock with the dramatic illusion neckline is available for US$425 and the lovely chocolate taffeta with the skirted train is US$525.

An oldie but a goodie: a 1940s party dress with a pretty grey and yellow print from Bad Girl Vintage. This one is a steal at US$350.

Her 1960s offerings for the Ceil Chapman for Miss Winston label were aimed at a younger market. Here is a very swinging sixties example from Chivasmomma. The lace and bead work on the bodice here are amazing and you can buy this now for AU$276.

For fans of plunging necklines this is another 1960s number and available from Ballyhoo Vintage for US$425.

This dress is my size and in the spirit of now embracing black (albeit in small doses), I want want want this. Alas, I don't have a spare US$525 lying around, but if you do, check it out at Posh Vintage. I promise I won't hate you ... forever.

For an in depth analysis (with pictures!) of a Ceil Chapman dress, check out Kay the Sewing Lawyers blog. A great demonstration of what a beautifully constructed dress can do for your figure. You don't find this kind of engineering today unless you can afford couture, most of which costs the GDP of a small nation.

2 comments:

Pixie Drive-In said...

I love all these dresses! Especially the little green '60s one!

E. Driscoll said...

Sorry, just wiping the drool off my chin over these dresses. So divine!

P.S. Did you get my email about high tea? If high tea isn't practical atm, let me know another day/place that would be better :)