Monday, October 14, 2013

This Is Not Your Grandma's Knitting. This Is Your Great-Grandma's Knitting, and It's Utterly Fabulous.

My friend Jane is in town from London, acting (in part) as chief cheerleader for her fetching sweetheart–he being one of the 40,000 or so who ran in the Chicago Marathon on Sunday.

The sweetheart acquitted himself marvelously; and is satisfied to have broken his personal record with several minutes to spare. We went out to the sidewalk to cheer him as he dashed through our neighborhood, which made us feel connected to the marathon in a meaningful way without actually having to run. For this, we are grateful.

I'm also grateful to Jane for having arrived with gifts. Among them was a fantastic folio of fashion drawings by Erté, a man who was an idol to me growing up even though (especially because?) he was not supposed to have been. Young American males were not supposed to idolize fashion designers, we were supposed to idolize the various drug addicts, philanderers, dog fighters, and wife beaters who populate professional sports and popular music.

But I loved Erté, whose wild imagination and flowing line were so of-the-moment in the late teens and early twenties of the last century that they became emblematic of it. Erté was still actively cranking out work in the 1980s. By that time, of course, his style had become a caricature of itself; but the demand never flagged and he died (so I have read) with pen in hand, at work. I can only hope to face a similar fate.

The folio from Jane covers Erté's years as a fashion illustrator for Harper's Bazar (this was before they added the third "a" in "Bazaar"), 1918-1932. It's a book to fall into. This was the period during which the artist hit his stride for the first time, and you can sense him struggling to rein in his creativity. The sketches for Harper's were supposed to be practical–in the very broad sense that you could conceivably take one to your dressmaker and have her make a dress from the sketch–but some of them...

Well, I'll put it this way. There's one page titled, "Novel and Unusual Designs in Fur and Chiffon." Get the picture?

Here, I'll give you a picture.

This is an evening gown from December 1920.

erte-gown-02

The original caption read,

Erté wraps a long scarf of black satin about this lovely lady's shoulders and it forms the draped corsage, allowing one end to escape as a train. The skirt is of ermine.

Here's another, from March 1918.

erte-gown-01

This is described thus,

A suit of black satin that is easy of construction and very wearable is this Erté model. A cord, drawn through rings, makes a surplice closing and defines the waistline of the straight coat.

So, you know–practical. But not practical in the sense of, "What can I throw on to go down to the shops and pick up shoe polish and carrots?"

These are two of the more restrained designs.

But imagine my screaming joy–I mean it, I screamed–to find out as I pored over Jane's gift that along with "Novelties of Eastern Inspiration" and "Gowns Made to Do the Unexpected," Erté threw in designs for...

knitting bags.

Knitting bags.

And I do not mean bags that could contain knitting, I mean he intended them in no uncertain terms to carry around works in progress. They all appeared in 1918–the tail end of the first World War, when women of all stations were urged to knit their bit, so that may have had something to do with it.

Wanna see? Yeah, I bet you do. Here we go. (The captions, by the way, are the originals–verbatim.)

Design One, June 1918.

erte-bag-00

As knitting goes to every party, it is important that the bag that takes it be appropriate for the occasion. So with a summer frock, carry Erté's bag of silk tricot that is trimmed with straw.

Design Two, May 1918.

erte-bag-01

Erté was indeed inspired when he laced black and white ribbons into a knitting-bag and then pulled one black ribbon to serve as a handle.

Design Three, May 1918.

erte-bag-02

Again he gives a practical suggestion in the lantern bag, for plaited silk is caught upon rings that slip up and down on silken cords and stretches like an accordion, making it equally simple to accommodate either a bulky sweater or diminutive wristlet.

Design Four, October 1918.

erte-bag-03

A sock will begin its life in luxurious surroundings when it is kept within a suede bag effectively embroidered with black silken threads and those of dull Indian red. The frame and beads are of ebony inlaid with ivory.

I didn't begin life in luxurious surroundings–but my socks might. Can somebody please rush these into production? Thanks ever so.

63 comments:

Andrea Schenck McKinnon said...

OMG, they are wonderful, and they put my old Mickey Mouse bag to shame.

mschoir01 said...

...Sigh...if only I were 6 feet tall and slender, I would wear that black suit like nobody's business!

Northmoon said...

Those are the Rolls-Royce of knitting bags - absolutely fabulous!

Anonymous said...

Those illustrations are absolutely beyond fabulous. I can actually remember seeing stuff like this when I was a child (back beyond time). These were the things that dreams & stories were made of-imagination and really good ideas of times of luxury and excess. Dreams . . .

FiberQat said...

Stunning! What a lovely collection to receive. Congratulations!

SeattleSuze said...

I have always loved Erte's early work but had never seen these bags and must say I, too, screamed in delight. Thank you for the creative shock of the day!

mary said...

I love, love, LOVE the lantern inspired bag! I would happily carry that anywhere!

Deb F. said...

Oh my. Oh my. My cheeks are rather flushed.

Also, I wish my hands looked like those hands. I want the long, tapered fingers, their flowing grace... sigh.

Can someone rush the 1910s and 20s back into being? Thanks ever so.

Elena Jardiniz said...

There was a ballet. The Prodigal Son, choreographed by Balanchine for the Ballets Russes, music by Prokofiev which Erte designed the costumes for. The notation for that ballet still exists and Baryshnikov danced it as one of his first ballets here in the states. I saw the filmed performance on public TV decades ago and I bet it still exists. Oh Myyyy! Fabulous in every sense of the word.

Pretty Knitty said...

I'm on it, Franklin. My socks really want to start their life in the lap of luxury...

Anonymous said...

Really, we don't need someone to put the bags in production. All we need is for someone to figure out the patterns. I would make # 2 or #3 in a heart beat

scifiknitter said...

Absolutely, utterly fabulous. I would treasure, and would use, any of those bags. I wonder if they every existed in form other than Erte's flowing ink.

Renee Anne said...

I love that knitting was supposed to be at every social occasion. People look at me strangely if I have my knitting at social events...but it depends on the company :)

Sarah Jo Burch said...

"As knitting goes to every party..." oh, that these words were still true! Or perhaps it's because my bag isn't appropriate for the occasion that I get funny looks and comments...

kmkat said...

I swoon for the lantern bag!

Allison Mosley said...

I'd scream, too! Gorgeous bags and amazing artwork. What a thoughtful gift!

Eileen said...

I love seeing these early 20th c. comments about knitting WIPs being taken everywhere. (Another favorite of mine is from a very posh magazine of the early 30s...)

And yes, thank you, I'll take one bag of each design. At least!

Visa Lisa said...

I screamed too. And scared the dog. Who scared the cat. I now blame Erté for my scratch across the cheek. And after this ordeal I Deserve finding out that someone will start producing these. No?

Anonymous said...

absolutely lovely! would that I had somewhere to wear something like that!

Babs Ausherman said...

I love these!! I agree with you, someone needs to rush these into production!

Roxie said...

Lordy! And I carry my projects in a plastic grocery bag.

Jess H said...

I may or may not now need that lantern bag in my life.

Lynn said...

Thank you for sharing another fabulous post along with more great historical content. I loved that you included the original text with the designs.

First time to post here, been reading and enjoying everything about your blog for the past year.

Barbara said...

Absolutely beautiful! Thank you for sharing these with us!

Kristine said...

Beautiful! I remember being longing after some Erte prints in a gallery at WaterTower Place in Chicago - my friends thought I was nuts. I contented myself with some postcards, which I framed and hung in my first apartment. Sigh.

His drawings, though - is anyone else reminded of Edward Gorey? Just a little?

Patti said...

"as knitting goes to every party..." I love it! and those BAGS -- I really need to ditch my zip-locs!

Franklin said...

Kristine, I haven't got any hard evidence on the subject but I'd be deeply surprised if Erté hadn't had some influence on Gorey, just as another of my idols, Aubrey Beardsley, was a gigantic influence on Erté. The soignée atmosphere, the abundance of pattern, the elongated figures...

Anonymous said...

One word. OOOH!

Anonymous said...

Jane is a wonderful friend.

I'll preorder numbers three and four right now, thank you.
-- stashdragon

FoFo said...

Interesting designs; his eye for making the usual, unusual is quite good. What amazes me is that those bags would be as acceptable today as they would have been in their time. Lovely.

Janis said...

Actually, that first one looks like it could be rendered in a bit of tapestry crochet with a knitted top cuff. Possibly slipping every other stitch every third row or so to give it a vertically lined appearance.

I may need to try this at some point.

Beth V. said...

So, when will you be treating us with the patterns for knitted versions of these chefs d'oeuvre?

geogrrl said...

A folio of Erté drawings? You have no IDEA how much I envy you at this moment.

While Erté was not necessarily an idol of mine, his drawings, along with those of Jean Patou to me epitomize the whole look of the first decade after WWI, my favourite design period (the subsequent decade is a close second).

Liz said...

Utterly amazing; nothing else to say!

geogrrl said...

J. C. Leyendecker, Paul Poiret, and Georges Barbier were the others I was struggling to remember.

Anonymous said...

What a gem of a gift. Erte has always been a favorite of mine as well. The epitome of the period in style. Lucky you - for having such great friends. - Joe-in Wyoming

GUNTer said...

I love that he states 'as knitting goes to every party' hellll yes erte.

nance needs a yarn cave said...

Haute Couture for the time and probably could still be modeled in Vogue magazine today and still be wowed. In my life--not so much. Erte didn't live with my cats. I'd be dusting the furniture and whipping those cats into a feverish frenzy swaying the tassels and ermine in those little numbers.

Ruth said...

Beautiful! I usually go for a discrete fabric project bag when out and about. I'm not sure I'm fashionable enough to go out with these bags. Bet Dolores would steal the lot though.

marjorie said...

I had never heard of Erte until I read your post. I love the drawings and the bags. Yes, could someone start making them immediately! BTW, how are the bathing drawers coming along?

Leigh said...

What a wonderful gift! I love looking through old fashion illustrations. That ermine skirt makes me laugh. Did they actually wear all those like that? Give me a fabulous vest rather than what appears to be small bodies hanging off my waist any day. And I'm sure they saw nothing wrong, and someone will be horrified at my vest. Cest la vie, non?

I do love the bags, but appear to be the only one worried about how on earth I would set down any of them in order to open them and work on my knitting. That's okay though, my puppy would take care of those tassels right away and it would cease to be a problem. And I'd still have them. Out in the yard, buried in the flowerbed.

Kathy said...

What I would not give to own that last bag. I would take it to a posh restaurant, whip out some in-progress lace socks in a beautiful ivory silk yarn, and proceed to knit my way through dinner while daintily sipping on my glass of chanpagne. Sigh...

=Tamar said...

Number 1 could actually be used; there's a visible closure method, the ring that slides along the dangle-handle to let it open. Number 2 is, I fear, entirely impractical. Number 3, the lantern bag, looks fairly simple to make - you would need interlining made to pleat, covered with silk inside and out, and rings that fit the suspension cords snugly so that they will stay in place. Number 4 is also usable and not impossible to make. The suede would prevent untoward injury from wayward needle-points, and the cords could go through holes in the ebony so that they could slide along to let it open. You'd have to use faux ivory, of course, or substitute mother-of-pearl.

Syd said...

Squeeee!!!!!!! OMG! I am torn between the lantern bag and the sock bag....a knitting bag goes to every party!!! Really?!...gonna re-institute that...party on.

Gerri said...

wow-lots of inspiration. How to remember them when I could use them. Before I got to your last comment on production, I was wondering who would pick up on the knitting bags. DellaQ or Lantern Moon?

thetinfoilhatsociety.com said...

I absolutely LOVE the accordion silk one!! I may get some old tinker toys at the thrifts shop and play around with this idea.

KarenJ said...

OMG!! I know Erte as an artist and I have a small print,and I've seen some of his dress designs but the bags... (swoon)!

Cathryn said...

Those bags are, indeed, fabulous! Read Anne L. MacDonald's "No Idle Hands: the Social History of American Knitting", if you haven't already. Why? Because the caption for the accordion bag is quoted, word for word, in that book! It's great to see the bag the caption describes.

SarahCM said...

Here's another vote for the lantern bag! I would probably skip the tassels, but that's because I just don't like tassels on anything. I bet I know someone who could recreate it, too.

Thanks so much for posting these pictures and captions!

Anonymous said...

Erte! I love his stuff. When I was in high school (back in the stone age - I mean, the late 1970s - he had an exhibition in San Diego. I was there for the opening and was fortunate enough to meet Erte and speak with him. He was gracious, even though I asked him a high-school-kid-question.

The black and white ribbon bag doesn't look too crazy to make.

Oona said...

But what I really, really want is a Gown Designed to Do the Unexpected!!! Bags I love, yes, but as one with a period flapper figure, I'm simply dying for a full-on fashion show. Thanks for the sneak preview!

Agar Tubuh Langsing said...

Those are the Rolls-Royce of knitting bags

Natalie Servant said...

So glad I stopped by to catch up. I swear my heart gave an extra little thump when I read Erté and I knew it was about to get really good. I've been on a fashion kick lately because my lovely aunt made me a birthday card with a George Barbier print.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else see the black and white ribbon bag as perfect for keeping your two colors from tangling?

Annetta Mallon said...

Have you seen the "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries"? Based on the Australian author Kerry Greenwood's books, the production values are incredible. The first book (& episode in Series 1 on TV) features a lavish description of an Erte evening gown which The Hon. Phryne Fisher wears to a Melbourne society evening.

It's all been so successful that the National Trust in Victoria, where the books are based, ran a costume exhibition. The books go into incredible detail & are very well-researched, so it's nice to find a television show where the production values, costumes & sets reproduce the detail so faithfully.

It is truly excellent eye-candy, I heartily recommend it for your viewing pleasure, Sir!

Anonymous said...

"as knitting goes to every party" - this was due to the Great War; everyone was knitting for soldiers (and sailors and marines etc)

Anonymous said...

We just discovered the Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries and will second that recommendation. Some of the costumes are like moving Erte illustrations. And the car is divine.

LauraRose said...

Like marjorie above, I had never heard of Ertre, I guess I never got that far in No Idle Hands which I do have….
What fabulous design. I agree, it would still be quite avant grade (sp?) on todays runways, and quite a bit more attractive to my eye than what is often shown.

I'm definitely going to check out Miss Fisher as well. Thank you Franklin and followers for all the greta information!

Susanne said...

Yoooooohoooooooooo!!!! are you there??????????????? hellooooooooooooooooooooooooooo...anyone home????????????

Lorraine said...

I'm a member of the North coast Knitting guild, who did not take your photography class. I received a gift today that friend thought you should know about.

It's a collapsilbe light box.
http://www.cowboystudio.com/product_p/topopentent.htm

tangledstring said...

Anyone with 1) a working brain and 2) taste adores Erte'. Or they should!

Anonymous said...

That lantern bag is absolutely gorgeous. Thank you for including the text with the illustrations, as that will make it easier to puzzle out the construction.

Dita Noelani said...

So...I tried my hand at making that knitting bag. rough draft only! :D

http://knittingoutoftheblue.blogspot.com/2014/01/erte-franklin-and-sewing.html