Cam­bridge mu­seum marks Canada’s150th birth­day with a fash­ion­able flour­ish

Grand Magazine - - CONTENTS - | LYNN HADDRALL

Cam­bridge mu­seum marks Canada’s 150th birth­day with a fash­ion­able flour­ish

You can dis­cover clothes older than Canada in a for­mer Cam­bridge post of­fice, a trea­sure trove to help cel­e­brate the na­tion’s 150th birth­day this year.

Jonathan Wal­ford and Kenn Nor­man col­lected the iconic pieces for the Fash­ion His­tory Mu­seum they co-founded. They plan to ex­hibit some spe­cial pieces as a tribute to 150 years of Cana­dian style, cel­e­brat­ing achieve­ments rang­ing from beaver pelts and Cowichan sweaters to the wire hangar and Won­der­bra.

The cou­ple had just closed the fash­ion mu­seum for the 2016 sea­son when we talked about the stylish shows sched­uled this year. One of their three gallery spa­ces will be de­voted to an ex­hi­bi­tion ti­tled

Fash­ion­ing Canada Since 1867.

Wal­ford’s wide knowl­edge of fash­ion is en­light­en­ing. Con­sider this con­cept: shop­ping as a way to build a na­tion.

“More than any other coun­try in the world, Canada has re­lied upon the de­part­ment store as a form of na­tion­al­ism,” Wal­ford says.

“Whether you lived in Nova Sco­tia or the in­te­rior of B.C., you got the same Ea­ton’s cat­a­logue; the same prod­ucts were avail­able. Ea­ton’s was pri­mar­ily the main one, fol­lowed by Simp­sons, which was mostly in On­tario, and Hud­son’s Bay, which was Western Canada. Those were the three big ones that re­ally uni­fied Canada through mer­chan­dis­ing and shop­ping, so it was na­tion­al­ism through shop­ping.”

Al­though big de­part­ment stores de­fined much of the coun­try’s early re­tail years, women still pro­duced gar­ments at home, sew­ing their own clothes. This will be an­other theme in the birth­day ex­hi­bi­tion, the rise of the home sew­ing ma­chine and dress­mak­ing from pat­terns.

Wal­ford says Canada was the largest man­u­fac­turer of sew­ing ma­chines out­side of the U.S. from 1868 to 1875, and there was a massive sew­ing ma­chine in­dus­try in Hamil­ton.

Early Cana­dian re­tail stores of­ten com­bined im­ported goods and dress­mak­ing ma­te­ri­als. You would go to the stores where you could buy your ac­ces­sories – shawls and purses and stock­ings – off the shelf. You could buy yardage of laces and things like that. And then you could also have your dresses made and coats made,” Wal­ford says. The Made in Canada con­cept will run through­out the ex­hi­bi­tion. Al­though many goods re­lated to cloth­ing were man­u­fac­tured in Water­loo Re­gion, Canada wasn’t known for its fash­ion de­sign. “We didn’t rely upon our own tal­ent to de­sign our look. We bor­rowed, knocked off what was hap­pen­ing in Paris and Europe. It was in­flu­enced by it. We usu­ally were copies of copies of copies,” says Wal­ford. It wasn’t un­til af­ter the Sec­ond World War that Cana­dian de­sign­ers be­gan to emerge. “It re­ally took off with the bou­tique move­ment in the 1960s. You had Mar­i­lyn Brooks and Pat McDon­agh open­ing their own lit­tle shops and those were the places that re­ally de­fined the Cana­dian style and cre­ated a Cana­dian de­sign es­thetic.” The mu­seum will fea­ture a sec­tion of Cana­dian Firsts, show­cas­ing in­no­va­tions such as the wire hangar, the ath­letic sup­porter – the cup, not the strap – and bulky wool sweaters. Cana­dian fash­ion icons such as El­iz­a­beth Ar­den, Rose­mary

The Fash­ion­ing Canada Since 1867 ex­hi­bi­tion will in­clude a gala gown circa 1954 by Toronto cou­turier David Art­ibello. JONATHON WAL­FORD

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