Archive for the ‘Fashion and shopping’ Category

What became of the Triangle factory owners?

March 23, 2015

The names Isaac Harris and Max Blanck probably don’t resonate with New Yorkers today.

Yet 114 years ago, everyone knew them: Harris and Blanck (below) owned the Triangle Waist Company on Greene Street, where a devastating fire killed 146 employees on March 25, 1911.

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From that horrific tragedy rose a stronger workers’ rights movement and new city laws mandating safer workplaces.

But what happened to Harris and Blanck, both of whom were in the company’s 10th floor offices that warm Saturday afternoon and managed to survive the fire unscathed?

Like many of their “operators,” as the girls who worked the rows of sewing machines were known, they were Jewish immigrants.

BlanckandharrissoloBoth started as workers in the growing garment industry in the 1890s and then became business owners, making a fortune manufacturing ladies blouses and earning the nickname the Shirtwaist Kings.

They certainly were easy targets to blame, and both men were indicted on first and second degree manslaughter charges, thanks to evidence uncovered by detectives that a door on the 9th floor leading to a fire exit had been locked, a violation of law.

Protected by guards and represented by a big-name lawyer at their December 1911 trial, Harris and Blanck each took the stand, countering the testimony of surviving workers who claimed that the door was always locked to prevent theft.

BlanckandharrisfightingfireOn December 27, they were acquitted. “Isaac Harris and Max Blanck dropped limply into their chairs as their wives began quietly sobbing behind them,” wrote David Von Drehle in Triangle.

To avoid an angry mob of family members outside the courthouse demanding justice, the two men were smuggled through a side exit away from their waiting limousines. They went into the subway instead.

Immediately they relaunched the Triangle company on Fifth Avenue and 16th Street.

But their names made headlines again. “All of their revenue went into paying off their celebrity lawyer, and they were sued in early 1912 over their inability to pay a $206 water bill,” states PBS.org.

Blanckandharrisfactoryafterfire

“Despite these struggles, the two men ultimately collected a large chunk of insurance money—$60,000 more than the fire had actually cost them in damages. Harris and Blanck had made a profit from the fire of $400 per victim.”

In 1913, at a new factory on 23rd Street, Blanck paid a $25 fine for locking a door during working hours, and he was warned during an inspection that factory was rife with fire hazards.

Blanckandharris9thfloorafterfireA year later, the two were caught sewing fraudulent labels into their shirtwaists that claimed the clothes had been made under sound conditions.

By 1918, after agreeing to pay $75 per deceased employee to families that had brought civil suits against them, they threw in the towel and disbanded the company.

[Photos 1-3: Kheel Center, Cornell University; 4-5: Brown Brothers]

An 1860s fashion accessory for New York ladies

March 9, 2015

Demorestsbriscoecenterforamericanhistory1877Even with the Civil War going on, New York City in the 1860s was a stylish metropolis.

Well-off women (and there were many, thanks in part to money pouring in from wartime industry) decked themselves out in “carriage cloaks of moire and amber velvet, to sable or mink furs, and to gowns of organdy, grenadine, and brocade silks in deep and brilliant magenta, gold, or fuchsia,” wrote Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace in Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898.

The hoop skirt was the most fashion-forward style. But with a hemline that brushed the ground, it was tricky to wear in New York City, which at the time consisted of muddy, manure-filled streets and iffy trash and snow removal services.

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That’s where a woman famously known as Madame Demorest comes in.

The American-born head of her own fashion empire, she invented something called the “Imperial Dress Elevator” that was made of a series of weighted strings, so a woman could discreetly raise and lower her hoop skirt to avoid dirtying up the hemline as she strolled past filthy gutters and curbs.

Dresselevatorad

“The dress elevator was so popular that ‘Imperial’ became the code name for any device that raised a skirt,” wrote Anne Macdonald in Feminine Ingenuity.

Madamedemorestnypl“When women asked each other, ‘are you wearing your imperial today?’ they knew what they meant.”

Madame Demorest’s (at left) fashion empire was vast: she ran an emporium on Broadway, invented a sewing machine, sold inexpensive dress patterns that copies the styles of the day, and put out a magazine that was enormously popular through the 19th century.

Mostly forgotten today, she paved the way for women in fashion and business in the 20th century.

[Photos: Top, Briscoe Center for American History; bottom: NYPL Digital Gallery]

The Gilded Age elite strolling old Fifth Avenue

February 23, 2015

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a sea of elite New Yorkers dressed in their Sunday best, drivers of carriages delicately navigating the crowds, and look at those lovely lampposts with the quaint street sign!

Sundaymorningfifthavenue

This gorgeous Gilded Age postcard of New York’s most famous avenue needs no explanation.

Three subway scenes from a 1930s painter

February 2, 2015

The head scarves, newspapers, advertisements, and hats are definitely Depression-era. Substitute the newspapers for iPhones, however, and it’s eerily familiar.

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This 1935 painting by Daniel Celentano, Subway, looks strangely contemporary: a packed car, a cross-section of New Yorkers, and almost everyone minding their own business, looking down or away.

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Celentano needs more recognition. A WPA muralist born in 1902, he grew up as one of 15 kids in a Neapolitan family in Harlem’s Little Italy.

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His work captures the rhythms of 1930s life in the city’s immigrant enclaves and beyond: festivals inspired by saints, laborers at work, and a coal stove keeping passengers warm as they wait for the train in an El Station.

CelentanoselfportraitIn the second painting, Celentano gives us a glimpse of the hustle and bustle under the elevated tracks in a working-class New York neighborhood.

Celentano’s New York Street Scene, the third painting here, offers a view of the 1930s elevated train far off in the distance. But what is going on in that green booth with a figure of a woman hanging inside it?

[Above, Celentano’s self-portrait, 1940]

Christmas shopping in New York 100 years ago

December 1, 2014

True, the streets don’t look as festive, and store facades aren’t as decked out as they are today (where are all the usual wreaths and tinsel?).

But in terms of the crowds, the vendors, and all the kids captivated by toy displays, holiday shopping in New York City hasn’t really changed much in the past century, as these photos from abut 1910 reveal.

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Then and now, there’s lots of action at the fancy, exclusive department stores, such as the old B. Altman building on Fifth Avenue and 34th Street (above).

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Street peddlers put out their wares on the sidewalk, just as they do today (above, selling stuffed toys on Sixth Avenue).

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Kids were drawn to toys, naturally. This audience of little ones seems quite taken with the doll and furniture display at the shop above.

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I have no idea what this gadget is, but I wonder if this vendor managed to unload it on any of these boys.

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Even in an age without web shopping and next-day delivery, Christmas delivery truck drivers were still kept very busy.

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And of course, fake-bearded Santas stood at their posts on Midtown streets, soliciting change for charity. This Kris Kringle is raising money for holiday dinners for the needy.

[Photos:  The George Bain Collection of the Library of Congress]

The bears and foxes in a Garment District lobby

December 1, 2014

224west30thstreetskyscrapermuseumA little south of the main Garment District, in the West 30s and 40s at Seventh Avenue, is one of its apparel-related offshoots, the dwindling Fur District.

And in the small lobby at handsome 224 West 30th Street, the animals who gave the skins off their backs to this industry are celebrated in art.

Walk through the front entrance, and the decorative foyer contains what look like two small bear heads flanking each side.

Farther inside, along a wall above the security desk, are two larger fox sculptures in front of bas reliefs of fox heads and the heads of what might be otters or beavers.

224west30thstreetthreefoxes

This is a building that the attendant told me was still home to many furriers, along with a mix of other businesses.

224west30thstreettwofoxes

224west30thstreetfoyerbearcuThe animal images probably date back to the building’s opening in 1926, when the fur industry was thriving and well before wearing animal fur became a fashion faux pas.

This other Fur District building down the block also pays homage to the animals who built its financial success.

[Top photo: Collection of Andrew S. Dolkart via the Skyscraper Museum]

Fine ladies hats for sale at a Broadway millinery

November 10, 2014

If you were a stylish woman in late 19th century New York, a collection of fashionable hats was a must—the more elaborate and feathered, the better.

Hillbrothersboradway

And the Hill Brothers, importers and manufacturers headquartered first at 564 and 566 Broadway at the corner of Prince Street, seemed to be the leaders in their field.

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An 1888 guidebook called Illustrated New York: the Metropolis of To-Day had this to say about the Hill Brothers and their millinery emporium:

Hillbrothers1902“This firm have long enjoyed a national reputation as importers and manufacturers of millinery goods, while all the partners bring practical experience to bear, coupled with an intimate knowledge of every phase and feature of the wholesale millinery trade.”

By 1902, Hill Brothers had moved up to 806 and 808 Broadway, closer to the rest of the Ladies Mile shops and department stores.

When and why they disappeared is a mystery—but images of their creations and elegant sales floor live on in these advertisements.

A 34th Street renovation reveals a 1902 facade

October 18, 2014

Since 1985, the elegant limestone building at the southwest corner of Sixth Avenue and 34th Street—originally the Herald Square home of Saks—has been sheathed behind ugly blue mirrored glass.

Saks34thstreet1920s

The store had a long history as Saks 34th Street; in the 1960s it became a Korvette’s and was most recently occupied by Daffy’s.

But during its current renovation into a new branch of retailer H&M,the lovely old department store came back into view.

A sharp-eyed Ephemeral reader noticed that some of the blue glass panels had been removed. There, a sliver of the facade finally got a chance to breathe and reveal itself to Herald Square.

Saks34thstreet2014

Those windows look like they need a good scrubbing—that’s more than 80 years of 34th Street exhaust and grime up there! But it’s wonderful to see them in any condition after all this time hidden away.

[Thanks to Jeffrey P. for the “palimpsest moment” and photos.]

Ghost signs hanging over storefronts in Manhattan

August 18, 2014

New York is filled with ghost signs for store that have long departed an address. Yet the new shop owners never remove the old signage, giving the old businesses a phantom presence on city streets.

Ghostsignliquorsavenuea

The liquors sign above is at Avenue A and 14th Street. As you can see, there’s no corresponding liquor store, just a nail salon and a karaoke bar.

Ghostsignpizza18thstreet

When this pizza joint on West 18th Street pulled up stakes, the Persian restaurant that moved in didn’t mind the green Pizza Paradise awning. Maybe the Ps made it close enough?

Ghostsignsuperbuyfirstave

Superbuy was one of the names of an old-school pharmacy that once existed on lower First Avenue across from Stuyvesant Town. The store is gone, but the orange sign remains.

Ghostsignjewelry14thstreet

I’m not even sure which of these signs is actually the ghost sign and which represents the business currently occupying this space on West 14th Street!

Fall fashion: must-have clothes for men in 1911

August 15, 2014

This week, dozens of thick September fashion magazines have hit newsstands, all celebrating the hottest trends and styles for fall.

Fallstylebookcover

In 1911, fashion-forward men and the women who shopped for them had this Fall Style Book to guide them. That man holding the reins is wearing one incredibly long tan coat!

Interesting that the image is set in front of the 42nd Street main branch of the New York Public Library—the building had its dedication and grand opening just a few months earlier.

[Image: NYPL Digital Gallery]


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