Is that Aristoc or Kira sheer?November 29, 2011 Fashion
Apologies for taking a while to continue with the Cole Porter song (have a quick look here, if you want to know what this is about). I did not want to start this post with a known unknown but it seems I might have to. Good news first: while waiting for inspiration I read a sentence in a novel published in 1927 that made me sit uncharacteristically upright. These two lines of the second verse suddenly made so much more sense:
Oh, I know it’s hard to waken
But your side-car has been shaken …
I originally thought that ’side-car’ referred to a ‘one-wheeled device attached to the side of a motorcycle’ (thanks, wikipedia) or other similar vehicle, which was waiting to take the awakened daughter to her restaurant. Of course it actually refers to a cocktail ‘invented’ in the early 1920s. The ingredients – Cognac, orange liqueur and lemon juice – do indeed have to be mixed in a shaker and I shall certainly try one at my earliest convenience.
The rest of verse two is pretty self-explanatory so let’s move on to number three:
Wear your parti-pantiecles,
(I love these modern fantasies)
Is that aristoc or kira sheer?
Your effect should be fantastic
In that tu-way stretch elastic
And they’re sure to like your kestos brassière.
There it is, the known unknown: what on earth are parti-pantiecles? Admittedly, there is a tiny chance that I transcribed the word wrongly – the resolution of my photo is too low to be sure. One would think for rhyming reasons it should be pantiecies, and Porter did go for ‘pantasys’ in the US version of the song, but that does not really help.
Aristoc and Kira are of course both brand names for hosiery. Aristoc was registered in 1924 by a Nottinghamshire hosiery company and is still going strong today. Kira was the name used by the silk manufacturers Brough, Nicholson & Hall for their stockings.
‘Tu-way’ stretch fabrics seem to have been a novelty in the early 1930s and were particularly used for underwear. In the 22 August 1934 issue of Vogue a Kestos brassière made of two-way stretch “Lastex” [apostrophes in original] is described as the ideal garment to wear underneath the low-backed dresses so popular during that time. Kestos was apparently the first company to develop a bra with two formed cups. The brand name was derived from the Greek cestus, the magic girdle or belt of Aphrodite that made its wearer irresistible. Originally, Kestos seems to have been a London company but the name was later used by others such as W.H. Symington & Co (Australia), which gained the rights to use the trademark.
Okay, that’s the third verse sorted. Here is the last and longest one again:
Why not try those dolcis shoes,
Not the browns, the wedgwood blues,
And that sexy airplane bustle, just for show,
In your watermelon stiebel,
You’ll make baba beaton feeble,
And I know your mink gills collar
Will make mona simply holler.
Are your ear-clips firmly on?
Dear, you look a little wan,
Why not add a blush-rose measure
And, to give your mother pleasure
Pause a moment and rehearse,
How to swing your tree-bark zipper purse,
And, darling, don’t forget
To attach your new changette.
Wear your eggplant velvet gloves,
(That’s the colour mother loves)
And your moonglow muskrat muff,
Are you sure you’re warm enough?
Where’s your dinner? At the berkeley?
Then you’d better wear your sparkly.
Now you’re forty minutes late, it’s time to go.
The Wedgwood blue Dolcis shoes should not need any explanation (Eleanor blue – after Mrs Roosevelt – Pedemode shoes in the American version). The ’sexy airplane bustle’ almost turned into another parti-pantiecle until I came across a report from the workroom of the French couturier Jean Patou published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 1 March 1934 (page 35):
Here’s Patou’s newest conceit – the airplane bustle, carried out in stiffened diaphanous black net. It gives the wearer that “wind-blow” appearance so essential to the mode just now. Either one must be at the mercy of a headwind or a following wind nowadays. One wonders how the wearer rises above her flounce for sitting down, but of course one must not display a too morbid interest in such problems.
Oh no, one definitely mustn’t!
In the fourth line of this verse we find out why the lyrics were stuck into Victor Stiebel’s press book in the first place: he has produced a dress that will make Cecil Beaton’s sister Baba feeble. Watermelon pink seems to have been a popular colour in the 1930s and was located somewhere between what I would call fuchsia and coral.
I should think that a fur collar made of the throats and necks of minks would make Mona (presumably the Mona Lisa) weep, rather than holler. Fur was super-fashionable in the 1920s and 30s and a moonglow muskrat muff is mentioned later on. Vogue recommended the pelt of the North American muskrat for coats and motor robes in the issue published on 19 September 1934. If you really want to, you can still find quite a few muskrat muffs online.
Just two accessories to go: The use of zips in fashion was still quite a new thing in the early 1930s and, according to some sources, so was the transformation of treebark into fabric. Schiaparelli wrote of her close collaboration with ‘the textile people’ in her autobiography and claimed ‘to have launched a myriad of novelties’ such as ‘tree bark, cellophane, straw, and even glass’ (Shocking Life, V&A edition, page 61). I wonder whether she meant fabric crinkled to look like treebark, which the designer seems to have developed with the Lyon textile manufacturer Colcombet. L’Officiel de la Mode reported in 1935 that Colcombet had presented a ‘rough crepe’ called Écorce d’Olivier, or Olive Tree Bark. In 1938, too late for this song, Schiaparelli made a dress of silk printed to resemble treebark (for some reason I cannot link to an example directly, search for ‘Schiaparelli’ here, and it should come up).
Now to one of my favourite things: the changette. In July 1932 Nina Skidelsky of Stratford Connecticut and Woldemar A. Barry of New York applied for a patent for a brooch-cum-container.
The patent application was refined in 1933 and a new drawing was filed, see above. Skidelsky and Barry explained that
The object of our invention is to combine in a single article of manufacture an attractive decorative device primarily for the purpose of adornment, having a thin metal panel which will partially, and in some cases entirely, conceals a thin, flat receptacle for money or small change, which receptacle can manually open and close quickly but will for the most part be unnoticed by the eye of the uninitiated.
Changettes must be quite rare by now. The example below was recently for sale on ebay.
I cannot quite picture the young lady envisioned by Cole Porter and I am not sure I really want to. Watermelon pink dress, mink gills collar, muskrat fur muff, changette, treebark purse, Wedgwood blue shoes? Whatever she may look like, she is now ready for dinner at the Berkeley Hotel, until the early 1970s situated at the corner of Piccadilly and Berkeley Street, more or less opposite the Ritz. Let’s hope she has a good time.
Baby poutz and parti-pantiecles are still up for grabs. If you can turn these known unknowns into known knowns, please get in touch.