Ivan Sayers was a teenager when he started hounding a Penticton woman for her sequined cape.
It took him 11 years to get his hands on Margaret Raegh's wrap, and he only succeeded after her death. "I didn't exactly follow the hearse, but as soon as I found out she'd died, I got on the phone," the fashion historian said.
Sayers says he badgered her so much that Raegh, who wore the cape at the Savoy Hotel in London in 1924 for her 21st birthday party, gave the cape to a figure skating club. It was worn once then boxed away because it shed sequins on the ice.
When Raegh died, Sayers gave the club money to buy fabric for new costumes in exchange for the cape.
Now the black silk net number that's decked with sequins and glass beads is on display at the Art Deco Chic: Extravagant Glamour Between the Wars exhibit, which starts March 8 at the Museum of Vancouver.
Garments that shine with satin velvet, silver lame and intricate threadwork adorn 73 mannequins in the show that stretches from the early 1920s to the late 1930s.
Dresses in the early 1920s were cut with straight lines and feature dropped waists. Women, newly able to vote, no longer needed to exploit their own bodies to gain social value. They cast off their corsets to revel in their newfound political clout. "The body disappears and the only part you see is about the face, which is about character and intelligence," Sayers said.
But the oversized dresses also helped women appear smaller, so they wouldn't pose a threat to men. "That's going to appeal to the male ego because she looks vulnerable and he gets to be big and strong," Sayers added.
There's a sand-coloured day dress and a case of similarly hued accessories from the early 1920s, a trendy shade and an event that inspired fashion designers after King Tut's tomb was unearthed in 1922.
Clothes from the early 1930s include a printed dress worn by the wife of Austin C. Taylor, who owned the Shannon Mews estate from 1935 to 1965, and a similar one printed with poppies and worn by Jessie Binning, wife of modernist artist B.C. Binning. Restored painted mannequins that have their wax hair styled in Marcelle waves model both.
There's a black coat from the late 1930s that's trimmed on the hips with long monkey hair. Eveningwear from this era features back detail to be shown off on a dance floor.
Four of the dresses come from the museum's collection, although Sayers gave the museum the modest navy polka dot dress that was made by the Aurora Dress Company of Vancouver around 1927. The museum's contributions include a black beaded gown worn to the opening of the Commodore Cabaret (now Ballroom) in 1929.
The remainder are from his and co-curator Claus Jahnke's private collections. Sayers pulled more than 40 dresses from the more than 3,000 women's, men's and children's fashions from 1650 to present that have forced him to sleep in his Grandview-Woodland dining room.
"I still call it a collection, not a hoard," said the 65-year-old man who has been collecting clothes for 50 years and hopes to one day to see a historical fashion museum established in Vancouver.
"Clothing is the most personal of artifacts that survive and it's so ephemeral," added Jahnke who specializes in the study of fashion design history in Germany and Austria. The two previously co-curated Museum of Vancouver exhibits on undergarments, and on women's clothing of La Belle Époque.
The style known as art deco began in Paris in the 1920s and swiftly gained worldwide popularity. It's geometry-inspired style is captured in the architecture of the Marine Building and the Burrard Street Bridge.
Art Deco Chic runs until Sept. 23. For more information, go to museumofvancouver.ca.
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