Today we get an unexpected peek into the past--a large portfolio of the fashion sketches and pattern drafts of a woman named Catherine Emma DeVore, who graduated from the Wolfe School of Costume Designing in Los Angeles in 1923. In addition, there are two envelopes full of ephemera: newspaper clippings, her doodles, ads, notes, photographs, envelopes....
Whence this bounty of delight? From a man I know who, having acquired this trove, was kind enough let me borrow it to take pictures! In turn, I did my best to return it as a tidy package, putting the pictures in order. I got so many photos, and uncovered enough interesting info, to make several posts, so I'll do this in installments:
In this post, the majority of pictures are my own photographs of Catherine DeVore's work and documents. I did not make her stuff, so it would be stingy of me to unduly restrict rights to my photographs of it. Instead, I release my photos in this post under an "Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives" license. Attribution means you should credit the photos to me (Karen Roy) and the art to Catherine E. DeVore. NonCommercial means you can't make money off them, since that would be contrary to my friend's free and generous spirit in sharing the portfolio. NoDerivations means if you modify the pictures, you cannot then distribute the modified works. I tacked that on out of respect for the original artist, who might not have wanted strangers painting mustaches on her fashion heads or using her croquis to illustrate their fanfiction or whatever. Other pictures or newspaper clippings are in the public domain.
RESEARCHING CATHERINE DeVORE
Another envelope (no postmark, alas) reveals her mom living in Coachella and Catherine living in Los Angeles. This envelope is filled with tiny pattern pieces, as for dolls' clothes. I am guessing this envelope was sent at a later date than the wedding invitation, since I know Catherine was in school in LA in the 1920's:
And here is her diploma, showing what she was doing in Los Angeles in 1923:
Wondering if anything Catherine ever did has found its way onto the internet, I google the various names and addresses, but get nothing interesting. That's not surprising: not everyone who gets a degree in something ends up working in that field, or being successful with what they studied. Even if Catherine had been successful, she may not have been notable enough to be known almost a hundred years later! If I were motivated to research this through official records and not just the internet, I might find more dates and addresses, but I am more interested in the portfolio in front of me than in stats from a census site.
RESEARCHING WOLFE SCHOOL
So I shift my internet search to the Wolfe School of Costume Designing. This is better! Ethel E. Wolfe and her husband Charles Wolfe opened their school, the Wolfe School of Costume Designing, in Los Angeles in 1920.
By 1923, there was at least one commercial school teaching costume design, the Diogot and Wolfe School of Costume Designing in Los Angeles. Its advertising noted that Clement André-Ani, the "Erté of the West," taught fashion sketching, costume designing, French draping, patternmaking, and other essential skills. André-Ani later found considerable success in Hollywood, eventually heading up the wardrobe department at MGM.
I don't know who Diogot was, but that name didn't seem to last long. An ad in the LA Times in August , 1923, calls the school simply the "Wolfe School of Costume Designing". Here's the text of the ad:
"Many Courses Offered Students, Wolfe School"
It seems the word "costume" denoted any clothing, not just clothing for theater or film, and that the school sold clothing as well as teaching people to design and sew it. The school must have done well, because in 1929 it had a new building, built for them by Rudolf Michael (R.M.) Schindler, a contemporary architect who was also designing the Wolfe's home on Saint Catalina Island. (Incidentally, if you want to get the flavor of 1920's Los Angeles and Hollywood, check out this silent film footage. As for Catalina Island, it seems like it was such a small community that the Catalina Islander newspaper in 1937 actually noted when a local girl, Katie Krueger, left to attend the Wolfe School of Costume Designing, and went to the effort of printing that she'd be staying with her brothers in LA!) By 1937 (though I don't know the exact date), Ethel Wolfe had opened a new location in Hawai'i.
As an interesting cultural aside: it seems that being (or appearing to be) French held as much cachet then as it does now, in fashion circles. A less French name than "Ethel Wolfe" could hardly be conceived, yet this "former Parisian designer" was called "Mme" in every news article I could find about her!
BUT ENOUGH RESEARCH!
Now I know a little about the school, and a little about the student, it's time to get her pictures ready for exhibit! Check in on Monday to see Catherine DeVore's fashion drawings from her portfolio!
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