With so many folks lined up for a 'night on the town' this Patty's Day weekend, I thought it was time to highlight a party dress! Worn to opening of the Commodore Cabaret (now Ballroom) in 1929, this twinkling 'little black dress' marks the birth of a legendary Vancouver venue.
One look at the ornate intricacy of the frock, and I’m sure the opening must have been an exciting and much anticipated evening! The sides are elaborately embroidered with an undulating line of flower, berry, and tendril patterns. From waist to hip, vertical lines of sequins drip with layers of beaded fringe tailor made for movement. Falling about knee length, with bare arms, and a deep V, this 'saucy little number' was on trend with the more daring flapper style. Indeed, this classic Art Deco design seems custom cut for a fun night of dancing with legendary big bands and a deluxe dance floor.
As musician Dal Richards remembers, the Commodore was advertised as having "the biggest dance floor in Canada, and the only sprung floor – a floor designed with embedded horse hair to 'put spring in every dancer’s step'. Though the old floor has since been replaced, a piece of the original preserved for posterity in the MOV’s collection (photo still to come).
According to one Georgia Straight Article, the Commodore's bright and hopeful opening was quickly followed by a rough patch.
"... Designed and built at the height of North America's fascination with art deco, the room opened in December 1929. Four months later, the stock market crashed, the Dirty Thirties were officially under way, and the Commodore was one of the city's first high-profile casualties. What was supposed to have lured customers away from the Hotel Vancouver and its booming ballroom business ended up sitting dark for half a year. In November 1930, local nightclub pioneers Nick Kogas and Johnny Dillias became convinced they could make a go of it, reopening the club and officially beginning its run as a live venue with dinner and dancing every Saturday. Over the next seven decades management of the Commodore periodically changed hands, but the venue's ability to draw top talent remained the same. The list of acts that have graced the room's stage over the years is truly staggering..."
In the Big Band days, international legends like Sammy Davis Junior, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey played the commodore. Local jazz aficionado Dave Dixon notes that the Commodore was also home for local swing legends, including groups led by Bob Lyon, Ole Olson, and, later, Fraser MacPherson, Dave Robbins, and Bobby Hales.
The fabulous Commodore Ballroom has survived and thrived through decades, becoming an important part of our cultural character. In 2011, Billboard Magazine even selected the Commodore as one of North America’s 10 most influential clubs. Placed in the company of legendary venues like New York’s Bowery Ballroom and San Francisco’s Fillmore, the Commodore was the only club in Canada to make the list for being “influential, a career building block or just plain cool.” Yes, Vancouver . . . it's true: We’re just plain cool.
It’s Museum Monday! Have you ever looked down a bustling street and wondered what sort of shops lived there years before? Have you discovered a great local fashion designer…a Vancouver original, who could proudly represent our signature style 80-100 years ago or years from now?
In celebration of Vancouver fashion, this week we’re shining a spotlight on this cute and sporty navy polka dot dress –a darling example of local Art Deco Chic straight out of the MOV Collection. Typical of the1920s era silhouette, the garment fits loosely, with a bias cut and a drop waist. It has me picturing a vintage Vogue Magazine Illustration…A sporty young gal at the beach with a sunny cloche and a butter silk scarf blowing in the breeze…Maybe calling out “Tennis anyone?” Cut from a sheer cotton toile, this airy frock might have been paired with a slip. In fact, it was most likely a manufacturer’s sample and never worn...A lucky find for Vancouver textile historians? It seems so!
Made by the Aurora Dress Company of Vancouver around 1927, this ‘sweet little number’ is a sampling from Vancouver’s own Art Deco era garment industry. The “Aurora Silk Company” was established in 1923 by Ken V. Lopatecki at 318 Homer Street. By 1930, the shop became known as the “Aurora Dress & Silk Company” and moved to a new suite in the same building. The last listing for the shop in the city directories was in 1933. Sadly, the company went out of business during the depression (as part of the falling stock for ‘Rand's Dry Goods’). Through the mid to late 1930s, former Aurora Company founder, Lopatecki, continued on as a salesman for “Pacific Maid Dress”. By 1940, he became President of “Queen Bess Dress”. Affectionately nicknamed after Queen Elizabeth, “Queen Bess Dress” was located in the ever fashionable area of 3740 Main Street,
Some truly stunning haute couture creations are now on display in our “Art Deco Chic” exhibit. These ultra-deluxe threads offer instant delight. They seem to ‘wink at you from across the room’…Then quickly envelope you in all of their bold, sleek, sparkling beauty…Meanwhile, this relatively unassuming little polka dot shift reminds us of those extra ‘hidden treasures’ that await the most curious MOV visitors…More fascinating stories ready to unfurl!
It’s Museum Monday! There’s a crispy chill in the air and the thought of cherry blossoms to come . . . It makes me yearn for a sweet rose cloche like this lovely Vancouver-made millinery from the 1920s MOV collection. Want to stay ‘jazz hot’ and flapper fabulous? Learn to flirt in a ‘peek-a-boo’ cap or test your Charleston at a “Rhythm City Strut” - who's dancers will be performing at the opening night for “Art Deco Chic” (Opening March 8, 2012)…Then come celebrate your vintage swagger with us at the MOV.
If you're interested in learning even more about the upcoming exhibition, then check out this great video with Art Deco Chic curators Ivan Sayers and Claus Jahnke.