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Chicago Millinery History: Pearlie Powell Shop April 3, 2017

On June 5, 1917 Clarence Powell submitted and was rejected from the draft for World War 1; rejected because of his feet. Listed as single and a department manager for Mandel Bros department store, he otherwise would have likely gone off and perhaps never returned.

In 1920 Clarence A. Powell, 30 years old, was an import buyer for the highly regarded Mandel Bros store in Chicago. He applied for a passport to go abroad to buy for the store, but he had no birth certificate from his Milwaukee, WI birth in 1890 and had to provide substantial written testimony to this. His friend of over a decade, Mr. Miller, the manager of imports for the store, provided his testimony. Mr. Miller had known Clarence’s father, William, as well, for about 25 years, which was when Charles would have still been in short pants. The 1920 census has Clarence single and living at home with his parents. His father was an advertising manager of a department store, and Clarence was a buyer. They lived at 4949 S. Lake Park Ave.

The passport application was approved, and Clarence returned from his first trip abroad Sept 6, 1920.

In 1921, after Clarence father had passed away, Clarence applied to the Sons of the American Revolution. He documented his heritage back to his great great great great great grandfather, Peter Powell who had served as a private in the American Revolution in PA. Clarence sailed again in August for another buying trip in 1921.

Something fun must have been happening after the difficult year of 1921. Somewhere along the way he met a gal in Chicago, Pearlie. No records of their marriage, nor her youth were located. She was a bit of a pleasant mystery. One who had an eye for fashion and the Clarence left Mandel’s to open a high end shop in her name. He had the buying expertise, she had… Good taste?

Good taste also meant a need to search the continent for the best their money could buy. Pearlie took off for France.

Pearle Powell sailed home alone in Feb 1925 from Cherbourg, France, on the Berengaria, Her residence is listed as the Lake Shore Hotel. The birth date is given as Feb 10, 1891. Tho she may have been alone, with her husband not traveling, the rest of the passengers would have been a treat. Beckie Blum 32, from 5120 High Park Blvd, and Ida Winer, 39, from 5341 High Park Blvd, would have been worth getting to know. Blum’s fashion shop had opened in 1924, and advertised their high end fashions in the Tribune. In time it became known as Blum’s Vogue.

digitalcollection.chicagohistory.org hisotry museum galanos dress from Blum

Even in 1960 ‘Becky’ Blum reminisced about her early support of a then well acknowledged designer, James Galanos. http://digitalcollection.chicagohistory.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p16029coll3/id/2442/rec/1

Also returning was Robert McCormick, 44 of 80 E Elm in Chicago, tho he may not have had fashion on his mind, but instead upon his newspaper, as editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. Robert presented his own mystery, as he was alone without his wife Amy, 57, whom he married in 1915, after much in the way of public scandal.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_R._McCormick

From New York was Nettie Rosentstein, 33,residing at 44 56th St, New York, and last but NOT LEAST, Hattie Carneige, 38, of 780 38th St, NY, a fashion force to be reckoned with.

On August 19, 1925 Pearlie and Clarence sailed back from France together on the Olympic, but no obvious fashion names appeared on the passenger lists. They had been on the manifest to depart on Aug 15 on the Berengaria, but did not embark.

In 1927 Pearlie and Clarence return Feb 22 from France, and are listed as living at 320 N. Michigan Ave. Presently this address is the Comfort Suites Hotel, having originally been built in 1888. The building is on the west side of the street, just a few doors south of Wacker Drive and the Chicago River. This made the opening of the bridge in 1920 and the development of the shopping area known now as the Magnificent Mile a very attractive place for an elegant fashion shop. Not moving up to the north Michigan Avenue hot spot may have proved a mistake. Again on board this ship were a couple of fashion names, successful in their careers as well; Nettie Rosenstein and Hattie Carnegie. “In 1925, Carnegie was successful enough to buy a building just off Park Avenue at 42 East 49th Street.[5] By 1929, the business has sales of $3.5 million a year.[3] When spending decreased during the Great Depression, Carnegie created a less expensive line called Spectator Sports.[2]”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hattie_Carnegie

In Aug 1928 Clarence and Pearlie returned to Chicago, now with an address of 1209 Astor St. Chicago.

On the passenger list of Feb 1929 one finds Clarence and Pearle, born in Chicago in 1891, listed as residing at 320 N. Michigan Ave in Chicago. They had arrived on the Aquitania from Cherbourg France. There was only one other woman, Bertha Nikodem, from Chicago who boarded there, who resided at the Congress Hotel. One wonders if they met and enticed a new customer.

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In the 1929 Chicago Tribune online archives of the newspaper one finds ads for Pearlie Powell fashion shop, and twice a year they indicate Mr. and Mrs. Powell have returned from buying trips abroad for the shop. Customers were tantalized by seeing the latest Paris creations, and having a chance to purchase from a long time fashion forward couple.

The 1930 census has Clarence Powell, 40 and Pearlie Powell, 39, living at 1209 N. Astor, with their 42 year old German maid. They are listed as retailers of women’s wear. This address was elite, having been built in 1926. A current property listing is for this unit, under contract, for over $3million.https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/1209-N-Astor-St-Chicago-IL-60610/2137675499_zpid/
The Powells were paying $450/month in rent, while others in the building went from $275 to only one which went for more than theirs. This was likely the penthouse for Mr. Robert White, a president of a real estate company, and family, for $585/month. That name may not be familiar, but many Chicagoans would recognize another neighbor who lived with his daughter and her family, Maurice L. Rothschild. It is likely this is one and the same as the store by that name. Rothschilds was a men’s and women’s-wear store in Chicago. It had opened in 1906. In 1931, while the depression progressed, Rothschild’s was adding three floors to their building on State Street. In a Tribune article, placing his worth at $15million, he claimed 70% of his advertising was in the Tribune the year before. No wonder they wrote about him!

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It is clear from this ad in the Chicago Tribune March 16, 1930 that the class of client the Powells desired were the most elite. The plan for this expansion was probably well under way before the stock market crash of Oct, 1929. This was a risky enterprise.

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It seems the worst had come. When the Depression caused even the wealthy to cease expensive fashion spending, retailers on narrow margins could not keep up. To give 2/3 off on elegant fashions must have broken their hearts, as well as their business.

The only other ads seen in 1931 were for $5 hats. Hopefully hats could ease the pain.

There are no further records of this couple in anything on Ancestry.com. They are not in the 1940 census in Chicago, and there are no death records. It is like they disappeared off the face of the earth. One hopes they still had each other, even if all the glory days were over.

 

Chicago Millinery History: Saks Fifth Ave on Michigan Ave in the 1920s. April 2, 2017

Saks Fifth Avenue was established in New York City in 1924. They had branched out with Palm Beach, FL and Southampton, N.Y, resort stores successfully in 1928, and then decided Chicago was the next on their horizon. Opened at 840 N. Michigan Ave, in March  of 1929, they faced serious long established competitors. In the log written by the head of Charles A Stevens there was concern of several of their employees having been lured away to be employed by Saks.

Saks found their newest home in a recent hot spot, in what is now a still vibrant fashion shopping Mecca, north Michigan Ave. It is oft referred to now as the Magnificent Mile. It was only after the opening of the Michigan Ave Bridge/DuSable Bridge with the Tribune Tower on the north side in 1920 did old Pine Street become a desirable destination. The Drake Hotel, between Walton and Oak, anchored the north end of the business, hotel and shopping expansion. 

SAKS AD 2-17-29

Feb 17 a group of north Michigan avenue retailers combined to be featured in a full page Chicago Tribune advertisement, with a map in the center. The Saks store ad indicates an early March opening. They would have been in the same Michigan Chestnut Building as two shops in this form of weekly Sunday ad, run over the next few weeks. The Chintz Shop would not have competed, and may have welcomed the arrival of Saks. Later the Don Lynn fashion shop may have had great reservations about the future.

The Women’s Athletic Club at 626 N. Michigan opened in April, 1929 and was a great draw to this hotly developing shopping area. They were the new home March 1 of the first branch of a successful shop on Diversy, the Leslie Shop. http://glessnerhouse.blogspot.com/2013/02/womans-athletic-club-of-chicago.html

One should not confuse Leslie with Leschin, another fashion spot. Leschin had Jack Leschin listed as a manufacturer of millinery in the 1920 census, living at 831 Ainslie with his family. In 1910 he had been a manager of a cloak factory in Kansas City.

McAvoy at 615 N. Michigan Ave ran an ad March 11 to welcome Saks. McAvoy’s ads regularly boasted of their Fashion Board, made up of prominent Chicago women: Badger, Farrell, King, Madlener, Meeker, McCormick, Mitchell, Otis, Winston, and Winterbotham. Another ad of theirs also on March 11 mentions clothes in the Debutante room started at $45 (equal to $635.35 in 2017.)

Saks must have been recognized by the world of criminals as well as shoppers as a place of value. June 15 found them robbed of $5,000 cash and $15,000 in jewels at the close of business, in a terrifying holdup. One wonders if Miss Florence Geraldson, the cashier, had been a former Stevens employee who wished she had never left. The thieves escaped, having worn “canvas gloves and sneakers.” 

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Kleenex was on sale in a large cosmetics ad Sept 8, 1929, and again in Nov, at Saks for $.33, in the new larger size. Hopefully the wise women invested, as the stock market crash is just weeks away. Kleenex had started in 1924 as a Hollywood product to remove theatrical makeup and cold cream, which was why it was still featured in the cosmetics department at Saks. In 1926 “A test was conducted in the Peoria, Illinois newspaper. Ads were run depicting the two main uses of Kleenex; either as a means to remove cold cream or as disposable handkerchief for blowing noses. The readers were asked to respond. Results showed that 60% used Kleenex tissue for blowing their nose. By 1930, Kimberly-Clark had changed the way they advertised Kleenex and sales doubled proving that the customer is always right.https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-kleenex-tissue-1992033c

For fashion, Saks sought the well heeled client. They were proud to feature the designs of Jane Regny https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Régny

For the person who pulls themselves away from the newspaper headlines daily about the world covering Zeppelin travels, including a stop in Chicago August 29, they may have noticed the full page ad Sept 3, 1929 for the newly opened jewelry store on Michigan Ave.

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After checking out the new place, then one could head over to Saks for some lovely items from Molyneaux. If that did not draw one, perhaps the ad on the sixth for the allure of Vionnet fashions did entice one to the store. The social elite of the city were returning from their summer homes in Lake Forest, Wheaton and Barrington, as the season was about to start here again. Attending a debut of the chosen few young women certainly required a gown from a Paris house, even if one had not toured Europe to select it there oneself. 

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No other ads were placed by Saks in the Tribune during the early fall of 1929, tho Sept 28 alerts one to the new furs from Mr. Perry A. Weinberg. Perhaps they were trying other papers to see what kind of response the others drew. Or they realized the magnitude of financial woes ahead, and felt it better to conserve their advertising dollars. Whatever financial concerns they had, they still proceeded in expansion to two additional floors in the the building they occupied, as reported Oct. 5, 1929.

By mid Sept it was clear there were financial concerns for the city. Headlines had told of the county being unable to pay their bills, especially salaries, including those of judges. They would get IOUs thru the end of the year. A reassessment of property in the county was a hopeful way to be fairer, and gain more tax revenue. That had potential but as people would be losing jobs in the future, it is not too likely as many would be able to pay those taxes. Sept 19, 1929 had a Tribune headline that the city had a  32%  deficit. That would play out to include no pay for plenty of their employees as well, including school teachers. That day they feared the dismissal of 2,000 city policemen and 800 firemen, a potentially dire situation. The city had reassessed real estate property values in 1928, had borrowed against the anticipated higher tax revenue which did not materialize, making for a mess of a financial deficit going into 1930. This news deflected from the previous big issue of the 4,000 county employees being unpaid since Sept 15.

October 25, 1929 was the final blow to the stock market. No Saks Fifth Avenue ads ran that day either. One might imagine the staff spent much of the day concerned for the future, and wondering if the holiday shopping season, soon to start, would be anything like they had hoped for when they were planning it in earlier months.

Much newspaper mention has been made of the stock market crash the end of Oct, a trigger for the Great Depression ahead. It has been a volatile market since at least the spring, and bank failures and suicides had been happening even before the crash. Those just seemed like more isolated incidents till economic gloom became better recognized. 

What other events occurred for which a new dress and hat would be desired by a lady in Chicago? The opera? Yes. Theater? Yes. The new production of Eugene O’ Niel’s third Pulitzer Prize winning “Strange Interlude” opened to 1200 attendees. The Stevens Hotel, across the street, and the theater arranged a special dinner interlude. The performance started at 5:30, and the 1.25 hr intermission was a time for theater goers to dine at the hotel, then return for the final acts of this 5 hour, nine act play. It sounds like an excellent idea, at only $1.50 for the meal, as Thanksgiving dinner was $2, vs $2.50 at the Palmer House.

saks umbrellas

A practical purchase for gifts or oneself, if only to save one’s hat from rain and snow, would have been the special on Nov 23 for umbrellas at a mere $7.50. Just after Thanksgiving Saks featured shoes for $9.85 for values to $27.50, and the same ad is repeated several days.

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One wondered if Saks actually sold hats, a mystery solved when a semi annual clearance sale is announced Dec 2, and millinery is mentioned. Whew! One could relax, tho no hat photos make one wonder if they were all a cloche style, or perhaps a bit more adventurous. 

Speaking of the ads themselves, most Saks ads were rather bland. The two cosmetic ads were simply lists of items with prices, and the shoe sale showed no shoes. Even the biggest ads in the fall for Vionnet and Molyneaux were copies of typed letters from the fashion houses. The aura of mystery was certainly the approach Saks took. Lots of competitors featured lovely drawings, such as Blum’s Vogue Dec ____1929. 

But finally Saks has pulled out all the stops for a full page ad on Dec 8, a Sunday paper, to draw those Christmas shoppers inside their doors. The image contained an Art Deco feel of a woman holding a ship. They were not selling ships, but selling the allure of imported goods, especially French items. 

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They followed up on Dec. 12 to entice gift givers to select a purse, with prices which ranged to $250. ( Or $3,530 in 2017)

1929 BAGS

For the bargain hunter, The Fair, a reputable mid-price department store, had an ad of handbags ranging to $15.That week Carson, Pirie, Scott and Co showed “original couturier bags from Lelong, Patou, Worth, Lanvin, and Paquin at $15 to $35.” All the ads were of little use from Dec 18th, and 19th, as a blizzard had hit Chicago, “the worst of a decade.” It caused 12 deaths, and plummeted the temps to zero. For shoppers who had left that gift buying task for the last weekend before Christmas, the city was a mess. 900 shovelers and 75 trucks were working to clear the downtown; the rest of the city had to wait for it to melt.

OG BAGS

By Dec 21 O’Conner and Goldberg, known as OG, the store for shoes, had to do something with their 1,500 handbags, which were marked down to $5, from $27.50.

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By Dec 23 even Saks had to move their $7.50-$10 purses, marked down to $4.95. Perhaps we have a case of handbag wars, where sellers were bound and determined those lovely little evening bags with so much holiday appeal get out their doors, one way or another. http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1929/12/23/page/4/article/display-ad-3-no-title

How many people trudged thru the snow for these bargains is unknown. But teachers were not going shopping for many gifts. The city was so broke for weeks they could not be paid, no matter what they went thru to get to work during the blizzard. Loop departments stores placed ads specifically telling teachers they could open credit accounts immediately. In a last minute deal borrowed funds were found to give teachers their checks on Dec. 24th. But sadly for them things would be worse in 1930, with far worse gaps unpaid. For now, Chicagoans went about their business of celebrating a white Christmas, a bit diminished, but hopeful of a new year of hats and handbags. Maybe they even went inside Saks, just to see what it was all about, even if buying their hats seemed outrageous.