The GREATEST Menswear Store Ever?

Discussion in 'The Display Case' started by Marc Chevalier, May 11, 2006.

  1. Below are photos of Golden Era menswear from what was (probably) America's finest haberdasher at that time: the late, great OVIATT'S. The Oviatt menswear building is now a restaurant called Cicada. Here is a photo of it; you can get an idea of what this store was like in its heyday, the '20s and '30s:

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    What was OVIATT'S? Why was it so special? Here's a brief history:


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    In 1906, at the age of 18, the talented and ambitious James Oviatt left his native Salt Lake City for Los Angeles, where he began a career in haberdashery at Desmond's Department Store.

    After rising rapidly through Desmond's ranks, he opened an exclusive men's shop with business partner Frank Alexander in 1911. Their goods were so supremely elegant that the clientele of Alexander and Oviatt became a veritable Who's Who of Los Angeles celebrities and socialites.

    In 1925, on one of his many trips to Paris in search of fine fabrics, Oviatt attended the landmark Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes (from which the term Art Deco was derived). Instantly captivated by the beauty of Art Deco, Oviatt commissioned the leading European designers and craftsmen, including renowned jeweler and art-glass designer Rene Lalique, to ornament a magnificent building that would be the new home of Alexander and Oviatt.

    The Oviatt Building, erected in 1927, was the first Art Deco building in Los Angeles. Designed by Albert Walker and Percy Eisen, it was lavishly embellished with French marble and more than 30 tons of Lalique's art glass -- the largest shipment of its kind ever to pass through the Panama Canal.

    The Penthouse, created for Oviatt's own use, was outfitted with Lalique's custom lighting treatments and exquisite floors and cabinetry by the celebrated French firm Saddier et Fils. It was recognized as a masterpiece from the moment of its completion. The splendor of the interior was matched by the bi-level rooftop gardens, which boasted a swimming pool, tennis court, putting green, clock tower, and "beach" of imported Riviera sand.

    Hailed by Oviatt's contemporaries as "a castle in the air", the Penthouse was the site of legendary parties for decades. Oviatt and his wife Mary entertained lavishly, and signed photographs of their friends and clients -- including John Barrymore, Errol Flynn, Leslie Howard, Charles Boyer and Howard Hughes -- still grace the Penthouse walls.

    By 1969 the era of Alexander and Oviatt was over. The haberdashery closed, but the Oviatts continued to occupy the Penthouse until their deaths in the early 1970s.

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    My good friend Ben McGinty has a collection of apparel from OVIATT'S. Nearly all of Ben's pieces below came from the L.A. estate of Mr. J. E. Hare, who achieved great success as a racetrack bookie and gambler in the '20s and '30s. Take a look:



    Here's a suit from the early 1950s. Note the double lapel buttonholes and the trousers' built-in belt (with a leather buckle):

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  2. A tuxedo from 1925. Note the notch lapels; they were quite popular on tuxes back then. The fabric's "diamond" weave is impressive. Also, note the incredible workmanship in the jacket lining's construction.

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  3. Here's another tuxedo, this time from 1928. The lapels have changed, and the lining seems slightly less intricate:

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  4. Some 1930s dress shirts. Sorry about the wrinkles; Ben didn't have time to press them out. Note the collar shapes:

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    The shirt below is very unique. The patent date indicates that it's from 1938. Besides the label's polo player (29 years before Ralph Lauren's), the shirt's back has columns of verticle darts running from the shoulder seams nearly to the bottom of the tail. These darts give the shirt an "hourglass" body shape. Incredible workmanship!

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  5. Matt Deckard

    Matt Deckard Man of Action

    Give me time to catch my breath!
     
  6. James Oviatt travelled to Europe every year in order to find fabrics and manufacturers for his store. Oviatt spent most of his travels in the British Isles. Practically all of his store's sportswear came from there.

    Below are a wool knit waistcoat and some sportshirts from the late 1930s.


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  8. flat-top

    flat-top My Mail is Forwarded Here

    Messages:
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    Palookaville, NY
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    Wow! I have those same pants in two colors! I love em!
     
  9. Two jackets from the 1930s. Check out the buttons, carved from genuine horn:

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  10. Cool! Made by Oviatt's?
     
  11. And finally, some 1930s socks. These were never worn: they still have their original (expensive) price tags. The long socks were to be used with knickers (plus-fours). Our own Wild Root bought two similar pairs from Ben.


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  12. Lauren

    Lauren Distinguished Service Award

    Messages:
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  13. Thanks, Lauren!

    Folks, this is THE place to have an L.A. area Fedora Lounger get-together. At the very least, we could all meet there for drinks some time. (Yes, Oviatt's store had its own bar ... and the restaurant still does.)

    AND ... you can check out James Oviatt's penthouse apartment at the top of the building. His was the very first 100% Art Deco apartment in all of Los Angeles. The cabinetry was custom-made in France.

    Take a look at:

    http://adsla.org/oviatt.html


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  14. Benny Holiday

    Benny Holiday My Mail is Forwarded Here

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    That's a wealth of information, Marc

    Thanks for sharing the photos and story of Oviatt's. Until this post, I knew nothing about the store apart from references in Golden Era (or Golden Era-set) novels etc.

    Here in Sydney, we had a number of famous and grand haberdasheries, most notably Mark Foy's, which is now the District Court for the City of Sydney. I've got a photo of my Dad standing outside the building in his Army uniform in 1943.

    It's common to hear older people here reminisce about such names as Anthony Hordern's, the famous department store, and so sad to know I've missed out on being a part of that world. The famous menswear store and Sydney landmark Gowings closed early this year after more than a century; I bought my first fedora there, to me Sydney isn't the same without it.

    Imagine being able to visit a store like Oviatt's in its heyday! Even the sportswear was sharp and classy !
     
  15. flat-top

    flat-top My Mail is Forwarded Here

    Messages:
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    Location:
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    Not sure. All I've seen in them is the patent information for the built in belt. They are identical though. These were so big when I got them that I had them taken in like 5 inches. I'd hate to think that the Oviatt's label was lost in the tailoring!
     
  16. They could be from Oviatt's! I think that the trousers in that suit have a patent number inside. Can't remember for sure.
     
  17. Wild Root

    Wild Root Gone Home

    Messages:
    5,532
    Location:
    Monrovia California.
    Marc, that gray suit I know!!! I haven't seen it for nearly 9 years! Oh man, I'm glad you have it in your collection! And the funny thing is... Ben didn't even want it! He was getting all snobby on me because it was from the 50's! lol

    Man, so funny that you have that suit now... such a small world!

    =WR=
     
  18. Nope, it's in Ben's collection ... not mine. :(

    That's the one Oviatt's item of Ben's which is not from Mr. Hare's estate. Great suit! Where did you find it?


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  19. Wild Root

    Wild Root Gone Home

    Messages:
    5,532
    Location:
    Monrovia California.
    Oh, it's still Ben's? Oh well, I'm not surprised!lol lol lol lol

    I found that little number at a vintage shop that that used to be in North Hollywood called... called... man, what was the place called? Well, it was on Lankershim Blvd and it was ran by a little lady who looked kind of like a Gypsy, she had lots of Bakelite on... and just about everything else... hahahahah and there was a place right next-door to it that had some old TV's and some really cool vintage man, I'm drawing a blank!!!

    A little help here please! lol

    =WR=
     
  20. My own, small Oviatt's collection includes a creamy white silk suit, several dress shirts, a fedora, a black satin bowtie, several neckties (including a '20s one from Alexander & Oviatt), a pair of pajamas, and two briar tobacco pipes. I haven't yet gotten around to photographing most of it.

    Here's an Oviatt's sportcoat from the '50s that I sold a while back. The buttons are horn, stained black and carved into a gumdrop shape:


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