Juli Lynn Charlotte, creator of the poodle skirt, dies at age 101

What’s a nice Jewish Viscountess to do when she has a title but no money, a party invitation but no clothes, a pair of scissors but no sewing skills?

Of course, we invented the poodle skirt.

This, by pure chance, is what Juli Lynn Charlotte did in late 1947, creating in the process a totem of midcentury material culture as evocative as saddle shoes, hula hoops, and pink plastic lawn flamingos. Did.

New York-born Charlotte, who died Sunday at her home in Tepoztlan, Mexico, at the age of 101, was a Hollywood singer before marrying a viscount, or British aristocrat, in the mid-1940s. She’s fashion conscious but can’t handle a needle, so she inevitably found a striking skirt pattern that didn’t require any sewing. She takes large pieces of plain felt, cuts them into vast circles, and decorates them with ornate appliqués in contrasting colors. , make a hole in the center and jump inside.

As a result, embellished circle skirts became widespread throughout the 1950s and were purchased in large numbers by women, especially adolescent girls. The voluminous fabric spreads out nicely when you twirl it around, making it the perfect item for sock hops.

Over the years, the circle skirts of Ms. Charlotte and her many imitators became embellished with a variety of figurative appliqués, including small visual stories. However, the most popular incarnation of this garment flaunted the image of a poodle, so all such skirts collectively became known as poodle skirts.

“When I was a teenager, every girl in the Western world wore poodle skirts,” humorist Erma Bombeck wrote in a 1984 column. She went on to define it as “a skirt with enough fabric to cover New Jersey with a large poodle applique.”

Literally born out of post-war affluence, the poodle skirt blended seamlessly with 1950s youth culture, as fabric was no longer in short supply, and the fun rag set seemed to foretell a carefree era. was. Never mind the Cold War, the skirt seemed to be saying: We’re going to rock 24 hours a day.

In later years, the poodle skirt became visual shorthand throughout the decade. Even now, works like “Grease” and “Bye Bye Birdie” can hardly be implemented without evidence.

Charlotte was born Shirley Agin in Manhattan on October 26, 1922, the daughter of Philip and Betty (Cohen) Agin, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.

When she was a child, her family moved to Southern California. There, her father, an electrician, and her mother, an embroiderer, made their living in a Hollywood studio.

“It was easier to be poor when the weather was mild,” Charlotte, 94, said in an obituary interview spanning her singing career in 2017. There is a voice”). She made an unlikely stage appearance with the Marx Brothers (“I Was So Beautiful Back Then”). Her penchant for marriage and romance (“I was always in love”) who”); and work as a self-taught fashion designer.

Young Shirley’s school friends included future entertainers like the future Judy Garland, the future Ann Miller, and the future Lana Turner. She had a wonderful soprano voice and decided to become an opera singer, so she started taking voice lessons from the age of 13. “I was going to be Mozart’s biggest advocate,” she said.

She thought Shirley was an inappropriate name for a diva, so she adopted her professional name, Julie Lynn.

After graduating from Hollywood High School, she sang with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera and Xavier Cugat’s Orchestra.during world war ii She appeared with the Marx Brothers Touring military bases in the United States.

During her acting career, she designed her own wardrobe. Because she refused to learn her sewing (“she didn’t want to be lazy like my mother,” she said), she worked with a seamstress to realize her own designs in fabric. hired.

She said Charlotte had many “celebrity fans” including Harold Lloyd, Gary Cooper and violinist Isaac Stern.

She was married four times to “two millionaires, a royal earl and their son,” but here she was suspended as a “baron” for dramatic effect.

Charlotte said her first marriage to a billionaire “didn’t mean much”. They divorced three days later.

Immediately after the war, she eloped to Las Vegas with Philip Charlotte, a British naval officer. Born to a French father and an English mother, she later learned that he was also a viscount.

At his request, she gave up her career and ended her life as a full-time viscountess. Her husband found work as a Hollywood film editor.

In December 1947, she was invited to a Christmas party in Hollywood. She had nothing suitable to wear and no money. Her husband recently lost his job.

The Fairy Godmother intervened with Charlotte’s mother, who by that time was running a small children’s clothing factory. She gave her daughter a huge white felt sheet.

The scissors came out, and soon Charlotte found herself in the center of a white circle skirt.

“I made a hole with my brother’s slide rule. C = 2πr,” she said in 2017. She was able to hand sew enough to applique a green felt Christmas tree in the background.

“My mother had a cigar box full of little trinkets that she used at work,” she said. “They were placed on the Christmas tree as an ornament.”

The skirt was a “huge hit” at the party, she recalled.

She made several similar skirts and brought them to a boutique in Beverly Hills. She sold out.

After the holidays, we received a request from a shop for a non-seasonal design.she created dachshund picture Chasing around the skirt. When the dachshund sold, the store offered: she turns her attention to the poodle. French poodles were very fashionable at the time and were owned by many customers.

The poodle hit the dachshund.

Today, Charlotte’s skirts are prized by vintage clothing collectors and can fetch hundreds of dollars each.

Eventually, Charlotte started owning a poodle skirt factory. She made a skirt decorated with images of frogs and lily pads. Paris cityscape, galloping racehorse, waterfall flowerand champagne glasses and pink elephantalong with blouses, dresses, hats, and handbags.

By the early 1950sher skirts sold for about $35 each – about $400 in today’s money.

Charlotte’s business skills, by her own account, were on par with sewing, so her factory struggled at first. “My mother wore a diamond ring for three weeks straight so that I could pay her salary,” she told the United Press in 1953.

But with the help of investors and orders from high-end department stores such as Brox Wilshire in Los Angeles, Neiman Marcus in Dallas, and Bergdorf Goodman in New York, her future was secured.

Today, Charlotte’s skirts are prized by vintage clothing collectors and can fetch hundreds of dollars each.

Charlotte’s marriage to the Viscount did not last long. At the height of her success as a designer, she was called to tea by her mother. “The more successful you are, the less successful he is,” she recalled her mother-in-law saying. “You are trying to destroy my son.”

Charlotte loved her husband deeply, she said, but divorced him so he could get his life back together.

Charlotte’s third marriage to the second richest man ended in divorce, and her fourth marriage to the son of a Mexican-born German baron also ended in divorce. She discovered that he had no trouble telling her that he had previously been married to two women and had never considered divorcing her.

Charlotte has no immediate family.

Charlotte, who was later confirmed dead by her friend Carol Hopkins, created a modern take on a traditional Mexican wedding dress. She had lived in Tepoztlan, south of Mexico City, since the 1980s.

By the height of the Swinging Sixties, the miniskirt had replaced the poodle. But before that, a young woman appeared in a press photo that belied the scope of Charlotte’s work.

In 1951, the future Queen Elizabeth wears a poodle skirt and plows in Canada.credit…The Life Photo Collection/Getty Images

The year is 1951, the place is Ottawa, and the woman is attending a hoedown at the Government House of Canada. The 25-year-old had never seen a hoedown and she was privately told about the mystery before the dance began.

That woman, She is wearing a steel blue circle skirt. Ms Charlotte acquitted herself admirably, appliquéing hearts, flowering branches and stylized figures from Romeo and Juliet. According to reports.

Her name was Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor and from the following year she became known as Queen Elizabeth II.

alex traub Contributed to the report.

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