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Mr. Gilbert

Born in Windsor, about 1932

Designer

1949 - 1969

Gilbert Phillips graduated from art school in Toronto, studied hatmaking, and then spent three years in New York City studying at the Traphagen School of Design.  He began designing hats around 1949 for Karen Ross in Toronto and also made dresses for private clients. Lured to Montreal by a manufacturer, he was established there by 1952. In 1954 he opened his own salon in Toronto, which went out of business after two years. Clients supported him with loans to reopen, but he was back in Montreal by 1956.

Under the name Mr. Gilbert, Phillips opened The Little Black Dress House ready-to-wear salon in Montreal on December 21, 1962, stating,

“I was starving as a couturier and decided that well-made little blacks were what women wanted and needed.”

He marketed The Little Black Dress House dresses as all-season, timeless pieces, noting “They are not dresses to be worn one or two seasons and discarded. They are meant to be worn by women who want beautifully crafted dresses in fine fabrics but can’t afford individual couturier prices.” His garments were distinguished from other ready-to-wear productions as “individually-cut and haute couture detailed.” One year into the business, based on retailer requests, he found that about one-third of his sales were dresses in bright colours.

Phillips expanded his ready-to-wear business to New York in 1964, showing dresses priced at $45 to over $400 to retail buyers at the Plaza Hotel. The Little Black Dress House was successful in the United States and featured in fashion pages in various city newspapers.

In February 1965, Mr. Gilbert won the Union Label Award for Best Suit after showing a green-blue suit as part of the National Collection presentation sponsored by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union on January 22, 1965. In June 1965, he won two Union Label Awards in the categories Best Evening Gown and Outstanding Fall Fashion for a high-waisted black velvet gown that featured a white strapless bodice beaded with cascading lines of white pearls.

Of all the designers represented in the National Collection show, he received the highest number of votes from fashion writers and commentators.

He won the Union Label Award in the category Best Evening Gown again in February 1966 for a light chiffon gown with a sheer beaded yoke.

Mr. Gilbert was unsatisfied with the ready-to-wear business, however, especially the fact that department store markets were dictating what he should create. When he shifted back to the couture business model late in 1967, he explained, “I had too many things to take care of, and my work suffered (translation).”

In November 1967, Mr. Gilbert opened the Monserrat Salon in Quebec City near the St. Louis Gate. He opened his Montreal-based haute couture salon a year later, at which time he appears to have expressed a desire to cease his boutique line. Mr. Gilbert described his business model as “ready-to-wear haute-couture.”

At the June 1968 National Collection showing in Montreal, Mr. Gilbert exhibited a spiral-tiered organza gown with a strapless, straight-across neckline featuring a large side bow. Described as feminine and “futuristic,” this gown won the Union Label Award in the higher-priced evening dress category. Phillips was last listed in the Montreal city directory in 1968-1969.

Sources

“Accepted Bribes Admitting Youths into the Air Force.” The Ottawa Journal, October 28, 1943, 13

“Award Winner.” The Brandon Sun, February 8, 1965, 5.

“Billet-Verite Sur Ma Ville.” Le Devoir, October 12, 1967, 11.

Boulva, Michele. “Quand La Haute Couture Se Teinte D’une Nuance ‘Pret-a-Porter’.” La Presse, November 15, 1968, 7.

Carter, Joyce. “The Little Black Dress Is Out.” The Globe and Mail, December 21, 1963, A18.

———. “New Line Just for Little Black Dress.” The Globe and Mail, November 23, 1962, 10.

“Chic and Charming.” Warren Times Mirror and Observer, January 16, 1967, 11.

“Chic and Charming.” Warren Times- Mirror and Observer, July 19, 1967, 11.

“Chic and Charming.” Naugatuck Daily News, March 21, 1967, 3.

“Companies Information Act: Letters Patent Annulled.” Gazette officielle du Quebec, December 7, 1974, 123.

“From Mr. Gilbert.” Somerset Daily American, March 6, 1967, 6.

“From Mr. Gilbert.” Evening Herald, January 27, 1967, 7.

“From Mr. Gilbert.” The Daily Courier, February 15, 1967, 5.

“From Mr. Gilbert.” The Daily Notes, January 17, 1967, 3.

“From Mr. Gilbert.” The Holland Evening Sentinel, February 22, 1967, 11.

“From Mr. Gilbert.” Wilmington News Journal, January 16, 1967, 5.

Gélinas, Simone. “Comme Paris, Montréal a Ses Grands Couturiers.” Le petit journal, 20 January 1952.

“Gift-Wrapped.” Warren Times- Mirror and Observer, July 19, 1967, 11.

Harvey, Derek. “The Canada Fashion Scene.” Women’s Wear Daily, February 14, 1967, 49.

Jukes, Mary. “He’s on Our Side.” The Globe and Mail, October 8, 1956, 14.

“Lovell’s Montreal Alphabetical Directory.” In Annuaire Lovell, edited by Annuaire Lovell, 1131. Montreal, QC, 1968-1969.

“Mr. Gilbert Wins Third Award.” The Ottawa Journal, February 14, 1966, 19.

Ness, Margaret. “Suit-Cape Outfit.” The Christian Science Monitor, July 16, 1968, 4.

Rodger, Heather. “Black Is Back, a ‘Best Seller’.” Toronto Daily Star, November 23, 1962, 49.

Rossignol, Lyse. “Un Grenier Ou Il Fait Bon Vivre.” La Presse, July 29, 1967, 43.

Rowe, Kaye. “Mr. Gilbert Honored.” The Brandon Sun, June 25, 1965, 5.

simplicityisbliss. “50s Vintage Mr. Gilbert Shimmery Gold 2 Pc Dress Vintage 1950s Small Golden Brocade Dress and Jacket Set.” etsy.com External link

“Spanish-Inspired.” Somerset Daily American, April 13, 1967, 8.

“Une Création De Gilbert Gagne Le Trophée-Mode.” Le Nouvelliste, June 23, 1965, 14.

“Untitled.” Le Devoir, August 9, 1967, 9.

“Untitled.” La Presse, June 28, 1968, 14.

“Untitled.” Le Courrier de St. Hyacinthe, June 23, 1965, 13.

Publication date

01/02/2019

Author

Cynthia Cooper, McCord Museum

© McCord Museum 2019