Hänsel Echo & German Fashion in the 1930′s
Recently, I stumbled upon a new fashion magazine that I had never heard of before: Hänsel Echo. Soon, I realized it was in fact a publication of the company Hänsel & Co. A.-G., which is still in existence today with a reputation for quality jacket canvas and interlinings. Today, I would like to introduce you to this magazine as well as some fashion illustrations by Harald Schwedtfeger.
Let’s start with a few tidbits about Hänsel’s history: In 1908, Mr. Bruno Henscke and Oswald Hänsel founded the ‘Henschke & Co. Hänsel Rosshaar’ in the small German town of Forst near the Polish border. Their scope of business was the production of canvassing and interlinings. In 1921, Mr. Hänsel invented a machine that allowed them to spin an endless thread of horsehair. Since this was a remarkable invention, they even produced a short movie about this process, however I was unable to find out more about the existence of this film.
Even today, horsehair is an essential element of every bespoke suit, but back in the day, it was even used for factory made garments. Some of you may ask: why horsehair?! Unlike other fibers, horsehair can be shaped beautifully by the tailor with an iron and it especially helps the jacket to remain in the wearer’s three dimensional shape. Moreover, it is a tough material that does not wrinkle, and hence it helps the fabric to drape neatly. Because of its coarse character, it is often blended with other natural fibers such as cotton, linen or even synthetics.
After a few years in existence, a large fire destroyed the company’s main buildings. After they were rebuilt, Hänsel produced more than 1 million yards of canvas per year. After such success, Hänsel went public and was renamed into Hänsel & Co. A.-G.
The Hänsel Echo
In 1927, Hänsel-Echo was published for the first time as a marketing magazine for the tailoring and garment trade. Up until the 1940’s it was issued twice a year with circulation of more than 100,000 issues. Apart from substantive articles, it included beautiful fashion illustrations and photographs which I will present to you in detail later.
Hänsel & the Third Reich
In the 1930’s, Hänsel became the market leader of the Third Reich and produced about half the canvasses and interlinings in Germany. Of course, they also sold their horsehair abroad.
At that time, they offered a huge variety of horsehair products. For example, the Hänsel Echo recommended to use a special canvas for formal evening and morning wear and they had special products for armpits, the collar, etc. Often times these different items were sold already pre-cut, but they were always branded with the red Hänsel horse.
In case certain tailors were not happy with the huge selection, they offered the opportunity to create a custom canvas – now that’s what I call bespoke!
As with so many German companies, WWII put an end to their operations. Although Hänsel was not destroyed, they were dispossessed of their business and so Mr. Hänsel and Henschke parted ways.
Oswald Hänsel remained in the Soviet zone and founded a new company in 1948, but he was unable to succeed in the newly formed GDR. Bruno Henschke stayed in Western Germany and started Hänsel-Textil in the city of Iserlohn.
During the 1970’s, they stopped spinning horsehair yarns due to a shift in the market towards glued interlinings. In 2009, Hänsel became insolvent but it was possible to restructure the company and continue business operations. Today, Hänsel is the only manufacturer of interlinings for the fashion industry that produces all its goods in Germany. They even have a subsidiary Hänsel-Tec, which focuses on textiles for the car industry and other niches.
Fashion Illustrations by Harald Schwerdtfeger
Mr. Schwerdtfeger drew the illustrations for the Hänsel-Echo magazine for many years. Thanks to Mr. Korsitzke, I was able to read a number of Echo issues which contained various illustrations.
Country Clothing in 1930/1931
The first Illustration stems from 1930-31 and shows us a hiking scene in the country. The pipe-smoking gent on the left wears a chestnut brown knickerbocker suit in a heavy wool twill. His red-white striped shirt and black & red striped tie are in harmony with the reddish brown sweater vest he is wearing underneath his coat. The slightly contrasting brown cap goes well with the shoes, and the thick, lemongrass green over the calf socks break the monotony of red and brown.
His peer to the right wears a stunning gray three piece suit with a fine blue windowpane. Traditionally, the three flapped patch pockets of this coat would require notched lapels but obviously Schwertfeger opted for an unusual look.
The light blue shirt, dark blue tie and socks go well together, though I am not sure the grey hat with a black hatband and brown spectator shoes with canvas are a great combination; their contradictory formal and informal styles seem awkward together. What do you think?
Interestingly, the lady in the back wears a Norfolk inspired jacket with a matching skirt, which is something you probably won’t see anywhere today.
Elegant Daywear in 1933
Here we see two gentleman is very similar double breasted silhouettes. The only difference is the color as well as the decorative front buttons on the right. Apart from that, shoulders, lapels, length, drape and trousers are virtually the same. I can only guess, but I think the illustrator chose these almost identical silhouettes in order to demonstrate how color can change the entire look.
The combination of white shirt and black polka dot tie is rather formal, though the spectator shoes and especially the Safari style hat are more casual.
The red striped shirt is very similar to the first picture. However, this tie is either worn with a pin or a little dot pattern on the tie. The chamois gloves contrast the shoes as well as the hat without creating an odd ensemble.
While many men – especially in Italy, i.e. Lino – wear their double breasted coat with the bottom button unbuttoned, this fashion choice was considered unacceptable back then.
The combination on the very left consists of light gray flannel slacks and a rust brown coat with interesting rounded quarters in the front and the typical short but wide lapels of the 1930’s. The green bow tie with a tiny knot creates a good contrast with the white shirt, and the white gloves go well with the spectators, which have a brown cap and brown saddle in the middle.
Just like most men back then, he did wear a vest, although you can hardly see it.
The third picture seems staged to me since it consists of three levels of formality; it’s unlikely that there would be an occasion in which all three styles would be both present and acceptable. Dress codes were more rigid then they are today.
To the right, we have a gentleman in a charcoal single breasted suit with peaked lapels, jetted pockets white shirt, black tie, black shoes and white pocket square, which is all proper and acceptable for evening wear if you do not own a tuxedo. For a touch of color, I would have chosen a different tie and more interesting socks.
To the left, we see a man in a tuxedo / dinner jacket. Back then this was considered to be semi formal. The cut of the dinner jacket is excellent – especially the just slightly peaked lapels look very elegant. It is closed with a double button that reveals more of the shirt front and is worn with a starched shirt with detachable wing collar and a double breasted vest in white, which was probably borrowed from a white tie ensemble. Note, there is no buttonhole in the lapel, which makes for a clean look though sadly one cannot wear a boutonniere this way.
The gentleman in full fig / white tie looks splendid. Just note the lapel, which is ever so slightly peaked and very elegant, as well as the vest that harmonizes perfectly in length and shape with the tailcoat. This kind of perfection is rarely achieved if things are not tailored. Note, a formal tailcoat should always have 4 cuff buttons, while a business suit may have three, and a sportscoat just 1 or 2.
We should also note, that trousers for a white tie ensemble often feature a double gallon (braid or band along the side seam) whereas, tuxedos have only one. However, there are various pictures of well dressed style icons who would wear a single wide satin gallon with white tie as well. So don’t be so harsh in your judgement if you see somebody with just one galon – because it is not necessarily of poor style. This gentleman wear a regular bow tie shape of Marcella. Since these are difficult to tie and sometimes a bit casual, the single end bow tie was often the number one choice for gentlemen of style. Interestingly, Hercule Poirot swears by these single end bow ties for evening wear.
Grey & Pink
This picture from 1939/40 display a noteworthy outfit of a finely checked suit in stone gray, some drape, waist suppression, and open quarters. Note, the sleeves are cut wider at the sleevehead and taper towards the shirt cuff, in order to create the “perfect” looking sleeve. It is combined with a dark gray, vest, pink Winchester shirt and red patterned tie. The pink pocket square is a bit too matchy-matchy and one in blue, yellow or green would have looked superior. The dark brown Homburg hat has a dark hat band and light gray piping – something not unusual back then but rarely ever seen today. He wears a camel colored coat on his arm and a tightly rolled umbrella. Of course, with this kind of refined outfit, white glacé leather gloves are the icing on the cake.
Since fashion illustrations were often times idealized and out of proportion, it is always valuable to see actual photographs of people wearing their garments.
All the examples here are stunning examples of high quality tailoring and, of course, canvas. The suits of these men look certainly heavy but they drape so smoothly and evenly that one could think for a second they are made out of stone. Obviously, this is contrary to the Neapolitan way of tailoring where grinze (puckering along the sleevehead and seams) is often the deliberate style of choice. There is no right or wrong but is it much rather a matter of different taste
What style do you prefer? Do you own any issue of the ‘Hänsel-Echo ? If so, please get in touch with us, we look forward to hearing from you.