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John Warden Fonds (P741)

Extract from John Warden (1939-2007) annotated drawing (detail), about 1968. Gift of Mr. Mark Warden, John Warden Fonds P741, M2009.73.1.12 © McCord Museum

1968: A breath of fresh air for Canadian fashion

"Style 703
- Camel cloth
- flat gold buttons
- gold buckle & eyelets in belt
- gold rings"

Montreal, spring 1968. John Warden, whose eponymous boutique on Crescent Street had been open for nearly two years, was a rising star in Canadian fashion. Everything was going well for this young Parsons School of Design graduate and former collaborator of Montreal manufacturer Auckie Sanft.

The 1960s were marked by profound socio-cultural change. The increased awareness and engagement of young people, women's liberation, and the advent of "street style" provided an environment in which a bold creative designer like Warden could thrive. The look created for this spring collection -- a trench coat, mini-skirt, high boots, scarf and gold accessories -- reflected the spirit of the times. In the drawings made for this collection, Warden exhibits the style that would characterize his illustrations throughout his over 40-year career.

P741 John Warden Fonds. - [1944?], 1957-2007. - 489 cm of textual and iconographic records. - 8 objects.

Biographical Sketch

John Warden was born December 28, 1939, in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Having graduated from New York's Parsons School of Design in 1963, he then moved to Montreal, where he worked with manufacturer Auckie Sanft from 1964 to 1966 and produced a pilot collection for Le Château. In 1965, the young designer married model Lise Gibeau, whom he divorced in 1973. The Wardens had one son, Mark Steven.

In 1966, John Warden opened his first boutique, located on Crescent Street. His label was known for a modern, refined style and colour palette in shades of black, cream and white, as well as colourful cutting-edge designs. His young, bold style quickly earned him recognition from both the public and peers, along with the nickname the "Enfant terrible de la mode." In 1968, he opened a men's clothing boutique on Bishop Street. Warden's haute couture and ready-to-wear collections, accessories and other products appealed to a wide variety of clients and many celebrities.

In 1980, Warden opened a new women's ready-to-wear boutique on Crescent Street, where he remained until he moved to the Caribbean in 1991. A resident of St. Kitts, the designer continued his activities with his new "Island to Island" label until 2007.

In addition to producing his own clothing lines, John Warden created collections for a number of manufacturers both inside and outside Canada, such as Bagatelle, Baron Leather, Beverini, Bozart, Dupont, Hanna, Hudson Cloak, Molyclaire and Tanjim. Warden was extremely versatile, notably creating uniforms for two major Montreal events, Expo 67 and the 1976 Olympic Games, as well as for Expo 86 in Vancouver. His work was recognized with numerous prestigious awards.

John Warden died on June 29, 2007, several months after having presented his last "Island to Island" collection.

Scope and Content

This fonds chronicles the work of a leading Canadian designer whose impact on the fashion industry was particularly evident during the 1960s. The fonds focusses primarily on John Warden's professional activities as a designer, but also looks at his work as a businessman and director of several firms.

The documents illustrate the clothing lines Warden designed for his boutiques and some fifty manufacturers, as well as special orders created for clients like Dominique Michel, Louise Marleau and Ginette Gadoury. Several of Warden's one-off designs are documented, such as those created for major Montreal events like Expo 67 and the Olympics, and well-known companies like Air Canada and Bell Canada. The fonds also documents the designer's involvement in fashion juries and associations.

The fonds is primarily made up of drawings done by Warden while designing his various collections, along with fabric samples and fashion photographs. Several promotional and administrative documents also illustrate his professional activities. Warden's correspondence documents his relationships with various associates and media representatives.

Press clippings chronicle the designer's career, while cards, a guest book and commemorative plaques illustrate the recognition he received. In addition, the fonds contains personal documents like letters, drawings and watercolours, and notarial acts.

The Photographs series of the John Warden Fonds is composed primarily of professional photographs from the period 1964 to 2007. They illustrate the seasonal collections produced for the various John Warden clothing lines and other manufacturers, along with fashion shows. There are also portraits of John Warden and portfolios of models. Some of the prints identify the photographer on the back. Most of the photographs dating from the 1990s onwards are colour snapshots illustrating the collections of the "Island to Island" label. The collection of photographs also contains personal photographs.

Supplied title proper: Title based on the creator of the fonds.

Physical description: The drawings are considered both textual and iconographic records, which is why their extent has been calculated in centimetres. They are often accompanied by fabric samples that have been glued, stapled or pinned on; some samples are simply inserted into the folders. The fonds also contains over 5,100 photographs.

Physical condition: Many sketches have been folded, creased or glued onto cardboard. Several documents show traces of sticky tape or corroded metal fasteners. Many of the newspaper clippings are fragile and show signs of deterioration.

Immediate source of acquisition: The fonds was donated by Marc Warden, the only son of John Warden, in two separate donations, one in 2009 and one in 2010.

Language: The documents are primarily in English, but some texts are in French, Italian, Spanish or German.

Restrictions on access: The file "P741/A1,3 Illness and death" may not be accessed until 2037.

Associated material: Archives of the École supérieure de mode de Montréal, ESG, UQAM: Fonds Montréal Mode

Related groups of records: The McCord Museum collects the archives of numerous fashion designers: Jean-Claude Poitras Fonds (P689), Betty Guernsey (Gaby Bernier) Fonds (P349), Lawrence Sperber Fonds (P753), Jacques De Montjoye Fonds (P768), Claude Gagnon Fonds (P765), Marie-Paule Nolin Collection (C726), Jane Harris Fonds (P563), Edith Strauss Fonds (P584), France Davies Fonds (P703), and Rita Simard Fonds (P749).

General note: Other sketches and photographs are preserved in the McCord Museum's Notman Photographic Archives and its Paintings, Prints and Drawings collection. The museum also preserves clothing designed by John Warden in its Costume and Textiles collection.

The fonds is divided into the following series, subseries, sub-subseries and files:

  • P741/A Personal Activities

  • P741/B Professional Activities
    • P741B1 John Warden lines
      • P741/B1.1 John Warden Boutique (ready-to-wear)
        • P741/B1.1,1 Regular collections. - 1967-1989. - 50 cm of textual and iconographic records.
          Digitized documents: Part 01 - Part 02 - Part 03 - Part 04 - Part 05 - Part 06 - Part 07 - Part 08 - Part 09
        • Scope and Content: This file illustrates the regular collections developed by John Warden for the John Warden Boutique ready-to-wear line between 1967 and 1989, at the usual rate of two collections per year.

          It is composed primarily of pencil, ink and watercolour drawings, most of which are annotated. These drawings are done on various types of paper in many different sizes. Fabric samples, buttons and decorations, and hand-written sheets of notes are attached to many of these drawings.

          Posters and promotional items, clothing spec sheets, event programs, and contact information for associates and fashion show photographs complete this collection.

          Supplied title proper: Title based on the contents of the file.

          Physical description: The file is made up of many iconographic records, including 96 B&W and colour photographs.

          Language: The documents are primarily in English, but several texts are in French.

        • P741/B1.1,2 Special collections and uncertain attributions
        • P741/B1.1,3 Promotion and publicity
        • P741/B1.1,4 Special orders
        • P741/B1.1,5 Media Coverage
      • P741/B1.2 John Warden private collection (haute couture)
      • P741/B1.3 Island to Island
      • P741/B1.4 John Warden International
    • P741/B2 Collections for manufacturers
        • P741/B2,3 Auckie Sanft. - [1963-1968]. - 10.5 cm of textual and iconographic records.
          Digitized documents: Part 01 - Part 02 - Part 03 - Part 04 - Part 05 - Part 06 - Part 07
        • Scope and Content : This file documents what John Warden produced when he worked for Montreal manufacturer Auckie Sanft between 1964 and 1966. Their association is documented in ink, pencil and watercolour drawings, some of which are collected in notebooks. Several are signed and annotated, and there are many attached fabric samples. It is worth noting the aesthetic quality of some of these drawings as it demonstrates Warden's talents as a draftsman. This file also contains invitations to fashion shows and presentations of collections, correspondence and a cloth-backed label.

          Supplied title proper: Title based on the contents of the file.

          Language: The documents are primarily in English, but several texts are in French.

        • P741/B2,36 Molyclaire. - [1973-1984]. - 16.5 cm of textual and iconographic records.
          Digitized documents: Part 01 - Part 02 - Part 03 - Part 04 - Part 05
        • Scope and Content : This file documents over a decade of collaboration between John Warden and manufacturer Molyclaire, for whom the designer created many lingerie and sleepwear collections, starting in 1965. It contains ink and pencil drawings, some of which were done on paper with the John Warden Boutique or even Carelle letterhead. These drawings are annotated and include fabric and lace samples. Fashion show sketches, press releases, invitations to presentations of collections and business correspondence complete this collection.

          Supplied title proper: Title based on the contents of the file.

          Language: The documents are primarily in English, but several texts are in French.

    • P741/B3 One-off creations, collaborations and events
    • P741/B4 Professional involvement
    • P741/B5 Awards and honours
    • P741/B6 General administration
    • P741/B7 Other

  • P741/C Photographs


Last update: August 30, 2017