I spotted this coat from across the antique mall, and I immediately knew what I “thought” it was. The distinctive green/yellow, the turn lock closures and the leather all added up to Bonnie Cashin.
It was great finding out that I was correct, but then Cashin’s work is easy to spot once you’ve been exposed to it. Even though Cashin designed for quite a few different companies, she had several “trademarks” that she incorporated into many of her designs. Closures for jackets and handbags were often turn locks. She incorporated dog leash latches in belts, bags and garments. Her leather clothing was often oddly colored, with colors tending to be citrusy or mossy. It was, in fact, the color of this coat that had me convinced that it was by Cashin.
Probably the two most famous firms that Cashin designed for were Philip Sills and Coach. She worked for Sills from 1952 until 1977, and for Coach from 1962 until 1974, so for twelve years she was designing for both companies. Her work at Sills was originally designing leather coats and jackets, but Cashin was soon mixing wool tweeds with leather and suede. Some of her handbags at Coach also used wool mixed with leather. The kiss-lock change purses that she put on the outside of her Coach bags began showing up as pockets on her clothing. She was a real mix and match artist.
Bonnie Cashin is considered to be one of the great American sportswear designers. Her clothes were practical and sporty, and suited the casual lifestyle that Americans were embracing after World War II. She loved garments that had multiple uses, and she all but invented the idea of layering clothing.
If you have a garment with Bonnie Cashin’s name on it, then it was designed by her. She never entered into any licensing agreements and she never employed assistant designers. Today, Cashin’s designs often look so modern as to make a casual observer of her work ask, “What’s the big deal?” But actually, that’s the point. Cashin’s work was so influential that today her innovations are commonplace.
If Cashin’s work is so great, then why did I not buy the coat, you might be asking. It all has to do with condition. Women who bought Cashin’s coats must have loved them because most of the ones I’ve ever encountered for sale have been in terrible condition. This one was no exception.
Over the years I’ve had several Cashin pieces, all of which I long ago passed on to another collector. After seeing this piece it began to strike me as odd that I – a collector of sportswear – do not have an single example of Bonnie Cashin’s work. This was a problem I had to fix. Tomorrow I’ll show off the solution.