I’ve been an admirer of the work of Bonnie Cashin for many years, so it struck me as odd when I realized that I did not have an example of her work in my collection. I set about thinking and reading about Cashin, trying to narrow down what type of garment I wanted to fill this big hole in my accumulation of American sportswear.
First, I wanted my garment to immediately bring Bonnie Cashin to mind. I wanted it to look like her work. I also decided that I wanted something from Sills, from the 1960s or 70s, but I did not want a garment that was entirely leather. I wanted something made from one of the fabrics that Cashin used very often, wool tweed.
I’ve been really interested in the tweeds that Bonnie Cashin used ever since I read a paper by Jacqueline Field, published in the 2006 journal Dress, the publication of the Costume Society of America. The paper was not about Cashin; it was about Bernat Klein, a woolens designer working in Scotland. Klein was quite famous in the UK, but here in the States he did not get the press attention that he garnered in Britain. While studying the work of Klein, Jacqueline Field found that his wools were used not only by the great European couturiers like Chanel and Saint Laurent, but also Bonnie Cashin.
Klein produced couture level wool tweeds from the early 1960s through 1966, and again starting in 1969. My suit was made in 1970 or 71, so it is possible that it is a Bernat Klein tweed. One of his hallmarks was the use of different colors being used in one yarn, as you can see in the vertical yarn in the center of my photo. He was also known for using thick and thin yarns to give texture to the fabric.
I’m not saying that my suit is made from Bernat Klein tweed, but it is fun to imagine that it might be.
Aside from the tweed, my suit has several of Cashin’s usual features: leather bound edges, turn lock closures, no zippers, easy fit, interesting coloration. The moment I saw this suit, I knew it was exactly what I needed. The only thing wrong with it is that it actually fits me, and the desire to wear it is very strong.
These are not just pocket flaps. There are substantial pockets, made from the same fabric, under them.
Designed by Bonnie Cashin, made by Philip Sills, sold at Saks Fifth Avenue.
The side vents are a sporty touch.
The under collar is red leather.
The skirt has no waistband, just a strip of cotton bias. There is a large covered snap to help secure the skirt below the top turn lock.
The skirt opening is on the left side.
I love the way the lines of the plaid are structured.
As I said earlier, this suit is from 1970 or 71. How can I be so certain? The F.I.T. Library has the original sketch along with a swatch of the fabric, and they have it posted on Flickr. You might want to take a look at the sketch to see a bit about how Cashin designed. It appears that she used her pattern pieces on more than one garment. If she came up with a collar she liked, she would reuse the pattern, adapting it to a new design. You can see this in the other sketches as well.
I’m very happy with my acquisition. Now I need to find the hooded jersey dress that she designed to wear under the suit. You can see it in the sketch.