A few weeks ago an Instagram friend, Carla, posted a photo of a Betsey Johnson dress that had a very familiar-looking print. If you look carefully at the print above you’ll see young women, all of whom seem to be having a problem with their skirts flying up.
The print is, in fact, a redoing of the Springmaid girl, a topic I’ve written about quite a few times. What started out as a risque ad campaign for Springs Mills fabrics and sheets was eventually made into a series of fabrics for the company. Springs Mills not only decorated their corporate offices with the prints, they also had items made up for sale and they offered the fabrics to clothing manufacturers and home sewers.
So how did Betsey Johnson end up with a print that was designed for a bed sheet maker over sixty years ago? I can’t possibly know for sure, but I have constructed a possible scenario.
A fabric “designer” is wandering through a flea market in search of inspiration. The designer spots a sixty-year-old shirt made of the Springmaid fabric. The designer buys the shirt and returns to her office where the Springmaid girls are cut apart and re-positioned, their clothes given a change of color, and then the new design is put on a black background. The fabric is printed and someone from Betsey Johnson spots it at a wholesalers. The fabric just screams “Betsey Johnson,” so it is bought and used to make dresses sometime in the 1990s.
Or I could be completely off base, and the fabric maker contacted Springs Mills and got permission to use their design.
Clothing design has no copyright protection in the US, but textile designs are protected. Regardless, it is really quite common to see vintage textiles reproduced in this way. Tammis Keefe and Vested Gentress are two that I’ve written about in the past. Like I said, it is possible that the maker of this fabric had permission to use the design. That has been known to happen as in the case of fabric maker Michael Miller using Tammis Keefe designs. Actually, Keefe has been dead many years and she left no heirs, but Michael Miller gave complete credit to Keefe, putting her signature on the fabrics.
So, no judgement, just an observation of one more thing that can be confusing, especially to newer buyers of vintage. Yes, those Springmaid girls do look like they came from 1950, but the colors and label say otherwise.
Many thanks to Carla who graciously let me use her photos.
It has occurred to me that there is a third possibility – that the fabric was actually made by Springmaid. The company is still in business, and so it is possible.
Ballyhoo Vintage has a hat lined in this fabric in the original colorway.