Bonnie Cashin and Fashion Issues

It’s been sort of a slow two weeks in fashion stories, and I was worried there would not be enough material to do a Vintage Miscellany post. Turns out I was right, so next week will bring the regular post. But for this week, I want to focus on two items concerning American designer, Bonnie Cashin.  Yes, Bonnie has been in the news, but not in a way that would please her fans.

The first item stems from a post on Jonathan Walford’s blog. Raf Simons, who is now working at Calvin Klein, sent an orange cape down the runway that looked familiar to instagrammer @vrazdorskiy, who posted a side-by-side photo of Cashin’s cape and the one on the Calvin Klein runway. It doesn’t take a fashion expert to see that this is the same design, and if you were to play a “spot the differences” game, my guess is that you’d be stretching it to name three differences, mainly in color.

In response, Stephaine Lake, who wrote the book on Cashin and who owns Cashin’s person collection, started a new Instagram account, @cashincopy. We all know how important  Cashin’s work was, and how she continues to influence designers. But being inspired and issuing blatant copys are two different matters.

And here’s an ironic quote by Simons from this month’s Vanity Fair: “I’m not romantic about the past. Once it’s done it’s done. I’m romantic about the future.”

Well, so much for that.

The second story is one that Lake posted on Instagram, concerning a bag that Cashin designed for Coach in the early 1970s, called the Rural Free Delivery. In this case, the design was not copied, as it is Coach that is re-releasing the bag. What is interesting is how Coach is handling the history of the company, and how it is being misinterpreted by fashion writers.

The story in question is on the Glamour website, and is titled, “Coach Is Rereleasing a Bag From Its Archives.”  The writer states that the bag is from Cashin’s first collection with Coach, in 1972. Actually, Cashin first designed for Coach in 1962, which was when the first Coach items arrived on the market. The 1941 date is misleading, as while the company that eventually gave birth to Coach was started in 1941, Coach was a different division within that company.

So what’s the big deal about the date when a company was established? Coach itself uses 1941 in the name of their collection. But how long will it be before people selling vintage Coach bags on eBay start dating them to the 1940s and 50s?  In a rush to make Coach a “heritage” brand, the real story is diluted, and people are missing out on the authentic, and very interesting story.

The term “Cash and Carry” is an old grocery wholesale phrase, and it was extended in WWII to be a policy of the US selling supplies to countries as long as they paid cash and carried off the goods themselves. Bonnie Cashin adopted a pun on the phrase, Cashin-Carry, to describe her line of totes. I’ve never seen the term referred to as “Cashin Carries” as stated in the article. It completely misses the meaning of the pun.

And finally, Cashin was not a “creative director” at Coach. The term was not even in use at that time, and according to Lake, Cashin worked on a royalty basis. Her contract was not even with Coach; it was with the parent company, Gail Leather Products, a leather goods wholesaler. And besides, Cashin never “directed” any assistant designers, as she alone designed everything that carried her name.

It’s no secret where the writer got the “creative director” phrase, as Coach uses it on a page that introduces the bag.  But on the sales page itself, there is not even a mention of Cashin. There is a big deal made about “artist Keith Haring’s iconic illustrations” which are on a hangtag and the cloth lining. I’d love to have the job of “creative director” at Coach. You just dig into the archive, pay royalties to a deceased artist’s estate, and voilà! A brand new bag, or as Glamour put it, “new and improved”.

Thanks to Stephanie Lake for answering my question and clarifying the story for me.






Filed under Fashion Issues, Viewpoint

13 responses to “Bonnie Cashin and Fashion Issues

  1. Is it just me or is disrespect for women the new trend (especially today)? Coach and Cashin are so iconic to mid century fashion — but I guess the folks now in charge at Coach aren’t exactly historians. If Cashin has an estate, maybe they can sue.


    • It is very disheartening that three men are getting praised for work Cashin actually did. And it is very hard to sue for clothing design copying in the US. It’s a shame.


      • kickshawproductions

        I don’t think this is a case of misogyny – female designers copy too – I know Anna Sui copied a 1920s beaded handbag line for line a couple of seasons ago, and male designers copy other male designers – Ralph Lauren was sued by Yves St. Laurent for doing just that, and Nicholas Gesquerie has been tagged several times for copying everyone — copying is an equal opportunity problem.

        The brand owners (the guys in the suits) are pushing designers to perform or perish. Every collection has to blow the last one out of the water – the demand for new looks that will sell and also shock chic that will grab headlines is impossible for designers to meet every season. I can’t help but wonder if it is why John Galliano had his public nervous breakdown and Alexander McQueen killed himself.

        Designers can’t come up with that many original ideas and there are no new frontiers. Designers have padded every part of the body, dressed women as men, men as women, used sportswear ideas for eveningwear, and evening wear for sportswear, and put both sexes in every height of heel and length of hem… There is going to be some duplication, but it would be nice if the designers at least tried to tweak their rip-offs enough so that they aren’t creating forgeries, or be honest and say “This season we are reproducing some fantastic items originally designed by Bonnie Cashin!”

        Liked by 2 people

        • Sure, stealing is universal, but as a woman it seems to be especially hurtful that Simons received such accolades for a collection in which he stole a design from a woman. But then, maybe I’m just being too sensitive.

          I do think “fashion” needs to stop trying to be “new”. Look at how we are all dressing these days, and it becomes obvious that what we need is for designers to work on making clothes that are comfortable, but that keep us from looking like a society of slobs. All you have to do is look at how Mary Tyler Moore dressed in casual wear on The Dick van Dyke show to see that this is possible.


          • kickshawproductions

            WWD has now reported the dispute between Stephanie Lake, owner of the Bonnie Cashin archives, and Raf Simons for Calvin Klein. It seems Cashin is often copied and Lake references other Cashin pieces that have been copied in the past by female designers Miuccia Prada, Rachel Zoe, and Lisa Perry.


  2. THANK YOU Stephanie AND LIZZIE. As for “new and improved” ?!? Facts/truth are something the self created “professionals” as we have seen here many times – are sad credentials disguised as no talent. I was always amazed by how many of these “professionals” were terrified by real talent and the lengths they went to prevent people who possessed real talent from exposure. The example of the Cashin cape / “Creative Director ” is just perfect. And where it derived even better.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you’s to Lizzie and all previous commentators.
    Truth and Honesty should be normal, not rare.


  4. I do a lot of research with newspapers and magazines and am often amazed by the mistakes I find in reporters’ copy. It isn’t ill will on the reporters’ part. They just work too fast to double and triple check their work. Unfortunately, their mistakes then get picked up by others. Thank goodness for careful historians like Stephanie Lake, who literally wrote the book on Cashin.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. seweverythingblog

    Thank you for a fantastic post. I am a lifelong observer (amateur) of fashion and find that there’s very little in fashion design that is totally new each season. Maybe its just as well, since something totally new requires the eye to get used to it. Of course, outright copying is unacceptable.
    I do write an occasional post on my blog with the title – “Nothing’s New” or “Is Anything New?” I do not even pretend to have the in-depth knowledge that you have about this issue, but its interesting to spot these things. Sorry, don’t mean this comment to be shameless self-promotion.


  6. It’s amazing how much misinformation is put out there by the archive-holding companies and reporters-with-access who ought to be trustworthy custodians of fashion history. Thank you Lizzie and Stephanie Lake for helping to set the record straight!

    Liked by 1 person

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