Category Archives: Designers

Currently Reading: Bonnie Cashin: Chic Is Where You Find It.

This newly released book on the life and work of designer Bonnie Cashin was a very long time in coming.  Writer Stephanie Lake got to know Cashin in the late 1990s while doing research in Cashin’s archive.  Their friendship led to discussions about a book, but Cashin died in 2000 before it could be written.  Lake found herself in the possession of the archive and of many of Cashin’s personal effects.  The professional archive went to to the UCLA Library, and Lake spent years cataloging it.

I can’t imaging a person more qualified to write this book than Lake.  She spent many days over the course of three years talking with Cashin.  She has thoroughly studied the archive and knows the content.  At times it feels like the writing is that of a daughter.

Cashin grew up drawing and sewing.  The beach costume on the left was drawn by her when she was about eighteen, and that’s her on the right at about the same age.  Her mother, Eunice, was a very accomplished dressmaker, and so Bonnie was around sewing and creating throughout her childhood.   Eunice worked with Bonnie as a sample maker until her death in the 1960s.

Over the years, Bonnie Cashin designed clothes and accessories for more than forty different companies.  She employed a novel business model in which she designed the clothes she wanted, and then found companies that would make them to her specifications (and put her name on the label, of course.)  That way she was in control of the items that had her name on them.  The only person who ever designed under a Bonnie Cashin label was Bonnie Cashin.

Contrast her model with the one that prevails today – that of a designer licensing her name to a company that uses a team of designers to create the designs.

One of Bonnie Cashin’s biggest ideas was that of layering.  She explained this philosophy toward dressing in a 1952 illustration, shown above.  We might think today that is just how we all get dressed, but that was not the case in 1952.

One thing that comes across clearly in this book is Cashin’s love of and use of color.  The above caption reads, “I’m a colorist. Matching everything is dull, dull, dull.” Her interesting color combinations were anything but dull.

You can also see in the two examples above how Cashin did not rely on the usual buttons and zippers.  Bits of metal were more her style.

One of the strengths of this book is the use of odds and ends of archival material.  There are color charts and advertising ephemera, sketches and journal entries, closeup looks at fabrics and personal photographs.  And, of course, there are lots of photos of stunning clothing.

In the mid 1960s Cashin designed a line of cashmere sweaters that were made for her by Ballantyne of Scotland.  Again, you can see how her sense of color created a look that was distinctly Cashin.

The items above are from a line Cashin started in the 1970s, The Knittery.  She wanted to do a more handmade, craft-based line of sweaters.  Her idea was to use hand knitters who were marginalized by society – the poor elderly, the imprisoned, the handicapped.

This is the type of dress that makes me think I could live in a Bonnie Cashin wardrobe.  Note that the neckline and the sleeve cuffs are edged in leather, and the belt is leather as well.

One of the best advertisements for her clothes was Cashin herself.  That’s her on the left, late 1960s.

I also enjoyed seeing so many photos of Cashin’s workspace and home.  The ones above show her country house, where she did a lot of her designing in the 1950s and 60s.  The colored blocks on the wall contain favorite poems and quotes which she hand inscribed.

There is a lot of information contained in this book, but it is not a scholarly study of Cashin.  The only source sited is the UCLA archive, which, along with her personal conversations with Cashin, were really all that were needed to properly tell the story.  For most readers, this is enough, but I can’t help but think that detailed notations of items used from the archive might really help consequent researchers.

Also, there is no index.  To me, this is the biggest shortcoming of the book.  Writers and publishers, non-fiction books need to be indexed.

If you are a fan of Bonnie Cashin’s work, this book will delight you.  And if you are not familiar with her, the book is sure to make you a fan as well.

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Enid Collins of Texas Handbags

Several years ago I had the privilege to talk with Jeep Collins, the son of handbags designer and maker, Enid Collins.  The interview is in the archive here at The Vintage Traveler, but I also had written a short article about Collins and hints on how to place a date on the bags she made.  So, you may have already read this post, as I’ve taken it from my website, fuzzylizzie.com.  More about that at the bottom of the post.

To many American women and girls from the 1950s through the early 1970s, the Enid Collins bag was a “must have” fashion accessory.  These bags were fun fashion, and were the perfect handbag for a casual ensemble.  And the very features that made the bags so popular then, look just right with today’s eclectic approach to dressing.

“Port of Call” bag, courtesy of Maggie Wilds

Enid Collins was a Texas rancher’s wife, and she started making canvas and leather bags in the late 1940s in order to help her family make ends meet. At first her bags were sold in the gift shops of nearby dude ranches, but when Dallas department store Neiman Marcus placed an order, the Collins family found themselves in the handbag business.

Enid and her husband Frederic opened a factory in their town of Medina, Texas to produce their canvas totes. By 1958, they had eighty employees and had opened a retail outlet in Medina.  They also started a plant to construct the wooden boxes for their latest product, the box bag.  In 1966 another factory was opened in Puerto Rico. Wooden box bags decorated with papier-mâché were made in that factory. This operation was closed in 1968.

In 1970, Enid Collins sold her business with the copyrights to her designs to the Tandy Corporation.  She continued worked for Tandy for about a year before leaving the company.  Tandy continued to make Enid Collins designs through the early 1970s.  They eventually sold the company.  Enid Collins died in 1990.

Hints for Identifying and Dating Collins Bags

Outside ec signature on 1960s bag

Inside signature on 1960s box bag

Because the Enid Collins bags were so popular, there were many imitators. Bags produced during the time Enid and her family owned the company are marked ec on the outside of the bag. You will also find the name of the bag printed on the outside. The interior is usually marked “Enid Collins Original” and “Collins of Texas”, and often there is the galloping horse logo.

From a 1960s box bag

From a 1960s box bag

There are other ways that the bags were sometimes marked. There was a sun logo, and sometimes, the bags were marked on the bottom of the outside, instead of the inside.

Boxes were sometimes dated, and if you are really lucky, you’ll find one that has a handwritten signature by Ms. Collins, as she did frequent promotional signings. In order for your bag to be from the 1950s or 1960s, you should find Enid Collins’s name or initials, or both, somewhere printed on the bag.

Interior of a 1970s box bag

Bags that were made after the Collins family sold the business in 1970 have the design name on the exterior. The Collins name and horse logo will be found either on the exterior or on the inside, but Enid’s name will not be on the bag.

1970s Flutterbye Box. Notice, there is no ec signature.

There are many different bag designs, and often several variations on the theme. Popular designs such as the Glitterbugs and Flutterbye were updated and changed with the different seasons. Popular trends affected the designs, such as the mid 1960s Love bags, and various Flower Power themed bags which were made to appeal to younger buyers. Today, some of the most popular designs are the ones based on animals, such as Sophistikit and Wise Guy.

 

Over the past few years I’ve been moving all the articles from my old Fuzzylizzie.com website to this blog.  Does anyone even make static websites any more?

At any rate, I’ve been wanting to change the focus of the website for some time now, and I have settled on an idea that I hope will turn out to make a site that is useful to the fashion history community.  Called The Vintage Traveler Antique and Vintage Photo Archive, it will be a site where my entire collection of photographs will be posted as a resource for others studying sports and travel in women’s dress of the twentieth century.

It will take time to get it all posted, and so will be a work in progress over the next year or two.  I’ll be posting links as soon as the first photos go online.

 

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Filed under Designers, Vintage Clothing

Leo Narducci for Rose Marie Reid

I recently found this swimsuit from the late 1960s or early 1970s, and I bought it because of the interesting label and nice design.  It looks like a rather conservative suit from the front, but turn it around and…

you get a whole other feeling.

I wrote about Rose Marie Reid some time ago after having read a biography of her.  Rose Marie Reid sold her namesake company in 1962, but stayed on as the designer of the line.  She left the company a year later over a dispute over the bikini, which Reid thought was indecent.  The popular line continued, and around 1968 designer Leo Narducci was hired to design the line.

Narducci is not a very well-known name today, but he was well-respected as a designer in the 1960s and 70s.  Narducci graduated from the Rhode Island School of design in 1960, and went to work at LoomTogs, a sportswear company.  Over the next decade he designed for a number of firms, and in 1971 he started his own label, “specializing in soft clothes with casual outlines and elegant materials,”  according to Eleanor Lambert.  As far as I can tell, Narducci worked for Rose Marie Reid from 1968 through the early 1970s.

He also had a number of his designs made into sewing patterns by Vogue in the 1970s.  Do a search for them to see what Lambert meant by “soft clothes with casual outlines.”

This ILGWU label is more confirmation of the age of this swimsuit.  This label was changed in 1974 to include red, so it has to date before 1974.

The Rose Marie Reid company did go on to make bikinis, but the name is still associated with the covered-up but still sexy styles she created in the 1950s.  Leo Narducci is still alive, and here you can see an interview with him from two years ago.

 

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Currently Reading: High Style, by Jan Glier Reeder

This book is the companion to the exhibition of the same name which featured highlights from the Brooklyn Museum’s incredible clothing collection.  This exhibition was planned to show off the collection after it was transferred from Brooklyn to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

By the late 1990s, it was becoming increasingly obvious that the costume collection at the Brooklyn Museum was in trouble.  Clothing and textiles are hard and expensive to maintain.  A lot of skill is necessary for preservation and conservation.  The museum had cut back on costume displays because they feared it was too damaging to the textiles. The solution was to transfer the collection to the Met where the financial situation was much better.

This transfer was not universally popular (but what is these days?), especially when it became known that many of the pieces never made their way from Brooklyn to the Met.  The entire collection had been recataloged, photographed, and assessed.  Many items, presumably those of which there were better examples already in the Costume Institute, were sent to auction.  Included was a large portion of a donation to the Brooklyn Museum by designer Elizabeth Hawes and several of her clients.

The costume collection at the Brooklyn Museum has an interesting history.  It was started in the early days of the twentieth century, not as an historical or artistic collection, but for design inspiration.  The earliest pieces collected were examples from other cultures, and one curator made yearly buying trips to Europe in order to collect traditional costumes and textiles.

The textile above was the type of object being collected in the early twentieth century.  It is a Russian wedding veil, and was added to the Brooklyn’s growing collection of textiles in 1931.  Textiles were shown in the Textile Study Room, which had opened in 1918.  After the outbreak of World War II, the museum sought out designers and textile manufacturers and offered their services in the field of design inspiration.  It was during this time that American designers such as  Bonnie Cashin and Carolyn Schnurer began their association with the museum. This ultimately led to contributions to the collection by these designers.

After the war ended, many American designers continued to look to the world for inspiration. Starting in 1946, Carolyn Schnurer traveled the world in search of inspiration and textiles.  Each year’s resort collection was based on her trip to a different country.  The photos above show part of 1950’s “Flight to India” collection, in which Schnurer had the fabrics she found in Europe adapted to her needs.  You can see how she took the idea of a sari and fit it into the current fashion.

Of course, today we’d be hearing all sorts of cries of cultural appropriation.  In reading this book, it struck me just how much of twentieth century fashion was somehow based on borrowing from other cultures.  It also struck me just how much more rich fashion history is because of these appropriations.

This 1944 dress from Madame Eta Hentz, was based on two Greek garments, the chiton and the himation.

In the mid 1920s, French designer Suzanne Talbot based this dress on the toga.

Jeanne Lanvin adapted the Japanese obi as the train of the 1923 dress.

Couturier Emile Pingat used motifs based on those of American Plains Indians in 1891.

Madame Gres produced Greek inspired dresses throughout her long career, this one in 1937.

Even Bonnie Cashin, who is generally not classified as the type to indulge in “ethnic” fantasies, took the poncho from South America and turned it into a fashion statement.

It’s hard to imagine our wardrobes were they to be stripped of all the cultural influences, but still the internet is quick to pounce on any trace of cultural appropriation.  Some, of course, would be considered by many to be justified, as in the using of sacred garment to create fashion.  But most might be looked on as part of the broader picture, of fashion as design sponge.

High Style by Jan Glier Reeder is the catalog that accompanied this exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, and the Cincinnati Art Museum.  I bought it at the Cincinnati museum when I saw the exhibition, as I like to do, especially when a museum is free.  It helps the museum, and it gives me a nice remembrance.  I like and enjoy it, but it’s not the sort of useful book that I would recommend for other to buy.

 

 

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Carlye, Minx Modes, and Saint Louis Fashion

I recently had the good fortune to be contacted by Jeff Fihn, who found me by way of the Vintage Fashion Guild Label Resource.  He was looking up the business with which his grandfather, Joseph Glaser, was co-owner.  This dress business was Minx Modes.  Minx Modes was part of the Saint Louis junior dress industry.  What turned out to be even more interesting was that Jeff’s grandmother, Corinne Fuller Glaser, owned another of the great Saint Louis junior dress houses, Carlye.  And the story does not end there, because Corinne’s father, Aaron Fuller, was a partner in the famous Saint Louis department store, Stix, Baer and Fuller.

In Jeff’s email he asked if I’d like to talk with him about his family’s businesses.  Yes, I believe I would!  And so earlier this week I had a most enlightening chat with Jeff.

Jeff’s great grandfather, Aaron Fuller was one of the founders of Stix, Baer and Fuller.  Fuller had been a peddler in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, eventually owning a business called The Boston Store. By the 1890s he was in Saint Louis and in business with Charles Stix and the Baer brothers.  The store was originally called The Grand Leader, and true to the name, it was a style leader in the Saint Louis area.

Stix, Baer and Fuller was often referred to as SBF.  The company used that abbreviation to its advantage with their Christmas slogan: Santa’s Best Friend.  Jeff recalled that when he was a little boy the holidays were exciting because the children in the owners’ families got to go into the store and choose a present for themselves.

Jeff mentioned the huge effect that the rise of discount stores had on the old, family owned department stores.  Department stores were used to having sales at the end of a season, such as after Christmas, or for Back-to-School.  The seemingly perpetual sales put on by stores like K-mart signaled the end of the independent department store.  SBF was sold to Associated Dry Goods in 1966, and eventually was rebranded as a Dillard’s store.

Aaron Fuller’s daughter, Corinne Fuller Glaser, was born into the retail business, and she kept her hand in it with a store for children’s clothes, Wyndotte.  But her biggest business concern was as the owner of Carlye.  Founded in 1938, Carlye was one of the many manufacturers of junior dresses in the Saint Louis area.  It was a bit more up-scale than many of the other makers, and you can see in my ad from 1957, that this dress was priced at $40 (about $340 today).  Some time in the mid 1960s, Carlye was sold to Leslie Fay.

One of my questions for Jeff was about the set up of manufacturing.  With so much of today’s clothing manufacturing being contracted and sub-contracted, it was interesting to learn that Carlye actually owned the factory where the clothes were made.  In fact, Jeff worked there as a young man, spreading the long lengths of fabric on the huge cutting tables in preparation for the cutters.

Jeff talked about how proud he is of his grandmother, and it is easy to see why.  She not only ran Wyndotte and Carlye, she had and reared her two children, and then helped rear her grandson.  She was very interested in the arts, especially the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra.  Jeff has recently learned that during World War II, she assisted relatives still in Europe to escape from the Nazis.

Corrine’s husband Joseph Glaser, Junior, was the co-owner of Minx Modes, part of the R.J. Lowenbaum Manufacturing Company.  Jeff did not know when Minx Modes was established, but he guessed it was the 1930s, as Lowenbaum made uniform dresses during WWII.  (I found a site that said Minx Modes was formed in 1947, but I know that is an error, as there is a trademark for Minx Modes perfume that dates to 1946.)

Minx Modes made dresses for young career women.  The 1954 ad above shows a dress priced at $20, half the price of a Carlye frock.  At some time Joseph Glaser attempted to form a Saint Louis Designer’s group, but it never materialized.  Their manufacturing took place, as Jeff remembers it, in Tennessee, but he did not know if R.J. Lowenbaum actually owned the factory.  Minx Modes closed sometime in the late 1960s, around the same time that Carlye was sold.

But what is really interesting is that Joseph Glaser made a recording of the history of Minx Modes.  Jeff is going to have it transcribed or made into a digital recording, and he has promised me a copy when that is complete.  So hopefully we’ll have an update with even more information about Minx Modes.

My thanks to Jeff Fihn for sharing his memories about the Saint Louis fashion industry.

 

 

 

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Serbin of Miami by Marianne Serbin Friedman

Almost a year ago I showed off my new Marianne by Serbin golf set.  At the time, a lot of what I wrote in my post was guesswork, as I could find very little about Serbin in my resources and on the internet.  But as I usually do in these cases, I added to the end of the post that I’d love to hear from the Serbin family.

It took nearly a year, but the worldwideweb came through, and I got an email from Marianne Serbin Freidman, the Marianne whose name is on the label.  Marianne very kindly answered my questions, and she sent along some great photos of her family.  That’s her father, Lewis Serbin, in the photo above.

SERBIN FASHIONS

My father, Lewis I. Serbin, founded Serbin Fashions in Cleveland, Ohio in the mid-1940’s. My uncle, John Serbin joined the company a few years later.

In his young years Lewis Serbin dropped out of school after the eighth grade to work and help support his family of his parents and eight brothers and sisters. He was raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When he met my mother who was from Cleveland, they married soon after and moved to Cleveland, and so did his brothers and sisters.

Before founding Serbin Fashions my father had the good fortune of working for Joe Lample of Lample Dresses. Joe Lample mentored many men who also went on to become very successful in the garment business. One of these men was Maurice Saltzman, the owner of Bobbie Brooks.

Serbin Fashions began as a dress company and became quite successful and in 1951, my dad and uncle flew to Miami many times, where they fell in love with the city and decided to buy a factory. Our families moved and extended the invitation to their key employees to move with the company. The Miami apparel industry was thrilled that Serbin Fashion relocated to Miami as it provided more credibility to the Miami fashion industry.

Mr. Serbin then bought a factory in Fayetteville, Tennessee for production. And in later years a very large factory was also built to handle the expansion of the company; making assured that Serbin Fashions was all “Made in America”. Serbin Fashions grew from a small company to a major force in the woman’s moderate dress and sportswear industry.

I do not remember much about Muriel Ryan. She was very talented and designed for Serbin for many years. After she retired I designed everything and handled Public Relations. Leroy Lustig Advertising Agency handled all the advertising, and there was no marketing firm. Babe Didrikson Zeharias designed the golf dresses for several years. She was the “Woman Athlete of the Half Century” and the greatest woman golfer of all time.

As the years passed Serbin had lines of dresses, sportswear, golf and tennis clothing. The company was famous for the Shirtwaist Dress and Sweater Dress and Sportswear. We also had fashion editorials in fashion magazines. The garments were sold in major department stores, mail order catalogues, pro shops and specialty stores all over the United States.

After the death of my father, Lewis I. Serbin, and fifty years of a fabulous business, our family decided to discontinue the business. My dad accomplished so much over his lifetime. Amazing for a man who never went to school beyond the eighth grade.

Written by Marianne Serbin Friedman
March, 2016

“I am the older little girl. My Dad made the matching mother- daughter dresses and also a giant doll with the same dress.”

“My Dad had a golf tournament  in Miami Beach which was Babe’s first win after her cancer and he presented her with a trophy topped with a diamond studded metal golf ball..quite a thrill for everyone.”

Serbin Sportswear, as seen at Saks Fifth Avenue in the 1960s.

A big thank you to Marianne for sharing her family’s story.

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History behind Gunne Sax By Roger and Scott Bailey

Elle Bailey, still sewing at 92.

In one of those happy internet occurrences, I got an email last week from the son of one of the founders of Gunne Sax.  Roger Bailey explained that Elle, his ninety-two year old mother had sewn some shirts for him for a very special occasion, and he was in search of some of the original labels to sew into the shirts.  I couldn’t help much with the labels, but I know an opportunity when I see one.

Roger and his brother Scott very kindly spent some time reminiscing about how their mother helped found one of the most iconic brands of the 1970s.  Roger wrote it all up, and Elle approved the facts.  It is a real pleasure to be able to present one of the untold stories of fashion history.

History behind Gunne Sax By Roger and Scott Bailey

Sometime in the spring of 1967, Elle Bailey was contacted by the local high school to do a sewing presentation for the school’s career day. At that time, Elle was giving sewing demos and helping novices make their own clothing while working for Stevens Fabrics in Menlo Park, CA. Elle is a graduate of the Vogue School of Design in Chicago and had been sewing for years. She often made shirts for my brother Scott and me. We tolerated this until somewhere around the 6th grade, when I decided I no longer wanted to look like my third grade brother!

As usual, mom was eager to help the school’s efforts to help kids find some career path. Whoever organized the program also invited Carol Miller, a design student from Chabot College, across the bay in Hayward. Carol and mom hit it off and over lunch they sketched a few ideas on a napkin. This was the conception of what was to become Gunne Sax. As the weeks rolled on, Mom and Carol got serious about their ideas and decided to bring their ideas to life. Mom patterned the designs and the two of them would cut and sew until they had enough of a “collection” to try to sell. Around our dinner table one night, back when families ate dinner together, we were all brainstorming a name for this new clothing line. From this session, the Gunne Sax name was born, an adaptation of “sexy gunny sack” as I recall.

Mom and/or Carol would pack the car with their wares and set about marketing their new line to Bay Area boutiques. By the summer of 1968, they had quite a little business beginning to grow. A typical order in those days might be just a couple units,never more than a dozen units of various sizes of any one design per boutique. I remember many days when we would get home from school and Mom and Carol would be working away into the evening to satisfy their orders.

Then one night, while having our family dinner, the phone rang. I answered it and the caller asked for mom. She answered hello and the conversation went something like this. ” Yes,…..yes…um..yes, how many!!” I will never forget the look on her face! Her mouth dropped open, and her eyes widened to the size of a desert plate. She sputtered “I’ll have to call you back.” Mom hung up the phone, turned to us in shock and said, “You won’t believe this. That was the buyer from [I. Magnin], and they want a hundred and forty four units for fall!” As the saying goes, we were no longer in Kansas, Toto!

The following day, Dad took off from work, and they drove into San Francisco to find someone and somewhere to contract this new work to. A few weeks later, Scott and I along with a few of my friends from the football team, were lugging large, heavy cutting tables up a couple flights of stairs and into a loft in the garment district of the city. Gunne Sax just went big time, comparatively speaking.

Sometime in early 1969, mom bought out Carol and as is usual for most beginning businesses, it came time for a capital infusion in order to take the business to to the next level. The Bailey money tree hand been picked bare, so it became time for another investor. Jessica [McClintock] came into the picture and became a partner. After a while, Jessica and mom had different styling ideas that couldn’t be resolved so Jessica offered to buy Gunne Sax outright. With two kids in college, it seemed like the right time for Elle to sell.

Mom and Dad pinning on my 2nd Lt. bars in 1975 at my Air Force commissioning at Arizona State, a few years after Gunne Sax was sold to Jessica.

Roger did not know the exact date of the sale to Jessica McClintock, but he estimated that it was sometime in the middle of 1970.  Update:  Many online sources put the date of the sale as 1969, and in interviews Jessica McClintock uses that date.

Stories like this one are so important.  Many of the founders of mid twentieth century companies are gone, and others are elderly and losing their memories.  I’m always interested in hearing from the families of entrepreneurs like Elle.

Elle and son Roger

Elle with her family; sons Roger and Scott behind their mother.

My thanks to Elle, Roger, and Scott Bailey.

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