Category Archives: Designers

Nan Duskin, 1942

I recently ran across this little booklet from famed Philadelphia clothing store, Nan Duskin.  Duskin started in fashion retail at the Philadelphia branch of Bonwit Teller, and later moved to The Blum Store.  In 1926 she opened her namesake ladies’ store.  She sold the store in 1959, and it eventually closed in 1995.

Nan Duskin ran a very up-scale establishment, more like a salon actually.  There were regular fashion shows with customers picking their choices to have tailored to fit.  After the store was sold in 1959 the new owner changed the format to that of a regular ready-to-wear shop, a move that led Ms. Duskin to regret selling.

But still, it was a store that continued to sell all the best labels.  If you find a dress with a Nan Duskin label, it will probably have another label as well that could range from Chanel to Jean Muir to Oscar de la Renta.

My little booklet dates to 1942, and I greatly suspect it was designed and printed before the USA joined WWII.  There is no mention of the war, which would have been unusual, and the text refers to the Southern season, which would have been January and February.  These were clothes suitable for travel, and also light weight for a visit to Florida.

For a store that became known for selling the latest in designer labels, it seems interesting that not a single designer is mentioned in the booklet.  Of course, by late 1941 the flow of fashion from Paris had slowed to a trickle, and so stores like Nan Duskin had to rely on American manufacturers who even in the early Forties were not always crediting the designer.

Most of the clothes in the booklet were made from Celanese rayon.  It could be possible that this was a joint advertising booklet between Nan Duskin and Celanese.

Even though the war is not mentioned, there is a lot of red, white, and blue in these clothes.  And be sure to take notice of the hats as well.  Although not described in this book, Nan Duskin did sell hats.  And what hats these are! Definitely high fashion.

I’d love to hear any memories you might have of Nan Duskin.


Filed under Designers, World War II

Adrian Firebird Dress, 1940s

Don’t get too excited for me, because this is not my dress.  It is in the shop of Guermantes Vintage.  This is a fantastic dress, but it gets even better because there is also a great story attached.

It all started when Guermantes Vintage posted photos of the dress on Instagram.  Jan always has the most incredible stuff, and so she has over 33,000 followers who stay tuned to see what her latest find happens to be.  A day or so ago, one of the persons tuning in was @jupeculotte, who is fashion historian Caroline Rennolds Milbank.  Guermantes posted the photo above, which @jupeculotte recognized as an Adrian dress she has examined in the collection of the Smithsonian.  What makes this so fantastic is that Guermantes’s dress is missing its label, and so she did not know until Caroline commented on the photo that she actually had an Adrian dress.

Caroline then sent to Germantes the documentation on the dress she had photographed at the Smithsonian.  Above you can see the photo of the Smithsonian’s dress, along with the card from the museum catalog.  No doubt that this is the same model dress.

What is really interesting is that another person, Melissa of @meloovintage had this dress years ago, and it too was missing the label.   Could it be that the labels were sewn in a spot that was uncomfortable for the wearer?  Maybe the apprentice sewing in the labels did a poor job and they came loose and were lost?

And this is why I love Instagram.

With all the unpleasantness one encounters on the internet, it’s wonderful knowing that the fashion history and the vintage people seem to be in it for all the right reasons.  Sharing knowledge in this way helps educate us all


Filed under Curiosities, Designers, Viewpoint

Carolina Herrera Exhibition at SCADFASH, Atlanta

I really love that SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) opened a branch museum in Atlanta.  Yesterday was my second visit, and there is so much that I love about SCADFASH and their approach to fashion exhibition.

The latest major show is a Carolina Herrera retrospective, celebrating her thirty-five years as a designer.  The clothes shown range from her first collection in 1981 to gowns from spring 2016, so it is a great look at her whole body of work.  The clothing was not arranged chronologically, though her work from the 1980s was clustered at the beginning of the show.  Otherwise, the clothes were arranged in clusters where one could plainly see some of the themes, colors, and garments that make Carolina Herrera the essence of Refined Irreverence.

The gown on the left in the above photo looks like a pretty dress made from an ordinary pink and white toile fabric.  Look a bit more closely and you’ll see that famous Andy Warhol portrait of Marilyn Monroe in the circle just above her foot.   That dress is from 2007, and the blue and pink gown on the other end of the sofa is from 2003.

On thing I love about SCADFASH is the use of various means to show more than one side of a garment.  In the 1980s and 1990s part of the exhibition, mirrors were used to see both front and back of each garment.  This is a very effective way to show off the entire garment, but too many mirrors in a gallery can add to visual confusion.  This was the only section where mirrors were employed, all along one long wall, and it worked very well.

The gown above is made of black velvet and a yellow organza side ruffle.

From the fall 1989 collection, this silk jacket has a royal flush in sequins appliqued over the pocket.

Herrera is famous for her interpretation of the white shirt, a garment that she wears a lot of herself.  Along one wall were several versions, all framed like works of art.  I loved this one, as if you start at the top and see only the top half, you think it is just an ordinary white shirt.  But then the eye is drawn to the feathered hem with the little bit of sparkle from the sequins.  Lovely!

This is the detail of another blouse, this one from Resort 2007.  If you ever wonder why high-end ready-to-wear is so expensive, a lot of the cost is in the textiles, and in the work that goes into taking various bits like laces and trims to actually manufacture a textile from the parts.

I really try not to draw undue attention to myself, but this was one case where it was unavoidable.  I wore my only item of Carolina Herrera clothing, a simple cotton top made from the most amazing 1930s inspired swimming woman print.  This print was first used by Herrera in 2005, and you can see it on the mannequin behind me.  My top is from a 2014 reissue of the print.

SCADFASH has a great system where student docents are stationed around the exhibition with ipads that are loaded with photos of the clothes as they were worn on celebrities and shown in fashion magazines.  All these students had to show me a photo of JLo on the cover of Vogue wearing the 2005 dress.  It was really nice of them, and it showed how familiar they were with their content, and how interested they actually were in what they were showing.

Many of the displays were arranged so that the display area extended into the gallery, which is another way to show the garments from more than one angle.  Herrera is so well known for her gowns that its hard to remember that she also does separates.  One of my favorites in the entire show was the pants and top above.

And here it is from the front.  The 1960s inspiration is unmistakable.  It is from 2014.

I wish I had taken a better photo of the dress to the right.  It’s hard to tell, but this is actually a shirtwaist dress with the collar popped up.  Each tier of organza is accented with grosgrain ribbons in coral and black.  I really didn’t pay a lot of attention to the dress until later in the exhibition when there was a video set up showing the clothes in the exhibition as they came down the runway.  This dress moves like a dream.

One of the big issues in clothing display is how to get the museum viewers to see a static object on a mannequin as an object that is meant to move on a human body.  SCADFASH’s use of video and also of the ipad photos, really goes a long way toward solving this problem.

This interesting dress does not show well in my photo, mainly due to the chalky white mannequin.  While the black and colored clothes look great on the mannequins, some of the white and off-white garments seemed to mesh with the mannequins.

But look closely to see that this dress is constructed of cut out pieces stitched to a base of mesh or tulle.  What looks like a collar, pockets, and pleats at first glance, are actually pieces attached to the base.

Here you can see some more historical references.  The 1920s are represented in the beaded dress in the back left, while the dress in the front (which is stunning in person) looks like it is straight from a 1940s film noir.  The red dress with the asymmetrical top is from the fall 2003 Alfred Hitchcock Collection, and I could see one of Hitchcock’s 1950s blondes wearing it.

Here’s a better view of the red dress, and in front, another one of my favorites.  This amazing fabric is silk organza, with sparkly stars arranged in the constellations.  Chanel did a very similar dress in 1937, but hers was star-shaped sequins on tulle.  Herrera’s updated version even includes star and moon appliques.

There was a lot of black and white.

The lacy concoction is from the same collection as the lacy blouse shown earlier.  Note also that it is another version of Herrera’s beloved white shirt.

The dress in the back is from 2005, and could also have been from 1940.  The short dress in front is from 2007, and the description in the notes merely says, “Black and ivory cocktail dress.”

A closer look shows that this great little dress is constructed of strips of ribbon or trim.  I loved it.

A dress does not have to be over-complicated to be special, as in the case of this wonderful frock.  The asymmetrical stitching on the left side helps to form the first of a series of pleats below the pocket.

There was a section of wedding dresses, and of gowns that were used for a wedding, even though that was not the original intent of the designer.  I loved the blush pink dress, which is based on a trench coat.  The white dress on the pedestal looks like lace, but it is actually a lace design printed onto the silk organza.  And the golden sparkly extravaganza at the far right was worn by Jessica Simpson for her 2014 wedding.

There’s a lot of bustle action here, but what interested me was the textile.  This is one piece of dramatic striped fabric.

The last display contained some show-stopping ball gowns.  I just could not relate to this dress.  There was just too much going on!  And in the photo of the celebrity  (sorry, but I forgot who it was) wearing it, she looked extremely uncomfortable, as if she knew the dress was wearing her instead of the other way around.

I guess the lesson is that when using a dramatic print, the rest of the the design needs to be simple.

In all, there were ninety-nine looks in the exhibition, which really told the story of Herrera’s design history and aesthetic.  The clothes were arranged so that the visitor could get close enough to really examine them.  I’m looking forward to seeing what SCADFASH does next!

Through September 25  at SCADFASH in Atlanta.  Curated by Rafael Gomes.


Filed under Designers, Museums

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.


Filed under Currently Reading, Designers

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,  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 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.



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.



Filed under Collecting, Designers, Sportswear, Summer Sports

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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Filed under Currently Reading, Designers