Tag Archives: Bonnie Cashin

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.

 

 

 

 

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Ballantyne Cashmere for 1965 at N. Peal

N. Peal was established in 1936 by Nat Peal, and was located at the prestigious address of the Burlington Arcade in London. It sold cashmere and other wool sweaters, all made in the UK. Today, N. Peal is still in business, having been bought and somewhat rebranded in 2010. A quick look on the net shows that the sweaters under the N. Peal name are sold in the N.Peal stores, but also on discount sites like Outnet. They also appear to be made in China.

At one time the name Ballantyne guaranteed a high-quality cashmere product. The factory that made Ballantyne sweaters closed in 2013, but you can still buy Ballantyne products – made in China, of course.  But in the 1960s cashmere sweaters were a true luxury, and Ballantyne was one of the best. Combine that quality with the design skills of Bonnie Cashin, and you have a collaboration made in cashmere heaven.

http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/cashmere/pneal65/img002.jpg

Click to enlarge

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the orange, or zinnia, version of this Bonnie Cashin for sale at some time in the past.

This sweater is so typical of the way Cashin mixed colors. I love that rounded collar.

A seller on etsy actually has this sweater and skirt set in two different colors. Note the pin in the neck opening. One of the sets that is for sale still has the pin and the original tags.

The skirt was a special design by Cashin which ensured a better fit. t was available in all the colors of the various sweaters.

Not all the items in my little catalog were designed by Cashin. Sweaters like the one above were probably available for several years both before and after 1965, being such a classic design.

By 1965, the collarless Chanel jacket had been made and sold by Mademoiselle for over ten years. If a brand labeled a jacket as “Chanel style” women who followed fashion knew exactly what was meant. Chanel herself found such references to be flattering.

Today though, Chanel, Inc. takes a hard line against any other company (and that includes re-sellers on eBay) using the Chanel name to sell a non-Chanel product.

This open letter to would-be abusers of the Chanel name was first published in 2009 in fashion magazines. This is an attempt to keep control of the Chanel name. They don’t want “Chanel” to become an adjective. The Fashion Law explains it well. 

It’s a bit like trying to close the barn door after the horse is already out, seeing as how “Chanel” has been used in a descriptive manner since at least 1965, and I suspect, even earlier. But those Chanel lawyers are, as they say, serious. I’ve known eBay auctions for “Chanel-like” suits to simply disappear.

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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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What I Didn’t Buy – Wool Bonnie Cashin Coat

I lucked into a vintage pop-up shop on the streets of Asheville yesterday, and as I was hurriedly pawing through the racks this coat appeared.  I was pretty sure it was a Bonnie Cashin for Sills, and sure enough I found the label in the side of the coat.

I went for the price tag and was shocked to see it priced at $8, and then I noticed the words, “As is.”  Not a good sign.

It didn’t take long to find the reason for the cheap price.  At the hem of the coat the leather had pulled loose from the wool in several places.   In addition there were places where the wool was a bit worn looking, and the lining, which was jersey knit, was riddled with holes.

For a few minutes, my mind was working through the problems, and I had myself convinced that I could save this beautiful coat.    It would involve removing the leather binding at the hem, cutting off an inch or two, and reattaching the leather.  I actually did this with a Pendleton coat a while back, but the bulky textured wool of this coat would be trickier than the smooth Pendleton.  And then there were all those holes to mend, and some reweaving to boot.  Then it occurred to me that my entire wardrobe consists of cool colors with only a piece or so of pink and orange, and no yellow at all.  I decided to leave this coat for someone who would love it, mend it, and wear it.

The wool was really special.  It could possibly be one of the Bernat Klein tweeds that Cashin is known to have used.

The only closure was a leather tie slightly above the waist.

A real heart-breaker, this one.

But all was not lost.  At the same sale I found a really special piece, which I’ll be showing off next week.

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Ad Campaign – Bonnie Cashin for Philip Sills, 1958

I usually put the date  in the title of Ad Campaign posts, but I was curious to see how readers would date this ad.  You can’t say 2013, though you could walk down the street wearing this jacket and slacks and no one would guess that the ensemble was vintage.

Any guesses?

UPDATE:

I’ve added the date of the ad, which is 1958.  The ad reveals a lot about how “modern” Bonnie Cashin’s designs are.  While this is from 1958, it is a look that many of us associate with five years later.

I’ve been reading a lot about Cashin lately, and I found one online forum where people were showing her work and discussing it.  One poster said something to the effect of, “Well, big deal.  That’s stuff you can find in any store.”   It’s kind of like rock singers singers today saying they weren’t influenced by the Beatles.  Of course they were whether they realize it or not.  And the same can be said about the way we dress today and Bonnie Cashin.

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Bonnie Cashin for Russ Taylor Rain Coat

I really did not intend to write anything else about Bonnie Cashin, but when I opened today’s mail, this coat fell out of a package.  It was from April of NeatBikVintage, who really does know how to make someone’s day special.

Bonnie Cashin’s association with Philip Sills ended in 1977, and the next year she started designing for Russel Taylor, a maker of rainwear.  Until she retired in 1985, Cashin made coats under the Weatherwear for Russ Taylor label, most of which were two colors of water-resistant cotton.  The outer shell was often a tan or khaki, and the interior and trim was a bright color like orange, or a cool color like charcoal grey or marine blue.  Or a black coat might be paired with tan trim and lining.

Cashin continued to use the features that she loved so much, and which makes her garments uniquely hers – metal closures, large pockets, simple shapes, supreme comfort.

These snaps at the side might seem to be purely decorative, but this is car coat length, and undoing the snaps would make the coat roomier in the car seat.  They could then be snapped to help protect against the weather.

The bright orange lining adds a spark of warmth to a gloomy, rainy day!

Thanks so much April.  You are a dear!

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Bonnie Cashin Tweed and Leather Suit, 1970 – 71

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.

 

 

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