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.