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Article

Adrian  

Ann Poulson

(Gilbert) [Greenburg, Adrian Adolph]

(b Naugatuck, CT, March 3, 1903; d Los Angeles, CA, Sept 13, 1959).

American costume and fashion designer. Adrian is best known for his costume designs for Hollywood films and his signature women’s suits (see fig.). Adrian was educated at the School for Fine and Applied Arts (now Parsons School of Design) in New York and Paris. He began his career in New York by designing costumes for Irving Berlin’s Music Box Revue of 1921. It was through his work on Broadway that he met the costume designer Natacha Rambova, wife of the screen idol Rudolph Valentino, and began designing costumes for films. He arrived in Los Angeles in 1924 and by 1926 was working for the director Cecil B. DeMille, who brought him to Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) in 1928. When his contract with DeMille ended, Adrian signed with MGM, where he would remain as head costume designer until 1942. At MGM, Adrian dressed stars such as Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Norma Shearer and Jeanette McDonald. Although it was his designs for Garbo, in which he was careful not to distract from her natural beauty, that first brought him fame, it was his creations for Joan Crawford that made him a household name....

Article

Melissa Marra

(b Haynesville, LA, Aug 30, 1927; d New York, Sept 28, 2004).

American fashion designer. A modernist, Beene’s inventive geometric cuts and in-depth understanding of the human body made him one of the most innovative designers of the 20th century.

In deference to a family tradition, Beene enrolled as a pre-med student at Tulane University in 1943, despite his childhood penchant for fashion. While at Tulane, Beene was notoriously caught sketching the gowns designed by Hollywood costumer Adrian in his anatomy book. Three years later, he withdrew from Tulane University and moved to Los Angeles, where he became employed in the display department of the store I. Magnin. In 1947, he moved to New York to study at the Traphagen School of Fashion, but having concluded that the focus of postwar fashion had shifted to France, Beene transferred to Paris’s Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Parisienne the following year. During his two years at that institution, he also studied life drawing at Académie Julian, and in the evenings was apprenticed to a master tailor for the ...

Article

Kristen Shirts

(Ralph) [William]

(b Fort Wayne, IN, June 22, 1922; d New York, June 12, 2002,.

American fashion designer. Blass is known for his ready-to-wear apparel and sportswear. He cultivated a high-society personal image to complement his upper-class clientele and is often credited with promoting a distinctly American look that incorporated simplicity, practicality and casual luxury. He is also known for his shrewd business practices, including product licensing and making personal appearances at ‘trunk shows’ across the country.

Blass was the only son of a hardware salesman and a dressmaker. The modesty of his life in the Midwest during the Depression, particularly after his father’s suicide when Blass was five, made him determined to get away from small-town America. As a child, he sketched Manhattan society women in penthouse apartments and, before he entered high school, he began selling sketches of evening dresses to New York clothing manufacturer Kalmour. After high school, he moved to New York and took a job as a sketch artist at David Crystal, a sportswear firm, while attending fashion design classes. He soon enlisted in the US Army and spent the years from ...

Article

Kirsta Willis

(b Newark, NJ, Sept 15, 1943).

African-American fashion designer. Burrows’s trademarks included colour blocking, asymmetry, fluid jersey separates and fluted ‘lettuce’ hems. With a youthful nonchalance and anti-establishment sensibility, Burrows clothes defined the movement and the eclecticism of New York City’s nightlife in the 1970s.

Burrows’s love affair with colour stemmed from his mother, who taught him to draw using the entire box of crayons, while from his seamstress grandmother, he learned how to sew. However, Burrows never contemplated a career in fashion until he attended the Philadelphia Museum College of Art. After graduating from Newark’s Arts High School, Burrows set out for Philadelphia, intent on becoming an art teacher. However, spurred on by a fashion exhibition he viewed, Burrows left the arts college in his second year, working briefly in the display department of Bamberger’s department store before enrolling in Manhattan’s Fashion Institute of Technology. He graduated in 1966 and landed his first job with Weber Originals where he spent a particularly boring year designing ladies’ blouses. Burrows took his restless creativity back to New Jersey and began freelancing, mainly making clothing for his friends....

Article

Kristen Shirts

(b Fresno, CA, Sept 28, 1908; d New York, Feb 3, 2000.

American fashion designer. Active from the late 1930s through to the mid-1980s, Cashin designed clothing for women with busy, modern lifestyles. She took design inspiration from a wide variety of sources, including nature, travel and sports. Her signature style included layered clothing, inventive pockets and the liberal use of leathers (see fig.). Her ideal client was a woman like herself, active and interested in the world around her and unwilling to sacrifice comfort or function for fashion.

Cashin was raised in California by a dressmaker mother and a photographer-inventor father. She spent her childhood drawing fashion illustrations and playing with scraps of fabric from her mother’s shop. After graduating from high school in 1931, she was hired to design costumes for a local dance troupe. In 1934, the troupe’s manager moved to the Roxy Theater in New York, and Cashin spent the next several years designing costumes for the Roxyettes. Cashin credited her stage career with teaching her how to design clothes that would accommodate a moving body, a skill she later used for designing sportswear....

Article

Kristen Shirts

(b Portsmouth, VA, March 3, 1940; d New York, May 30, 1986).

American fashion designer. Ellis’s sportswear designs were prime examples of the relaxed, youthful American look popularized in the 1980s (see fig.). His design signatures included natural fibres, hand knits and a casual fit. Despite a career cut short by his death at the age of 46, he built a fashion empire that included several lines of apparel as well as accessories, furs and other licenses.

Born to upper-middle-class parents, Ellis had a happy childhood. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in business from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA, and a brief stint in the United States Coast Guard, Ellis enrolled at New York University, earning a master’s degree in retailing. He returned to Virginia in 1963 to work as a buyer for Miller and Rhodes, a venerable department store in Richmond, VA. Assigned to work in the junior sportswear department, Ellis honed his sense of what his customers wanted and made his department the most profitable in the store. As an influential buyer, he soon began to make design suggestions to manufacturers such as John Meyer of Norwich. John Meyer executives were so impressed with Ellis’s ability to spot trends that in ...

Article

(b Brussels, Dec 31, 1947).

American fashion designer of Belgian birth. Von Furstenberg is best known for her sexy, printed jersey wrap dresses. Von Furstenberg credits her work ethic and determination to her mother Lily, the survivor of a Nazi concentration camp. In 1966 at the University of Geneva, she met Austro-Italian Prince Edward Egon von Furstenberg, heir to the Fiat fortune. The two married in Paris in 1969. Von Furstenberg’s career as a fashion designer began that same year with a short apprenticeship to Angelo Ferretti, an Italian textile manufacturer. Despite having no formal design training, she put together a small collection of shirtwaist dresses inspired by Ferretti’s silk jersey prints. In 1970 she arrived in New York to show them to the editor of Vogue, Diana Vreeland, who was impressed by them. Von Furstenberg officially launched her company two years later with the slogan, ‘Feel like a woman, wear a dress’. Von Furstenberg was designing for herself—a working woman in her late 20s or early 30s who was successful, free-spirited, confident and sensual. Her dresses were a feminine and flirty alternative to the androgynous trouser suits of the 1970s....

Article

Molly Sorkin

(b Philadelphia, PA, Sept 20, 1924).

American fashion designer. During a career that spanned the second half of the 20th century, Galanos occupied a unique place in American fashion. He embraced the art and craft of haute couture to create high-end ready-to-wear fashion characterized by luxury materials, impeccable construction and lavish embellishment. Pleating was a hallmark of the Galanos style as was elaborate embroidery. Though trained in New York and Paris, Galanos based his business in Los Angeles, away from the centres of high fashion, which allowed him the freedom to develop an enduring style that reflected his vision of modern elegance (see fig.).

In 1941 Galanos began his formal training at the Traphagen School of Fashion in New York but left without finishing his degree. After a stint at Hattie Carnegie he moved to Los Angeles where he had been offered a design position with a new company. He also met Jean Louis [Berthault] (...

Article

Cassandra Gero

[Rudolf]

(b Vienna, Aug 8, 1922; d Los Angeles, CA, April 20, 1985).

American fashion designer of Austrian birth. In the 1950s and 1960s, Rudi Gernreich was the leading avant-garde designer in the United States. His sportswear was an attempt to free women from the constraints of the fashions of the past, dominated by French couture. He continually proved to be ahead of his time, and the results were sometimes found to be shocking.

Gernreich’s father was a hosiery manufacturer and he learnt about clothing in his aunt’s couture salon in Vienna. He moved with his mother to Los Angeles in 1938 and in 1942 joined the Lester Horton Modern Dance Troupe as a dancer and costume designer. After six years he decided that he was not talented enough to be a dancer and began to focus on fashion. By 1951 he was working with a clothing manufacturer named William Bass, and by 1959 he was designing under his own name, as well as for Harmon Knitwear....

Article

Halston  

Cassandra Gero

[Frowick, Roy Halston]

(b Des Moines, IA, April 23, 1932; d San Francisco, CA, March 26, 1990).

American milliner and fashion designer. In the early 1970s, Halston represented modernism in fashion design (see fig.). He was known for the high quality of his clothes as well as his celebrity clientele and chic lifestyle.

Halston grew up in Des Moines, IA, where, by age seven he had shown an interest in designing hats. (He once made his mother a red felt hat decorated with a gold pot-scrubber sponge.) Later, while attending the Chicago Art Institute, he worked as a window dresser for the Carson Pirie department store and at night created hats in his apartment. He peddled his wares at the Ambassador Hotel beauty salon and acquired a following that included the actresses Fran Allison, Gloria Swanson and Kim Novak. Halston became so well known that when famed milliner Lilly Daché came to Chicago, she offered him a job in her New York store. He worked for Daché from ...