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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

Dennis Raverty

(b Charlotte, NC, Sept 2, 1911 or 1912; d New York City, Mar 12, 1988).

African American painter, collagist, and author. Bearden is best known for his collages, which often addressed urban themes (e.g. The Dove). He was a founding member of Spiral, a group of African American artists who started meeting at his downtown New York studio in 1963. He also published essays and cartoons, designed book jackets, magazine and album covers, and is widely regarded as the first African American artist to successfully enter the mainstream of the contemporary art world. The posthumously published book he co-authored with Harry Henderson, A History of African-American Artists: From 1792 to the Present (1993), in a very short time became an almost canonical text in the field.

Bearden’s family moved permanently to Harlem, a predominately black neighborhood of New York City, in 1920. His mother, Bessye Bearden, was the New York correspondent for the Chicago Defender, an African American newspaper, and through her Bearden was introduced to many of the artists, writers, and intellectuals associated with the ...

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

Martha Schwendener

[Ben Youseph Nathan, Esther Zeghdda]

(b London, Nov 21, 1869; d Brooklyn, NY, Nov 27, 1933).

American photographer. Born Esther Zeghdda Ben Youseph Nathan to a German mother and an Algerian father, she immigrated to the United States in 1895. She worked as a milliner in New York before opening a photographic portrait studio in 1897. Her ‘gallery of illustrious Americans’ featured actresses, politicians, and fashionable socialites, including President Theodore Roosevelt, author Edith Wharton, artist William Merritt Chase, and actress Julia Marlowe. Ben-Yusuf also created Pictorialist-inspired artwork like The Odor of Pomegranates (1899; see fig.), an allegory informed by the myth of Persephone and the idea of the pomegranate as a tantalizing but odourless fruit. Ben-Yusuf was included in an exhibition organized by the Linked Ring, Brotherhood of the in London in 1896 and continued to exhibit in the group’s annual exhibitions until 1902. Her photographs were exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1898 and at the Camera Club of New York in ...

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

Philip Attwood

(b Schavli, Kovno [now Kaunas], June 12, 1871; d New York, April 5, 1924).

American medallist of Lithuanian origin. He trained as a seal-engraver under his father and worked as a jewellery engraver and type cutter. In 1890 he went to New York, where he worked as a die engraver of badges, and in 1898 to Paris to study at the Académie Julian and later with Oscar Roty. He first exhibited medals in the early years of the 20th century. The influence of Roty is apparent in the low relief and soft-edged naturalism and also in the inclusion of flat expanses of metal in his designs. He occasionally ventured into sculpture, as in the Schenley Memorial Fountain (bronze; Pittsburgh, PA, Schenley Park), but he was best known for his medals and plaquettes, both struck and cast, and his sensitive portraits assured his popularity. The powerful head of President Roosevelt on the Panama Canal medal (bronze, 1908) and the tender Shepherdess plaquette (electrotype, 1907...

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

Elizabeth Q. Bryan

[Hattie Kanengeiser, Henrietta Köningeiser]

(b Vienna, Austria, Mar 15, 1886; d New York City, Feb 22, 1956)

American fashion designer. Hattie Carnegie was an international tastemaker and fashion entrepreneur. For more than thirty years she presided over a leading New York couture house that offered clients licensed copies of Paris originals as well as ‘Hattie Carnegie Originals’ created by her staff of designers. She also created an empire of retail and wholesale clothing, jewelry, perfume and cosmetics worth over $8 million upon her death in 1956.

Carnegie was born in Vienna, Austria, to parents who immigrated to the United States. Early in her life she adopted the surname of the industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie because of its association with wealth. At the age of 13, upon the death of her father, a tailor in New York’s garment district, she became a messenger for Macy’s department store. The ambitious Carnegie then went to work as a milliner and sales clerk in Greenwich Village for the neighborhood dressmaker Rose Roth. Some details of Carnegie’s career remain ambiguous, even those she provided herself to journalists, but it is generally accepted that by ...

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

Sharon Matt Atkins

(b Oakland, CA, Aug 26, 1925; d Tucson, AZ, June 4, 2009).

American painter, printmaker and teacher. Colescott produced highly expressive and gestural paintings that addressed a wide range of social and cultural themes and challenged stereotypes. Interested in issues of race, gender and power, his work critiqued the representation of minorities in literature, history, art and popular culture. Stylistically, his work is indebted to European modernism, particularly Cubism and Expressionism, but also makes references to African sculpture, African American art and post–World War II American styles.

Colescott was introduced to art at an early age. His mother was a pianist and his father was a classically-trained violinist and jazz musician. Through his parents’ social circles, he often found himself surrounded by creative individuals as he was growing up, like his artistic mentor, the sculptor Sargent Johnson (1888–1967). Colescott received his BA in 1949 and later his MFA in 1952 from the University of California, Berkeley. He also studied with ...

Article

(b Toronto, Aug 24, 1920; d Wolfville, Nova Scotia, July 16, 2013).

Canadian painter. He moved with his family to Amherst, NS, in 1929; his father, a Scottish immigrant, worked in steel construction, his mother was a milliner. His work at a local art class came to the attention of Stanley Royle (1888–1961), an English artist teaching at Mount Allison University in Sackville, NB, who persuaded him to study art. Colville studied for a BFA at Mount Allison University and on graduating in 1942 joined the Canadian Army, serving in the infantry until 1946. In May 1944 he was appointed an Official War Artist; he served in England, at the landings in southern France, and with the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division in Holland and Germany. He returned to Canada in October 1945 and on his demobilization in the following year began teaching at Mount Allison University, remaining in that post until 1963, when he resigned to paint full-time. The war art experience had a profound effect on his development, both in the need rapidly to master techniques and by the special circumstances of being both an observer of and participant in momentous events. He rejected the concern with landscape that dominated Canadian painting, instead valuing the traditions of figurative art ranging broadly from ancient Egypt through Renaissance painting to the work of Manet. He was especially drawn to American artists such as Thomas Eakins and, among 20th-century painters, to Ben Shahn and Edward Hopper....

Article

Kristen Shirts and Pamela Roskin

(b Bègles, ?Oct 10, 1893; d Louvecienne, Dec 31, 1989).

French milliner, active also in the USA. Daché was a milliner whose career spanned over five decades. Her success, like that of her fellow countrywoman, Coco Chanel, lay in her ability to sell her image as well as her product. Daché started her career in hats but later moved into perfumes, apparel, cosmetics and other products. She innovated the now-common practice of licensing her name to other manufacturers. Unlike the avant-garde fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, Daché produced hats that were accessible and appealed to a wide audience. Her trademark designs included floral hats, turbans and hairnets decorated with ribbons and trimmings (see fig.). Her celebrity clientele included Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Ginger Rogers and Carmen Miranda.

Daché began her millinery career in her teens as an apprentice to the famous Parisian hat makers Suzanne Talbot and Caroline Reboux (1837–1927). At the start of the 1920s, she moved to the United States. She worked briefly as a hat salesgirl at Macy’s in New York and as a milliner in small shops; by ...

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

Robert J. Belton

(b Jassy [now Iaşi], Romania, Aug 29, 1933).

Canadian sculptor, film maker, costume designer, playwright and poet of Romanian birth. His formal art training began in 1945 but in 1950 he emigrated to Israel. From 1953 he studied at the Institute of Painting and Sculpture in Tel Aviv. Etrog’s first one-man exhibition took place in 1958 and consisted of Painted Constructions, wood and canvas objects blurring the distinctions between painting and low relief (see Heinrich). In these works he tried to embody uncertainties that stemmed from his experience of Nazi aggression as a boy. The results were loosely expressionistic versions of geometric abstraction, derived in part from the work of Paul Klee.

Assisted by the painter Marcel Janco, Etrog went on a scholarship to New York, where he was inspired by Oceanic and African artefacts he saw in the collections there. This led to a preoccupation with organic abstractions, flowing totemic forms, and metaphors of growth and movement, seen in ...

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

Michael Spens

revised by Carla Tilghman

(b Toronto, Feb 28, 1929).

American architect, exhibition designer, furniture and jewlery designer, and teacher. He qualified at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, in 1954 and attended the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, in 1956–7. After working in various architectural practices, from 1962 he practised independently in Venice, Los Angeles establishing the firm of Frank O. Gehry and Associates, Inc of which he remains the Design Principal. His early work focused on the potential of small-scale works to provide a succinct metaphorical statement, as with various exhibition designs for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and his designs for the Joseph Magnin Stores at Costa Mesa and San Jose (both 1968), CA. In his early works he was interested more in the manipulation of architectural form than in technical innovation, and he was concerned with the conceptual and spatial content of buildings rather than the tighter demands of the architectural brief. Seeking an ‘open-ended’ approach to architecture, he was influenced by the work of fine artists such as Constantin Brancusi and Robert Rauschenberg. But his works of the late 1970s proved that his approach could provide habitable if haphazard buildings, as in the Wagner House (...

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

Ellen G. Landau

(b Allegheny, PA, May 11, 1894; d New York, NY, April 1, 1991).

American dancer and choreographer. Graham is widely considered a major pioneer and exponent of modernism. Her collaboration with American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, who designed costumes and sets for the Martha Graham Dance Company from 1935 to 1966, and the extraordinary photographs of her in performance by Imogen Cunningham, Soichi Sunami (1885–1971), Philippe Halsman (1906–79) and especially Barbara Morgan, link Graham’s revolutionary accomplishments in dance to experimentation in the visual arts. During the late 1930s and 1940s, her belief in the ability of dance to tap the power of myth and the unconscious anticipated and was analogous to the tenets of Abstract Expressionism.

Brought up in California the daughter of a physician, in 1916 at age 22, Graham began studying dance under Ruth St Denis (1879–1968) and Ted Shawn (1891–1972). Ten years later she formed the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance in New York. While her own performances were initially based on the Denishawn style, by ...

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 ...

Article

Elizabeth Q. Bryan

(b Ridgewood, NJ, Dec 16, 1903; d New York, Sep 6, 1971).

American fashion designer and author. Elizabeth Hawes combined interests in art, fashion and politics to make original contributions as a designer and to express strong opinions and promote radical concepts in such books as Fashion Is Spinach (1938) and It’s Still Spinach (1954). Her candor about her career as a copyist in Paris and her nine years as a couturier in New York, provides much insight into the complex relations between the haute couture and the American ready-to-wear industry.

Born in 1903 to a suffragette mother, Hawes had the education and social connections to pursue her career goals. Her interest in dressmaking led her to Paris in the summer of 1925 after graduation from Vassar College. Although she wanted to train as a designer, she could only secure a position as a sketch artist in a firm selling unauthorized drawings to buyers who were avoiding couturiers...