Loves, if you love the elegant look of Grecian Stlye pleats, cutouts, and dresses that look like sculpture, you have someone to thank: Madame Gres, the famous Couturier who dressed Grace Kelly, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich. She’s a designer to know! (Especially if you love vintage, like me!)
Madame Gres was born as Germaine Krebs in Paris, 1903. Her first aspiration was to be a sculptor, however, she was unsuccessful. This was our gain! She took her love of the Grecian like sculptures to clothes (specializing in jersey). Madame Gres got her start as a fashion designer by designing costumes for Jean Giradoux’s play, “The Trojan War Will Not Take Place”. After this, Gres started her first line Alix (she went by the name Alix Barton at the time), and this line functioned from 1934-42.
My favorite story about Madame Gres, which I think is telling, takes place during the German Occupation of Paris during WWII. Gres was commanded to quit making couture and to start making “utilitarian clothes”, as well as dress the wives of German Officers. Gres refused, and continued to make gowns in the colors of the French flag (red, white, and blue). Gres was eventually run out of Paris, and she staying in the Pyrenees till the Occupation was over. Fashion can change the world!
“Madame Gres” was officially founded in 1942, a couture house that specialized in the above mentioned pleated dresses. Each piece is a work of art, taking over 300 hours to make each dress, and with all the pleating done by hand. Gres would drape and sculpt her work on the models, and she refused to sacrifice any quality or attention to detail throughout her career. Gres was called the “Sphinx of Fashion”, and the New York Times said her house: “was the most intellectual place in Europe to buy clothes”. Gres was known as the place to go for chic, draped gowns, that looked like Greek Sculpture. (Side note: Gres is also credited with creating cutouts).
If you’re wondering how to identify a Madame Gres piece, look for these things:
-Pleats (created by hand, then sewn together)
-Lots of folds/drapes
-Greco-Roman Influence: capes, togas, wraps (Though it should be said that Gres also had some Asian and Eastern Influnces and did a line of kimonos)
Gres did some structured pieces, but they are not as well known as her “classic” pieces.
Madame Gres resisted the transition from Couture to ready to wear, although she did start a ready to wear line in the 1980s. She hated mass production, didn’t want to sacrifice her quality or lower her price; however, costs forced her to change her business plan. Madame Gres also had a perfume house, Parfumes Gres, which she had to sell to keep her Couture House afloat.
Madame Gres died in 1993, still beloved and revered by the fashion community.
Also love these videos showcasing Madame Gres:
So, if you love Madame Gres like I do, you may be wondering where you can find a piece! Loves, it’s not always easy. These dresses are works of art (and priced accordingly), and not always on the market. However, Investment Piece Favorite Rachel Zabar Vintage has quite a few Madame Gres pieces right now! Take a look here, and let’s swoon together. A side note: I take gifts year round!
Last year, at Austin Fashion Week, I had the great pleasure of meeting and falling in love with autark, and it’s designer/owner Sophia McMahon. From puff sleeve dresses and tops, to the ethical and slow approach, the pieces in each collection of Autark are just dreamy, and make me feel sophisticated and the little girl in me LOVES twirling in them! Sophia is charming, and we both love our cats and “Law and Order”, and I knew that I wanted to share my love of Sophia’s autark with you!
I got the chance to sit with Sophia and learn a bit about her brand, her story, and where she wants to take us with her fashion:
IP: What drew you to fashion design? How did you get started?
I was always interested in design, but a lot more academically focussed while I was at school. After I finished school and went to university, I worked for a couple of years in a completely different career – I enjoyed it but didn’t feel challenged. After taking some time to consider my career direction, I decided to take a leap and pursue the interest I’d always had, but felt a little to afraid to chase after. I enrolled at TAFE here in South Australia, and started autark straight after graduating in 2016.
How would you describe Autark’s mission? Who do you design for?
My mission is quite lofty – it’s to change the way that consumers think about their clothing. Firstly, I want people to think differently about the clothes they buy – what clothes they purchase and how often, how they care for the clothes that they own, and what they do with them at the end of the life of the clothing. My wish for customers is that they don’t feel the pressure of purchasing more often, that they buy well made, beautiful pieces that they can wear much more frequently, but that last for a long time.
Secondly, I want people to know that slow fashion can be fun, light and fashion forward! The aim for my pieces is that they are versatile and classic, yet with a design perspective or point of interest.
I design for women of all ages, who are interested in fashion and design, ethics, and who know their own mind. I absolutely adore seeing customers in autark pieces – it really gives me a buzz like nothing else.
I know that your line is Eco-friendly. What processes do you use to get your line that way?
I am so proud of our progress in the way that we approach limiting our impact in as many different areas of our process as possible.
All of our pieces are still made here in Adelaide, Australia, which is wonderful – it’s fantastic being able to build relationships with our manufacturers and see their beautiful work in real time. We are also really excited that our next collection will be made entirely from deadstock fabric, which is fabric that was not utilised by its previous owner. And of course, all fabric continues to be 100% natural fibres.
For the future we are focussing on further refining our processes particularly in regards to the sustainability of our practices, and will be exploring different ways of processing our fabric offcuts, as well as the kinds of finishings we use for our pieces. It’s something that we work to improve on a continuous basis.
Take us through the Autark process-design, manufacturing, etc.
We are currently producing one collection per year, so throughout the year I collate inspiration and design ideas. I’ll then start sourcing fabrics and try to match fabric and design ideas together. Next comes the sampling, to see how the fabrics work with the designs, which then flows on to production.
There is a lot of problem solving at every step of the way, but it keeps me on my toes!
If someone was to buy just one piece from your line, what would you recommend? What would you say is your signature piece?
That’s a really tricky one to answer! Can I say an outfit? Probably the Puff Sleeve Bodice and High Waisted Pant. I just adore this outfit – to me it epitomises what I am trying to achieve with the label. Two classic pieces that can be put together as one statement outfit, which can then be broken apart to be dressed up or down. I love this outfit with heels, or sneakers, the pant with a t-shirt, and the bodice with jeans. The possibilities are practically endless!
I know the fashion community in Australia is supportive and welcoming. Is there anything you’d love people to know about it?
I’m so proud of our local industry here in Adelaide, and as a greater whole in Australia. There is so much talent here, and in my opinion a really unique, fresh and easy design perspective. The Adelaide community in particular is creative, proactive and energetic, and I feel privileged to be a part of it.
My favorite pieces from Autark are also the puff sleeve pieces! (You can shop the dress and top) I urge to explore all the collections at autark. The collections are so beautiful, classic, and charming! Sophia, autark, and Australia are things I love, and this month a portion of proceeds from Autark will be donated to the wildfire relief in Australia, so we can all feel great about shopping!
I hope that you love Sophia and autark as much as I do, happy shopping!
My first memory of a Diane Freis dress involves my mother. I knew nothing of Diane Freis, and though I loved dresses you couldn’t yet call me a fashionista; I was little and knew that there was this patterned dress that my mommy looked pretty in- that was it. Somewhere I hope there’s a picture of my mom in that dress, as I can see her clearly in my mind, but I haven’t found one.
Now that I’m older I have a different appreciation of Diane Freis. As these dresses began popping up for me, I couldn’t help but be charmed by the pattern mixing, the smocked waists, the chic modernity. There are so many that I’ve fallen in love with researching this piece. And yes, now that I am a fashionista, when I see a pretty dress, I also see a story. I want to know where a piece comes from, what it says, who wears them, and if we should know about the designer. And loves, Diane Freis is a designer to know!
Begin looking and there are fascinating stories to tell about Freis, an LA girl. Who made it in Hong Kong. From FashionDesignerEncyclopedia:
Diane Freis is one of the few Hong Kong-based designers to have gained an international reputation. Hers is a typical Hong Kong success story, based on hard work and determination. Since arriving in the territory in 1973, she built a commercially successful brand name that became a role model for Hong Kong manufacturing.
The Freis signature is represented by multicolored prints applied to one-size, easy-care dresses, primarily designed in polyester georgette. Noncrushable and easy-to-pack, they have presented a travel solution for higher income, more mature women in search of a glamorous and feminine look. The fashion philosophy is pragmatic: Freis stresses the importance “of making a one-size dress that allows the freedom of fit in our daily schedules of health programmes one day and over-indulgence the next.” With their hallmark elasticated waists and shirring, the dresses covered imperfections but would never be called dowdy. The prints were usually exotic, the designs included pretty florals, dramatic geometrics, bold stripes, and plaids, with embroidery and beading as particular features of the look. Besides her traditional georgette, Freis has used silk, cotton, and wool coordinates, hand-knits for casual daywear, and chiffon and taffeta for grand evening ensembles.
Freis’ eye for color and design can be attributed to her fine arts education at the University of California in her native Los Angeles. While a student, her sideline was to create elaborately beaded jackets, which she sold to celebrities such as Diana Ross. It was a search for new, exotic materials and skilled embroiderers that first attracted her to the Far East. In Hong Kong she found the fabrics and workmanship that contributed to her distinctive fashion identity.
In 1978 Freis opened her first fashion boutique in Hong Kong; by 1986 she had six more. But her influence did not remain in the local market. International buyers from Europe and the United States soon took her work overseas. In the U.S., her dresses came to adorn the bodies of society women who shopped at the likes of Neiman Marcus in Dallas or Bergdorf Goodman in New York. Suited more to the European figure than to the Asian, today the label can be found in over 20 countries. Her success has been based on locating a market niche, not by following international fashion trends. Falling somewhere between haute couture and prêt-á-porter, the designs have been produced in limited editions: no more than 10 of any one design are distributed around the world. Basic shapes remain consistent; the variety is provided by new fabric designs and combinations. To retain exclusivity, the company set up its own print design studio and manufacturing base in 1982. In recognition of her commercial achievement for Hong Kong, Freis was awarded the Governor’s award for Industry for Export in 1993.
Despite its established success, the company continued to develop new ranges and to target new markets. Freis’ easy-flowing garments have gradually gained some structure via shoulder pads, more tucking, and fitted pleat detail. In recognition of changing lifestyles, Freis Spirit was launched in spring 1994 as a diffusion line aimed mainly in the Southeast Asian market. Featuring a pared-down silhouette and more subdued designs, the collection offered mix-and-match coordinates in quality fabrics to a younger market.
Headquartered in Hong Kong, Freis continues to focus on her trademark polyester georgette dresses in bright patterns and solids. She has expanded from a focus on dresses and skirts to a broader line comprising suits and eveningwear. She is now able to clothe a woman during her workday career, at night in formal attire, or in casual situations, although she remains best known for her flexible, easy-fit, all-over-printed dresses. The designer’s daywear business is divided into knitwear, classic polyester silk dresses and blouses, basic coordinates, and printed stretch tops, and her eveningwear line consists of beaded gowns, special occasion wear, beaded and embroidered jackets, camisoles, and scarves.
Freis has traditionally appealed to a more mature consumer but has extended her market into more youthful customers with her “young classics” line, consisting of tanks, chemise-and-jacket combinations and coverups, which Women’s Wear Daily described as “sleek” in August 1999. A line of all-black polyester and silk tanks, dresses, and pants coordinate with all the products in her daywear and eveningwear lines, from beaded jackets to printed skirts.
Freis has also expanded geographically from her roots in the Asian market. She maintains a distribution network not only in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Australia, but in the U.S., South Africa, and the Middle East. In 1999 Freis signed a licensing agreement with Guryich International, a Canadian company, for distribution in North America of a broad collection imported from Hong Kong. The line incorporates the one-size-fits-all polyester print dresses for which she is still best known but also includes 50 items from all facets of her line.
updated by KarenRaugust.
There are so many more articles out there, are you as fascinated as I am? All of a sudden I want to know what it was like to move to Hong Kong, and what drew her there. I’d even love to know how they mixed patterns. What kind of stories can we tell in these dresses? (Which by the way are easy to find on eBay, Etsy, etc. I’ve linked some of my faves for you below!)
Me, I’m off in my Diane Freis
Note: this post does contain affiliate links. While that does not affect the price for you, I may earn commission from them. Thank you for your support!
It’s sometimes scary as a vintage lover to see how quickly certain eras become vintage, or collectibles. I remember (vaguely) the 90s, yet here they are–vintage. However, loves, there is something to be said for great fashion standing the test of time, and reach a new generation of lovers. And if something from the 90s is going to come back, let’s be glad it’s Todd Oldham.
Todd Oldham was a fashion designer at the height of the 90s, he had a few fans, you might have heard of one-Cindy Crawford. His pieces were fun, intricate, and are still head turners. As a New York Times piece recently put it:
“Fashion is noisy, and Mr. Oldham had a lively run with it. His clothes were inspired by pot holders or wallpaper or kitschy paint-by-numbers paintings or garage sale treasures — toasters, gilded mirrors, loopy printed upholstery — all expressed in exuberant colors on cut velvet and silks, with trompe l’oeil effects that were the result of elaborate printing techniques, intricate beading, appliqués and embroidery.
His clothes were fun, but they were also beautiful, and his shows were like dance parties, packed with the coolest kids, both on the runway and in the audience: drag performers like Billy Beyond and RuPaul; old-fashioned supermodels like Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell; and actors like Susan Sarandon, Rosie O’Donnell and Christian Slater. You might hear the theme song from “The Dating Game,” or 1970s-era curiosities, like War’s “Low Rider,” and the models didn’t stalk, stone-faced, down the runway. They skipped, jogged, shimmied and grinned, just as you did, watching them.”
Looking any Todd Oldham piece, it’s easy to see why the pieces are (were) cool; but loves, I have a feeling Oldham is (was) just as cool. He’s from Texas (Corpus Christi to be exact) and made his first dress at 15. His first fashion job was in the alterations department of Polo Ralph Lauren, but with a $100 loan from his parents he designed a collection that he sold to Neiman’s. The rest? Fashion History, but not the linear kind. Yes, Todd Oldham has his own line (incredibly popular) and won awards, was worn by models. He also consulted for Escada, designed a Batman line, hosted segments on MTV shows (Todd Time on House of Style and Fashaionably Loud), had a Target line, ran Old Navy and he made art and books.
In fact, while I consider his clothes works of art, he retired from fashion (unless you count his archives and museum showings) and is focused on the book and art making slowly. (The New Times piece is a great look at his goodbye to wholesale and his current endeavors, found here
But loves, we haven’t really lost anything. With Todd Oldham clothes becoming a great vintage find, we can still enjoy his creations; and they are still as fun and beautiful as they were in the 90s. So where to look? 1stdibs (Look for The Timeless Vixen, Rachel Zabar, and a general search) is a great place to start, Etsy, and your local high end vintage dealer (I love me some Recess LA, The Kit Vintage, and Vintage Martini. Some prices are high (the rarity factor), but I can promise any piece is stunning.
I was lucky enough to find these amazing bandana print pants (and yes, I’m claiming Cindy Crawford wore them) at Recess, and I want to live in them–they’re that great!
I’m a firm believer that fashion is art, fashion is supposed to be fun, and fashion is a community; and I’m just grateful Todd Oldham chose to play with us a while!
In the past week there has been a lot written about Kate Spade. About how her iconic handbag, bright and preppy aesthetic, and affordable pieces made women feel grown up. About her battles, and how she worried that her issues would negatively affect her brand. About how much she was loved.
I can relate to all of that. Like Kate Spade, I want my fashion and shopping to inspire you and make you feel like your best self. And, like Kate Spade, I worry that any personal issues I have might negatively affect my brand. Knowing how much to admit about what you struggle with is difficult in any setting, but especially so when you worry about how it might affect your business. This is the part where I let you know that I’m no expert. There has been so much written about how to reach out if you’re struggling, that you should reach out if someone you love is struggling, and how we should all be a little more compassionate. I wholeheartedly agree with all of that. And know it’s complicated. So, my take is that we all suffer a bit. We should all love each other a little bit harder, and maybe be a little more honest. And, maybe most important, maybe we should do a lot more of what brings us joy-be it having a bag that makes you feel like a grown up or something else.
Kate Spade was so much more than a bag designer and there have been wonderful pieces written about her brand, attention to detail, and how her bag changed “the game”. I hope you’ve read them and come to admire Kate for all that she was. Below is a short recap of Kate Spade’s career:
Katherine Noel Brosnahan (December 24, 1962 – June 5, 2018), known professionally as Kate Spade and Kate Valentine,was an American fashion designer and businesswoman. She was the founder and former co-owner of the designer brand Kate Spade New York.
After working in the accessories department at the fashion magazine Mademoiselle, Brosnahan and her husband Andy Spade founded the business in 1993, identifying a market for quality stylish handbags. The handbags that she designed and produced quickly became popular due to their sophistication and affordability; they have been described as a symbol of 1990s New York City.
The company expanded into other product lines. In 1999, she sold a 56 percent stake in Kate Spade New York to Neiman Marcus Group; in 2006 she sold the rest of her shares. In 2016, she and partners launched a new fashion brand called Frances Valentine.
Spade was born in Kansas City, Missouri, the daughter of June (Mullen) and Earl Francis Brosnahan, who owned a road construction company.Her ancestry was mostly Irish. After graduating from St. Teresa’s Academy, an all-girl Catholic high school, she attended the University of Kansas. Later she transferred to Arizona State University, where she joined Kappa Kappa Gamma, and graduated with a journalism degree in 1985.
Fashion was a love, she recalled later, but not an obsession. Her original goal was to become a television producer, and she cited the example of Holly Hunter’s character in the 1987 film Broadcast News as her inspiration.
In 1986, Spade worked in the accessories department at Mademoiselle magainze in Manhattan, where she was credited by her maiden name, Katy Brosnahan. While at Mademoiselle, she started living with Andy Spade, a native of Scottsdale, Arizona. The two had worked side-by-side as salespeople in a men’s clothing store, Carter’s Men Shop, back when Spade was still in Phoenix.
She left Mademoiselle in 1991, with the title of Senior Fashion Editor/Head of Accessories. While working for Mademoiselle, she had noticed that the market lacked stylish and sensible handbags, and decided to create her own.
Kate Spade NewYork
Kate and Andy Spade launched the New York–based design company “kate spade handbags” in January 1993. “I wanted a functional bag that was sophisticated and had some style,” Spade would later recall. She made six prototypes with Scotch Tape and paper, and found a manufacturer in East New York willing to work with a startup to turn them into actual bags. To finance the company, Andy, who had worked as a copywriter, withdrew his 401(k) pension plan, and sometimes paid employees with personal checks. The couple spent their shipping season living at friends’ apartments, since their own was filled with boxed handbags.
Kate was undecided as to what name to give the company, because she and Spade had not yet married, and “Kate Brosnahan” did not sound like an ideal name for a fashion label. She considered a number of names, but agreed when Andy suggested “Kate Spade” — a combination of their names that he found euphonious. After an early show at the Javits Center at which the department-store chain Barneys ordered a few bags, Kate decided to put the bag’s labels on the outside, a change that took her all night to make, but established the brand.
The bags, priced in the $150 to $450 range, quickly became popular, particularly in New York. Teenage girls with disposable income appreciated that the bags at the lower end of the price range were affordable. That was “a real shift” in fashion, said Fern Mallis, director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) during the 1990s. “Everybody had Kate Spade bags. You could afford them, and happily buy more than one.”
Young American women at the time also liked the sophisticated look. One woman recalled to Sarah Maslin Nir in The New York Times later that the Kate Spade bags looked mature, without being too adult for a teenager as a Burberry bag would have been seen. “At the turn of the last century,” Nir wrote, “her bag came to encapsulate a decidedly Manhattan moment in time”, a moment when Vogue editor Anna Wintour recalled that it was impossible to walk a block in the city without seeing one.
The company sold mainly handbags at first, but soon extended to clothing, jewelry, shoes, stationery, eyewear, baby items, fragrances, tabletop, bedding and gifts. In 1996, the Kate Spade brand opened its first boutique, a 400-square-foot shop located in Manhattan’s trendy SoHo district, and moved its headquarters into a 10,000-square-foot space in West 25th Street.
In 2004, “Kate Spade at home” was launched as a home collection brand. It featured bedding, bath items, china, wallpaper and various items for the home. Later in 2004, Spade also published three books on the subjects of etiquette, entertainment, and fashion—Manners, Occasions, and Style. That same year, a Kate Spade store was opened in Aoyama, Tokyo in Japan.
Neiman Marcus Group purchased 56 percent of the Kate Spade brand in 1999, and the remaining 44 percent in 2006. The Group sold the label in 2006 to Liz Claiborne Inc., for $124 million; it was later renamed Fifth & Pacific. The company was purchased by Coach, Inc. in May 2017; both Coach and Kate Spade are now part of Tapestry, Inc.
After selling the remaining portion of her ownership stake in the Kate Spade brand in 2006, Spade took time off to raise her daughter. In 2016, she and her business partners launched a new collection of luxury footwear and handbags under the brand name Frances Valentine. The name Frances is a family name on Spade’s paternal side; her daughter is named Frances, as were her grandfather, father, and brother. “Valentine” came from Spade’s maternal side; it was her grandfather’s middle name, given because he was born on Valentine’s Day. In 2016, Spade legally changed her surname to Valentine.
There are so many personal details -her husband, her daughter, and we know more about details of her death than maybe we should. My heart breaks for the loved ones she leaves. But, as much as I believe in love and honesty, I think that there are some stories that are only your families to tell. So,I’m not addressing her personal life. Her creations brough me joy, I understand her struggles, and so I’m chosing to love hard and wear great shoes as my homage to Kate Spade.
Note: This article first appeared in the New York Times, here. I also loved this piece from the Wall Street Journal. I have always loved all things shiny, stories (the feel good kind) from the Holocaust, and fashion; Judith Leiber combines all those things! Enjoy! XO RA
Judith Leiber, 97, Dies; Turned Handbags Into Objets d’Art
Judith Leiber, the handbag designer whose whimsical creations were prized as collectors’ pieces and frequently displayed as objets d’art, died on Saturday at her home in Springs, N.Y., a hamlet in East Hampton. She was 97.
Ms. Leiber died just hours after the death of her husband of 72 years, the painter, lithographer and sculptor Gerson Leiber, who was known as Gus. He also died at their home.
Both died of heart attacks, according to Jeffrey Sussman, their biographer and spokesman, and they were buried together on Monday.
In recent years the couple had mounted joint exhibitions of their work on Long Island and in Manhattan.
Stella Blum, the curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until 1983, once said that describing Judith Leiber as an accessory designer was “a little like calling Louis Comfort Tiffany a designer of lighting fixtures.”
Her handbags were often on view in museums and are in the permanent collections of a number of them, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution and the Chicago Historical Society. Ms. Leiber nevertheless demurred when Andy Warhol described her bags as works of art. “Truthfully, I don’t consider them art,” she said. “I’m an artisan.”
Although she designed luxurious handbags with discreet clasps and frames for daytime, she was best known for her imaginative and eye-catching evening creations, among them colorfully beaded bags in animal, flower, fruit and egg shapes, and bags shaped like boxes and shells with variations on antique Asian motifs.
Her classically shaped metal evening bags were built of cardboard and sent to Italy, where they were stamped in brass. The animal forms and more complex shapes began as sculptured wax models and were also sent to Italy to be copied in metal. Feet and ears were cast separately and soldered on; other parts and touches, like the head of a horse or the bow on a cat, were stamped in two halves and joined seamlessly.
The gold plating was done after the bags were returned to America. So was the encrusting of the bag in rhinestones and other beads.
A number of Ms. Leiber’s clients amassed scores, and in several cases hundreds, of her designs, despite price tags that reached well into four figures for each bag.
At major charity events, it was common for a woman who had left her Leiber evening bag on the table while she danced to find on her return that other guests had gathered around her table to admire it. Occasionally a bag would disappear, returned only when admirers had finished passing it around.
“Sensuous and tactile, they ask to be picked up,” said Dorothy Twining Globus, a former director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology and curator of exhibitions at the Museum of Arts and Design.
Most of Ms. Leiber’s evening bags, particularly the glittering metal creations, were designed to hold a bare minimum of necessities. She allowed that lipstick, a handkerchief and a $100 bill might possibly fit. A $100 bill? Not small change, she admitted, but not unreasonable for a Leiber bag owner. As for carrying such necessities as eyeglasses, keys and a few other odds and ends, she would ask, “What’s an escort for?”
Ms. Leiber created five collections a year, in all about 100 designs. She said she was inspired by paintings, museum pieces, artifacts and nature. One of her most popular bags was shaped like a snail; another, an example of the commonplace made uncommon, was fashioned from an antique quilt and enhanced with bits of colored glitter.
The women who carried Leiber bags included first ladies, queens and princesses, and celebrities like Greta Garbo, Claudette Colbert, Diana Ross and Joan Sutherland. Queen Elizabeth II was presented with a bag during a visit to California, and Raisa Gorbachev, the wife of the Soviet leader, received one from Barbara Bush.
Mrs. Bush carried a Leiber design at her husband’s inaugural ceremony. She also had one of the Leiber metal bags shaped, with slight variation, to resemble Millie, her springer spaniel. It was later duplicated and sold for $2,500. Other first ladies were customers as well: Nancy Reagan ordered white satin Leiber bags for both her husband’s inaugural balls, and Hillary Clinton had a bag modeled after Socks, the family cat.
But even the first ladies couldn’t compete in patriotism with a Texan who was invited to one of the Clinton inaugurations and ordered a bag beaded with the stars and stripes on one side and the Statue of Liberty on the other.
Many of Ms. Leiber’s customers used the bags for aesthetic purposes as well as practical ones. Some displayed them in a vitrine or étagère, and one Los Angeles matron invited her friends, their Leiber bags and their husbands to a dinner party. When they arrived, she took all their bags and lined them up on a mirror, flanked with votive candles, running down the center of the dining table. It was a table decoration not soon forgotten.
Ms. Leiber maintained that a story of a husband who had given his wife 14 Leiber bags in seven years and wanted them back as part of a divorce settlement was not apocryphal. “I could retire on your Leiber bag collection,” he reportedly said. The wife kept the bags.
Ms. Leiber was born Judith Marianne Peto in Budapest on Jan. 11, 1921. Her parents, Emil and Helen Peto, hoped that she would become a chemist and repeat the success of a relative who had developed a complexion cream. In 1939, she was sent to England to pursue scientific studies, but World War II intervened and her theoretical cosmetics empire vanished.
“Hitler put me in the handbag business,” Ms. Leiber said.
Back in Budapest, Ms. Leiber, who was Jewish, enrolled in an artisan guild, which still accepted Jews, although fascism was on the ascent in Hungary. Her training began with sweeping the floors and cooking the glue. By the time she had completed her guild training, first as an apprentice and finally as a master, the war was raging.
She knew all the stages of handbag manufacture, but there was no place to use this knowledge because Jews were being sent to concentration camps. She and other family members escaped that fate when they were pressed into service sewing army uniforms. She also began a small handbag business at home, using whatever materials she could find, and after the war sold some to American soldiers stationed in Hungary.
Mr. Leiber was an Army Signal Corps sergeant in postwar Budapest when he and Ms. Leiber met. He was working as a radio operator maintaining contact between Vienna and Budapest. They married in 1946 and the next year left for New York, Mr. Leiber’s hometown.
With her training, Ms. Leiber had no difficulty finding work in her adopted country. She became part of what she called “strudel assembly lines” at a number of handbag manufacturers until 1963, when her husband decided that they should open their own business.
They began in a small loft. “I knew from the beginning what I was going to do,” Ms. Leiber said. “I was going to make the best.” She designed and supervised the manufacture of her bags, and Mr. Leiber looked after the business end.
Ms. Leiber’s sister, Eva Ecker, died in 2015. No immediate family members survive.
In time, Ms. Leiber’s designs were rarely sold from handbag departments. They were generally featured in specially created Leiber sections and boutiques in major department and specialty stores, both in this country and abroad.
Ms. Leiber received most of the fashion industry’s major prizes. She was given a Coty Fashion Award in 1973 and the Neiman Marcus Winged Statue for Excellence in Design in 1980. She was voted accessories designer of the year in 1994 by the Council of Fashion Designers.
The Leibers sold their business in 1993, for a reported $16 million, to Time Products, a British firm in the watch distribution business. Ms. Leiber remained the firm’s designer until 1997.
In recent years, retrospective exhibitions in New York have showcased the talents of both Leibers. (Some of Mr. Leiber’s work is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.) In 2016 the Flomenhaft Gallery in Manhattan presented a joint exhibition, “The Artist & Artisan”; another, “Brilliant Partners,” was seen last year at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook. Also last year, the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan gave Ms. Leiber a one-woman show, “Judith Leiber: Crafting a New York Story.”
Throughout her career, Ms. Leiber was often asked if she ever carried handbags other than her own. She had a standard reply.
“I either carry my own or a paper bag,” she would say, “and I won’t carry a paper bag, so you figure it out.”
Some Judith Leiber bags I love (and some of my choices are affordable!):
You can find your own Judith Leiber bag here as well:
Note: This post does contain affiliate links. While that does not affect the price for you, I may earn commission from them. Thank you for your support.
One thing that I absolutely love about this job is that I get to learn things, along with you. In this month’s research for designer spotlight I stumbled across this article on Norman Norell and his impact on American fashion. I was fascinated. And when I’m fascinated, I can’t help but share. So, here (originally posted on WWD) is all about Norman Norell. I hope you enjoy as much as I did!
Norman Norell’s Lasting Influence on American Fashion
The Illinois-born Norell began designing costumes at Paramount Pictures in Astoria, N.Y., before staking his claim in the American fashion landscape on Seventh Avenue.
By Rosemary Feitelberg and Andrew Nodell on February 1, 2018
NEW YORK — Like Norman Norell’s more dedicated clients, author Jeffrey Banks and WWD executive editor Bridget Foley had a lot to unpack in discussing how the son of a hatmaker became America’s first great designer.
Even the Q&A’s location — Parsons School of Design, The New School — called for footnotes. Executive Dean of Fashion Joel Towers informed the industry-heavy crowd that Norell studied there and later taught from 1948 to 1972. In advance of next week’s opening of a Norell exhibition at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Banks talked about his new Rizzoli-published book “Norell: Master of American Fashion” and the designer’s lasting influence.
The audience — which included Anna Sui, Stan Herman, Rebecca Moses and Bibhu Mohapatra — listened intently about Norell’s forays into buy-now-wear-now, cruisewear, pants and other men’s wear-inspired looks for women and black-tie runway shows with Champagne and strawberry intermissions. Unlike designers of today, Norell didn’t socialize with his customers and was more inclined to spend nonworking weekends antiquing or going to the theater. The “very shy” designer lunched at Schraft’s or Hamburger Heaven with a small coterie of other Seventh Avenue designers, and he sketched away endlessly. And retailers were always part of the equation with private clients like Lauren Bacall, whose purchases were routed through the stores that supported him throughout his 51-year career.
Banks said, “Norell was such an important person in the history of American fashion. I think he really changed the way ready-to-wear is viewed and certainly on the world stage the way American designers are viewed.”
Banks also wound up as a Parsons student, due to Norell. While working for Ralph Lauren, he was enrolled at Pratt. “One day my teacher at Pratt said, ‘I don’t know if you saw in the paper today that Norman Norell died.’ This girl raised her hand and said, ‘Who’s Norman Norell?’ I said, ‘I’m outta here.’ I literally picked up my books, went to the dean’s office and transferred to Parsons. I’d been thinking about it, but that was it,” Banks said.
Following Norell’s sudden death in 1972, the designer’s legacy largely faded. Banks’ motivation in publishing the Rizzoli title, which is the first book of its kind dedicated to Norell’s work, was to inform younger generations — “especially people in the fashion business” — of his artistry. “I don’t think you can go forward as a designer without knowing where you came from,” Banks explained. “It’s only by knowing the rules that you can then break the rules.”
In an interview with WWD, Ralph Rucci, who wrote the forward for “Master of American Fashion,” described Norell as “the American Balenciaga” in his “masterful simplicity, make, cut and fit of clothes.” Rucci went on to compare the way in which the American and Spanish designers would construct an armhole, adding, “The armhole being a symbol of such precision.”
“Norell would give a 14-inch hem on dresses for balance and weight when, say, a chiffon hem would normally just be an edge stitch.”
But it wasn’t all for looks, explained Banks, who said the generous hem was also intended for lengthening and shortening a garment by the client, who paid generously for the detailed craftsmanship. “Women bought his clothes and treated them the same way they would treat artwork they would buy,” he added.
Kenneth Pool, another designer in the audience, loaned the six Norell ensembles from his 100-piece collection that bookended the stage on mannequins. Pool’s focus is from 1960 on, after Norell “finally owned his own business and was able to buy out his investors,” Banks said. “Even though he was 60 years of age, I believe he got this incredible burst of creativity for the next 12 years of his life.”
After Foley noted how the quality designs had stood the test of time, Banks pointed out how Norell was averse to American fabrics, buying only the finest ones — including Linton (which Banks said makes Chanel tweeds to this day), Gandini and Taroni for his designs and linings. As a young man Banks was so mesmerized by one Norell dress with a fireworks-like lining in a store window that he examined it daily during its two-week display.
Referring to Norell’s 9 p.m. fashion shows in his 550 Seventh Avenue showroom, Foley said, “I must say that when I was reading this, there were two words that stuck out in my mind, ‘Black-tie — photographers included,’ and the other one — think of this in the era of the 12-minute show — ‘intermission.’”
The shows themselves were also on Norell’s own timetable. In those days, like today, collections would be shown in New York before the industry’s attention moved to Europe. But rather than show with other designers, Norell — along with James Galanos — would require buyers and editors to return to New York for their shows. “They wanted to separate themselves from the rest of American fashion,” continued Rucci. “The two of them were the closest we had to haute couture in this country. They were really mavericks.”
Banks mentioned how the routine was also to have another show “for lesser buyers” the following day. An ardent Norell client, Lauren Bacall, could be seen front-row in a lengthy video clip of a 1968 Norell show. Daytime clothes were showcased in the first half, followed by an intermission for Champagne and strawberries, before the eveningwear-centered second half.
Sixty-five to 100 looks would be modeled by his four-woman cabine of “Norell girls” who worked for him almost exclusively for runway and showroom appointments. “They literally floated down the runway, walking on tippy toe. How they changed so quickly [shoes, gloves and hats as well as clothes] is just mind-blowing to me,” said Banks.
Norell was forward-thinking when it came to selecting these recurring models, who would often have similar hairstyles to each other but would be of various body types. “He was very smart in understanding that women who wore his clothes were of different sizes, heights and ages,” added Banks.
Asked what Norell would think of the fashion shows today, Banks said, “He would be very, very disappointed. I’ve posted some pictures of the black-tie openings on Facebook and Instagram and people have said, ‘Look at how beautifully that front row is dressed. There are no sneakers, no telephones, no movie stars — they’re actually looking at the clothes.’ Look at the intimacy of the show. You could literally reach out and touch the fabric. The whole point of this was the clothes — not the girls, not the spectators, not the celebrities.”
Reminded how Norell was known to deconstruct Balenciaga designs, Banks said, “All of the designers on Seventh Avenue at that time would go to Europe. Many of them to buy things, most of them to copy things. Norell would go, and every once in a while he would buy a number from Givenchy or Balenciaga, but it wasn’t to copy them. It was to actually see the construction. He would take them apart, look inside and really see the technique. He brought couture techniques to ready-to-wear.…The prices were exorbitant for the time. A jersey dress, which was really the backbone of his collection, was $500 or $600. But women loved those clothes and knew they were an investment.”
Banks added, “Norell said, ‘Bust darts are the sign of a home sewer,’” adding that the designer avoided them by taking a vertical fold of fabric, have it go inside the armhole with handstitched facing to give the wearer enough ease for the bust without “that pointy, bullet-bra look that was very popular in the Fifties and Sixties.”
As a child, Norell was a fan of vaudeville’s razzle-dazzle and his first job was with Paramount Pictures in Astoria, before it moved to California. In 1921, at the age of 21, Norell designed for Rudolph Valentino and in 1923 for Gloria Swanson in “Zaza.”
Born Norman David Levinson in Noblesville, Ind., (a state that also produced Bill Blass, Halston and Stephen Sprouse), Norell decided he needed a name with more flair after moving to New York at the age of 19. “He took the ’Nor’ from Norman, the ‘el’ from Levinson and he added an extra ‘l,’ as he said, for luck,” Banks said. Norell’s former boss Hattie Carnegie took a different tack after arriving to Ellis Island from Poland, having asked officials, ‘Who is the richest man in America?’ When told that was Andrew Carnegie, she said, ‘That’s my last name.’
An entrepreneur with a great eye,” Carnegie had 12 designers working for her initially in her East 49th Street multifloor salon. She employed 1,000 people even during the Depression. Norell learned his skills there, accommodating Park Avenue ladies who would make such requests as, “‘My husband bought me an emerald necklace and I need a dress to go with it,’” Banks said. Norell started visiting Europe with Carnegie, who was known to buy 200 items during such an excursion.
On his own, Norell was inspired by men’s wear, and introduced pants before Yves Saint Laurent, and later added “what we know as culottes,” Banks said. When Foley mentioned how Norell became “the person to knock off in New York,” he knew if he was going to be knocked off, he wanted to be knocked off properly. So the designer ran an ad in WWD advising any manufacturer that wanted to knock his culottes off that he would give them the pattern, Banks said.
In 1943, Carnegie was commissioned to do the clothes for Gertrude Lawrence in the Broadway musical “Lady in the Dark,” about a fashion editor undergoing psycho analysis. “Apparently, in the Forties, if you had money that was a big deal. That was trendy thing to do and get shrunk,” Banks quipped.
Norell was tasked with sketching costumes, but Carnegie disapproved, suggesting he tone them down. Norell sidestepped his boss and showed Lawrence the originals, which she loved. That resulted in a parting of ways with Carnegie, and Norell teaming up with a financial partner, Antony Traina, in 1941 and stayed with him until 1959. During the war years, American designers had to restart their industry since they were no longer able to rely on European fabrics, Banks said. Wartime fabric restrictions prompted slimmer skirts just above-the-knee and while metals were rationed, sequins were not. “He was very smart because he could make these clothes look very dramatic, elegant and beautiful without a lot of money,” Banks said.
One turning point in his career came when Norell started buying fabric upfront for his signature dresses, which enabled seamstresses to start making them the day after his runway shows so they could be delivered months before the rest of the collection. “That was the engine that kept the business going,” Banks said. Foley noted how it was a precursor to the buy-now-wear-now shows.
She also pointed out how Norell was inspired by the Marchesa Casati in 1960, whereas only years later did designers like John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Sui and Dries van Noten look to her.
In 1972, the-then 72-year-old Norell was given his due with a one-night-only retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “I was working for Ralph Lauren while I was going to school and I begged him to get tickets for this. He said, ‘Who is this Norell?’ I said, ‘He is just the greatest designer in America,’ which is not what your boss wants to hear. But he got the tickets anyway,” Banks said. “At the end of the show, the lights went out — this was a live show of his clothes from the Twenties through the Seventies — and you saw something twinkling in the dark like fireflies. When the lights came up, there were 60 girls in mermaid dresses in every color of the rainbow from every decade.”
The audience was “literally like they were at a basketball game, stamping their feet, yelling, screaming” when a man came out in a tuxedo whom guests thought was about to introduce Norell. Instead, he said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to inform you that Norman Norell had a stroke yesterday,’” Banks said. Ten days later, the designer died.
As for what Norell would have considered to be his greatest contribution to fashion, Banks said, “Making women look attractive — that is all he ever cared about — making beautifully well-made clothes.”
The orginal article has the best picture gallery. I hope you enjoyed this reposted article, and I hope that you visit the site and see the most amazing fashion!
I’ve always been fascinated by those women who walk into a room and everyone notices. And I’m even more fascinated by the women who seem to get everything that they want, without having to over explain themselves. (Real talk? I’m wordy and would win a gold at over explaining myself.) So, when I had the chance to look at a way that one such powerful woman communicated, I jumped on it!
** Did you know that a spider represents patience and predatory behavior? I’m not the only one who suddenly wants to wear a spider on a night out, right?
***And you may have caught on, today isn’t a true “Desginer to Know”, but rather a way to wear a design. (Play on words? Maybe, but related)
This winter at the LBJ Library in Austin, I got to go see the pin collection worn by Madeleine Albright during her time as Secretary of State. Fashion? Yes. But, Albright also used her collection of pins to communicate with other Global Leaders, and silently but clearly, make her positions and feelings known.
It’s all the best of everything I love about fashion. A personal way to say who you are, and what you’re feeling. It’s a bit cheeky. And pins are a way to stand out. Why don’t we all do this?
Some of my favorite pins from the collection:
Hear No Evil/See No Evil/Speak No Evil
Albright’s colleciton had flowers, butterflies, animals, and all sorts of patriotic symbols. She became known for her pins, and people became adept at interpreting what some of them meant. One of my favorite stories from the collection:
And I was thrilled to realize that a strong, powerful woman and I have similar tastes:
I’m left with two questions: Should we bring back pins?
(Answer: I’m game. I loved that not all of Albright’s pins were designer. Which means-yes, if you can, start collecting Cartier and high end pins. But it also means, Etsy, any jewelry or vintage shop, and any market can provide you with a pin to say something with. )
Do you have to use pins to make a statement?
(Answer: No. Let’s use all of our fashion, accessories, and personality to say what we need to say.)
Which leaves the question: What are you communicating?
I’ll be showing more of my pin picks in my Instagram stories today! And I’ll be trying to make a state to with my fashion, what about you?
James Galanos, who’s amazing designs were a favorite of prominent women such as Nancy Reagan is known for many things: dressing famous women, working magic with chiffon, and believing in beauty.
This is usually the part where there’s a twist, or I share new information. There’s no twist. There’s nothing shocking, just us, chatting about a great designer and amazing clothes. I still like where this is going!
James Galanos was born in 1924 to Greek immigrants (his father was a frustrated artist), in Pennsylvania. He has the average childhood, spent with his 3 sisters. James might have been far from fashion centers, though he was in awe of the beautiful women he saw at the restaurant his father managed in Southern New Jersey, he dreamed of Paris and New York. Galanos never sewed, even for his sisters, but he began sketching at a young age. He attended the Traphagen School of Design in NY, but dropped out after 8 mths (only completing General Design and Draping/Construction) as he felt like he needed practical experience, and not classes.
Galanos began his fashion career at Hattie Carnegie Emporium in NY, but as his job was more clerical, he left quickly to find a more creative position. He sold his sketches to manufactors for $10/each; until textile magnate Lawrence Lesavoy hired Galanos to help his wife launch a Ready-To-Wear line. Lesavoy and his wife divorced, causing the line to fall through, but Lesavory paid for Galanos to go to Paris where he found a position as an assistant to Robert Piguet (where Pierre Balmain and Hubert de Givenchy also started). At Piguet’s house, Galanos was resposible for sketching, draping, and working with suppiliers. After leaving Paris, Galanos returned to NY where he worked briefly for the dress making firm Davidvow, before moving to LA in 1951 to start his own line, Galanos Orginals. The rest is history.
Galanos sold his first collection to Saks, and then while his works were on display in a NY showroom, Galanos was discovered by a Neiman Marcus buyer. Stanley Marcus would become a huge fan and supporter of Galanos. Other influential fans? Diana Vreeland, Eleanor Lambert, and Eugenia Sheppard. Galanos quickly became well known and successful. He designed movie costumes for a time, adding Rosalind Russell and Judy Garland to his circle of supporters.
What makes Galanos different than some of the high end designers was that he never did couture, his line was always Ready-To-Wear, though his “factory” was run like a Couture house. The team of sewers and designers were true artisans; though the clothes were somewhat machine made, the sequins and chiffon edges were all done by hand. Galanos was very involved, picking out fabric and paying attention to the hidden details of his creations. While the price point (5 figures) of his dresses made Galanos out of reach for some people, his creations were timeless and classic, making them amazing vintage finds!
Galanos was know for high quality pieces, details, and being a master of chiffon. He draped chiffon, pleated it, hand rolled it, used flower prints and metallics, and even gilded chiffon. His designs were timeless, classic, and meant to make the wearer more beautiful. The women that Galanos dressed include: Nancy Reagan, Marliyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Grace Kelly, Diana Ross, Betsy Bloomingdale, Rosalind Russell, Marlene Dietrich, Dorothy Lamar, Judy Garland, Loretta Lynn, Ali McGraw, Ivana Trump, Carolyne Roehm, Kim Bassinger, and Arianna Huffington.
Galanos retired from fashion in 1998, though he still attend his friend’s shows. He said that he was not happy with the direction that fashion was going: that the fashion at the time was only meant for young people and had lost its elegance. Galanos reinvented himself as an abstract photographer. James Galanos passed away in Los Angeles in 2016.
Galanos designs remain gorgeous, timeless, and in demand. They balance the line of modern and classic, and the details alone are stunning. If you’re hoping to add a Galanos to your collection, you can try 1stdibs, Etsy, or any high end vintage store.
I did find the following Galanos pieces at TheREALREAL for you, including one of his stunning furs!
It’s NYFW, we’re getting treated to the upcoming fashion and new (and beloved) designers and all the trends/designs/spectatcle that we will get to enjoy and wear over the next few months. So it seems a little odd that we’re talking about LA, right? LA and NY are different: in climate, in people, in fashion. Loves, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that and it is aok to love both cities (I do). But, this is unofficially LA week here on Investment Piece, and it wouldn’t feel right to leave out how special the fashion scene is here, and how many designers you know and love call LA home. My deserves our love, but let’s share some with the he West Coast too!
My favorite LA designers: Rachel Zoe
My most favorite things about LA Designer to Know Rachel Zoe is her strong point of view. From vests to flares to maxi dresses to fringe, a Rachel Zoe piece is easy to identify. And loves, that’s a great thing. I’ve mentioned more than once, a strong point of view is an important part of success; knowing who you are and who you’re talking to is a part of that, call it niche if you will. Rachel Zoe shows in NY often, but her vibe has her LA roots all over it. The fun fringe, the flared jeans, the platforms. All of these are LA approved.
Rodarte, another LA Designer to Know (even though they show in NY), is the stuff of my fashion dreams. Fantasy meets fashion sweat pants, the line makes everything from gowns, leather sleeves, blouses, fur coats, and sweat pants. And I want it all, it’s just that good. In the line’s own words:
Rodarte is available at several high end stockists and at Rodarte
Another LA Designer to Know is a personal friend, Elaine Kim. I’ve written about her more than once (see here and here
I just adore the laid back, classic pieces, that Elaine makes. Linen pants and trenches perfect for the beaches, drop pants and leather jackets perfect for LA nights and all the nights from here to Europe, around and back. I fall in love with every single piece, and I think LA ladies, from all over, will too.
Loves, I admit, I learned about Bree Layne doing research for this article. I made up for lost time, however, by quickly falling in love with her fashion though. Bree Layne, founded by actress of the same name, gives a nod to vintage styles, a nod to substainable fashion, and her pieces make you look like a modern Audry Hepburn. I’m in! In the Brand’s own words:
You can shop this exciting new brand at Bree Layne
LA is a magical places full of it’s own brand of fashion and people. This list of designers to know in LA is by no means definitive, in fact, I’d love to know yours!
You can shop my collection of LA designers below: