Great American Designers of the Past

Posted by Laura
Tweet It | Facebook It | Pin It

Calvin Klein with actress Elizabeth Perkins, model Sara Kapp and photographer Berry Berenson Perkins in his workroom: "My clothes are loose, easy, and sexy—on blouses, I put the top button low so a woman can't button it up too far...But the mood is always casual...sleeves rolled or crushed to make it seem as if the clothes had been worn a lot."

Laura McLaws Helms is a fashion writer and historian currently living and working in New York. Specializing in the influence of vintage clothing on contemporary design, Laura acts as an exhibition curator and period design consultant. Laura is currently working on an exhibition and accompanying monograph on the fashion designer Thea Porter.  Laura is also the co-founder and managing editor of the new fashion and at magazine, Lady. We are thrilled to share her debut column today!

With New York fashion week officially starting today it seems rather prescient to look back at the great American designers of the past. The February 1975 issue of American Vogue profiled 11 of the main designers working out of NYC 's Seventh Avenue at that time—according to Vogue, these designers "...make fashion—they give our times its look. Not in the old high-minded sense: they don't dictate, they simply approach the question of dressing today in the most modern, realistic, and attractive way..." With evocative photographs by Deborah Turbeville, each designer is portrayed in their desired habitat with their ideal models showcasing the newest collections—while the designs themselves are all glamorous examples of easy-to-wear American clothing, the variety within the industry is shown through the vastly different ways each designer wanted to be represented.  

Some of the designers have become icons (Halston, for example), two are still designing (Oscar de la Renta and Donna Karan), while others have been forgotten by all but the most obsessive of vintage collectors (Britta Bauer Luhrs for Cinnamon Wear, anyone?). The structure of the American fashion industry has changed dramatically in the last 39 years (much in part to the success of some of these designers), making it intriguing to study the current batch of Vogue darlings in light of the career evolution of the Class of '75.

(L) Halston lounging in his living room with Betsy Theodoracopulos and Elsa Peretti: "...What's more enticing than a pair of beautiful legs on the dance floor." 

(R) Britta Bauer Luhrs, of Cinnamon Wear, with models Yasmine Sokal and Katja Schuler: "Simple, honest, innocent clothes, wrapping around the body like air... everything is just one step up from blue jeans and a T-shirt."


(L) John Kloss in Tom Wesselman's studio with art critic Barbaralee Diamonstein, hair stylist Christiaan, model Katka Schuler and Claire Wesselman (in front of one of Tom Wesselman's paintings): "My most important shape is the large but controlled silhouette—a tent, really, but the fabric is always so soft that it falls against the body, not away from it..."

(R) Bill Blass at La Grenouille with actresses Valerie Perrine and Aurore Clément: "When I traveled across the country with my fall collection, women in every city asked me to do dresses they could wear to a cocktail party, then onto dinner and a restaurant."


Geoffrey Beene in his showroom with socialite Gloria Vanderbilt and actress Sally Kellerman; of him Vogue writes that his designs are "...perfection without stuffiness, romance without violins—the key is his coloring and fabric and the utter simplicity of his small, soft line. His clothes are expensive... and irresistible."


(L-top) Mary McFadden in her New York apartment with models Jean Vanderbilt and Beverly Johnson: "...every detail so the fabric will flow... sleeves are slit, the cut is bias, so the whole trend is that the body is floating!"

(L-bottom) Carol Horn in SoHo with five friends: "I'm inspired by color—soft, muted colors that blend and work together beautifully."

(R) Donna Karan, then of Anne Klein, with Margaux Hemingway: "I chose Margaux because she is so full of life, youthful, beautiful, and very American."


(L) Oscar de la Renta in his apartment with friends Lois Chiles, Louise Melhado, and Andrea Portago: "This is the most feminine collection I've ever done—fluid, fragile, diaphanous."

(R) Kasper at La Goulue with broadcast journalist Barbara Walters: "Clothes that can be used several ways to make a wardrobe seem much large that it is."

You May Also Like

Real Time Web Analytics