"The Malcolm Starr All Starrs" ad from 1970 (l - r): Malcolm Starr, Malcolm Starr International, Malcolm Charles, J.G. Couture and Gino Charles (bottom).
After seeing Cherie’s recent post about a Malcolm Starr dress she has for sale here on Shrimpton Couture, I thought I would introduce all of you to the real Malcolm Starr. There are many Seventh Avenue manufacturers from the mid-20th century whose clothes are highly collectible and their names well known in vintage circles, but who are not personally well remembered. Malcolm Starr was the son of Frank Starr, a Seventh Avenue manufacturer who specialized in mother-of-the-bride and formal dresses in the 1940s and 1950s. Malcolm studied electrical engineering as an undergraduate and got a Master’s in management, but then joined his father’s company in 1956 to start a subsidiary line, Malcolm Charles, of “custom look” clothes for street, afternoon and cocktail wear. When Frank Starr died on his way home from work one day in 1961, Malcolm was left the whole business. At the time the company was struggling and Malcolm slowly made changes, both in production and brand image, which shifted them from almost bankruptcy to $5 million in sales by 1965. Re-branded from “Frank Starr” to “Malcolm Starr,” he hired Elinor Simmons to design the main Malcolm Starr line of predominantly cocktail and evening clothes. In addition, he set up a separate company in Hong Kong (Colinda Ltd.) to produce both a lower-priced Malcolm Starr line for international markets and also to manufacture the elaborately beaded and embroidered gowns that Starr became so well known for—these “jewel-top chiffons” were noted in WWD as the “national uniform for country-club dances, benefits and platform appearances… At the average charity ball, more dresses come from Malcolm Starr than any other single resource. They have the knack of hitting all the happy mediums in fashion—never too far out and much more expensive-looking than they are.”
After Malcolm married a beautiful Japanese model in 1967, he used his business talent to establish a very successful joint venture with the Japanese department store chain, Isetan. He also established several other lines under the “Malcolm Starr” umbrella. Collaborating with Teal Traina, he founded Gino Charles (taken from their middle names) for younger and less expensive cocktail and evening dresses—they started it to make American styles available in markets around the world with the cut of the garment altered to fit the typical body type in each market. J.G. Couture was added to the stable of lines in 1969. Malcolm Starr International was designed by Youssef Rizkallah from 1969 to 1975. Simmons left as head designer of Malcolm Starr in 1972, with Rizkallah and Carol Horn staying on; after Horn left in 1974, Bill Tice joined briefly in 1975.
Shifting retail trends caused Malcolm Starr to file for bankruptcy in 1973, but the company was able to sort out new terms with their creditors and stay in business. During its Chapter XI negotiations Malcolm Starr was bought in 1974 by the Kreisler Group who were interested in exploiting Starr’s Hong Kong factory and production facilities. Malcolm Starr and Alan Ginsberg, head of Kreisler, had a falling out in 1975 when Ginsberg tried to cheapen the line and make lower-priced, poor quality dresses—after that Starr pulled away from the company that bore his name, and retired to his home in Long Island with his model wife and collection of Maseratis.
Malcolm Starr dress photographed by James Moore for Harper's Bazaar, January 1967.
Malcolm Starr by Elinor Simmons ad from 1965.
A Malcolm Starr by Elinor Simmons silk and metallic chiffon dress; photographed by Irving Penn for Vogue, September 1968.
Malcolm Starr dress photographed by Neal Barr for Harper's Bazaar, September 1970.
Barbra Streisand in Malcolm Starr by Elinor Simmons. Shot by Bert Stern for Vogue, August 1964.
One of the beaded dresses Malcolm Starr became famous for, photographed by Irving Penn for Vogue, September 1966.
A Malcolm Starr by Elinor Simmons chiffon dress; photographed by Hiro for Harper's Bazaar, April 1970.
A Malcolm Starr by Elinor Simmons jersey dress in Syria; photographed by Henry Clarke for Vogue, December 1965.
A Malcolm Starr ad from 1968, featuring a dress designed by Simmons.