The New Importance of American Fashion

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James Galanos, one of the most avant garde designers, is equally good at pure flattery—as here: navy-blue worsted that looks like a charming suit, is actually a charming dress, with a white linen dickey across the front.



It is not commonly known that renowned documentary photographer Bruce Davidson, early in his career, spent a few years shooting fashion on the side. Though he signed with Magnum in 1957 (at age 24), published his first major documentary work (Brooklyn Gang in 1959) and won a Guggenheim fellowship in early 1962, Davidson also photographed several stories for Vogue in between 1960 and 1962. Drawing on the skills he picked up on the street—capturing Cartier-Bresson's "decisive moment"—these photographs are moody, enigmatic and the perfect foil for these all-American fashions. The colour palette is subdued, the effect slightly soft focus, the models poised. The tailored designs are divine and in the early sixties were seen to have new value in the fashion industry, as described by Vogue below.


Photos by Bruce Davidson for Vogue, March 1962.

The new importance of American fashion is simply this: there are, in this country, at this moment, an unprecedented number of good designers turning out good clothes, and—by the sheer diversity of their ideas and the weight of conviction behind them—encouraging in American women a fine-edged horror of type-casting. American women have, in fact, become as stubbornly individualistic as the designers who design for them, increasingly more proficient at the knack of finding their own best looks in fashion and making them, clearly, theirs. Of the designers represented in this issue of Vogue, some are dazzling innovators, often startling, always exhilarating, never arbitrary. Some charm quietly, giving off waves of freshness and excitement without seeming to have changed at all—but changing nevertheless. Some convey a whole new fashion idea through colour, some through line, some by cutting or draping fabric in an unexpectedly fresh way. Some are frankly big-money designers, some relatively modest. All, however, have this in common: their clothes can be bought from Boston to Portland. The point is, American designers design for the market known as ready-made, an off-the-pegs word that in their hands has come to stand for a beauty and luxuriousness and quality that hasn't a ready-made equal in the world. The clothes here—highlights from this spring's collections—are shown at another kind of American phenomenon: the new Chase Manhattan Bank in downtown New York, where the walls are hung with superb paintings; the corridors dotted with sculpture; leaves grow, like money, on a small jungle of potted trees; and the money itself is—reassuringly—stashed away in the biggest vault under earth. 



Norman Norell has been called the very essence of fashion—not only a creator of superbly made clothes but a designer so perceptive about the women for whom he designs that he manages to convince, with each collection, that this is the look they can't live without. That craving this year is based, in part, on suits like this—a gored, near-circle of skirt and a pillbox jacket in marigold wool tweed; the sputter of polka dots here belongs to a sleeveless silk blouse.



Galanos experiments—with line, colour, proportion; delights in the surprise of simple, almost austere shapes in extravagantly romantic prints. This look is as characteristic as a signature: a short, covered-up evening dress in printed silk georgette floated over printed grainy silk.



Jacques Tiffeau stands for fluid, uncompressed shapeliness. His silk matelassé evening suit, for Tiffeau & Busch, has a yoked, high-curved jacket, full skirt.



Sarmi is the champion of the soft, the feminine, the unsentimentally pretty. His princess coat with its bias-cut skirt, and long graceful sweep down the back, is in blue wool plaid.



Gustave Tassell is known for the purity and restraint of his designs ("Every stitch is significant," one critic said). Example, beige wool coat dress.



Geoffrey Beene, the bright young man at Teal Traina, has the boldness and acute sense of timing that makes a great designer (he was one of the early exponents of the high waist, wide belt; in wool plaid).



Jacques Tiffeau's clothes are as fascinating inside as out—shaped by some of the most ingenious seaming around. His high-belted wool tweed coat dress.



Ron Amey of Burke-Amey is absorbed by colour and texture, likes them in offbeat combinations. Example: off-white wool tweed coat, slashed with gold-braid chevrons and worn over a high-waisted dress of thin, lemony wool crepe.



Norell is charmed by the great American loves, treats like discoveries—in luxuriousness. As authoritative as a suit, his grey-and-white wool tweed stole and skirt worn with a tucked pink silk shirt, a wide belt.



Ben Zuckerman is called the dean of tailors—his fans say, infallible. The fitted suit with its schoolgirl pleats and shortish red-leashed jacket, is of red wool tweed dashed with black.



Dan Millstein traffics in dash, uses colour with great wit. Orange-and-white plaided over a slice-of-orange dress.



Jo Copeland of Pattullo has the gift of understatement; her soft, beautifully made little suits - such as the ivory-and-claret-coloured plaid—are American loves. This suit is made of wool jersey.



Robert Knox's designs for Laird-Knox are known for impeccable taste, expert tailoring of interesting fabrics, often jerseys, soft wools. A mustard-yellow wool coat, high-waisted, collarless, with easy fullness belted in; in Anglo wool bouclé.



Matlin's specialty in coats and suits that are pretty, wearable, and timely - like this coat which might get the spring of 1962 off to a spirited start: crisp navy-blue worsted-and-silk, small-waisted, with a wide skirt, wide red leather belt.



Arthur Jablow, with his designer, David Kidd, is known for clothes with an understated luxury, a satisfying year-round elegance. Example: full-length coat of Anglo camel-coloured wool fleece, and a skirt to match; white silk satin blouse.



Originala's famaous coats are classic but un-hackneyed, often made in superb luxe fabrics; vicuna, chinchilla cloth, cashmere. One of their quiet masterpieces—an updated polo coat, clearly 1962 with its higher waist, its round collar.



Philip Hulitar, famous for romantic evening dresses like this one, has a way with chiffon, pretty printed fabrics. This wealth of silk organza is covered with big, brilliant zinnia-blue flowers has a wide magenta-coloured satin sash. The top is closely fitted, unbare.



Herbert Sondheim knows the way American women want to look, makes clothes that give a head start toward looking that way. Sara Ripault's version of Sondheim of a year-round look in red and brown Paisley chiffon.The top is cut like a camisole, the skirt very full. Sequins outline the Paisley on the dress-top and the wide silk scarf.



Frank Gallant is known for his handsome, unpretentious tailored clothes. A coat with unlimited dash. It's made of wide wale cotton corduroy; the cut, both lean and easy; the colour, a distinguished grey-beige. Attractive brown wooden buttons, diagonal pockets.



Eric Lund—new designer whose very successful first collection has an original, made-to-order look, unexpected ideas (one such: an organdie trench coat, apricot coloured). From that collection, the white worsted jersey dress with an asymmetrical yoke at the neck, a narrower one at the waist.

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