Posts Tagged ‘Claire McCardell’

DVF-40th-CompositeI don’t pretend I do original things. Dresses aren’t creations. Since a dress was a dress, it had two sleeves and one skirt.

– Diane von Furstenberg in 1973.

She may not do original things, but she does original things to things – namely, the dress. This year Ms. von Furstenberg celebrates the 40th anniversary of her iconic wrap-dress. What was a wardrobe staple for every working woman in the 1970s has endured over the decades and become an American fashion classic.

Claire McCardell's Pop-over dress even came with an oven mitt.

Claire McCardell’s Pop-over dress even came with an oven mitt.

(Although, I’d like to point out that Claire McCardell designed the Pop-over dress in 1942, which was also a wrap. But that dress was intended more as a stylish pinafore that could be worn alone or over another ensemble for use at home doing the chores. It could be said that the Pop-over was the first wrap dress for working women and Ms. von Furstenberg designed a modern update.)

Usually made of  jersey, Ms. von Furstenberg’s wrap-dress creates a slinky, sexy look and was a favorite at Studio 54. Cybill Shepherd wore it in the 1976 film Taxi Driver and Amy Adams sports a vintage Wrap in American Hustle. Michelle Obama donned the dress for the family’s first Christmas card from the White House. Madonna says she puts on The Wrap whenever she wants to look respectable.

Ms. von Furstenberg admits that although she’s always been grateful to The Wrap for paying all her bills, for a long time she took it for granted. Until she realized, hey this really is something.

Part of the year-long celebrations includes an exhibit, Journey of a Dress, which runs through April 1, 2014 at the Wilshire May Company Building in Los Angeles.

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Ms. McCardell in her “Futuristic Dress” cut only of triangles. Photo: Erwin Blumenfeld. 1945.

Sports clothes changed our lives because they changed our thinking about clothes. Perhaps they, more than anything else, made us independent women. In the days of dependent women – fainting women, delicate flowers, laced to breathless beauty – a girl couldn’t cross the street without help. Her mission in life was to look beautiful and seductive while the men took care of the world’s problems. Today women can share the problems (and possibly help with them) because of their new-found freedom.

–  Claire McCardell (1905-1958), award-winning American fashion designer.

This quote was taken from an essay Ms. McCardell wrote for Sports Illustrated in 1955. What revolutionary thoughts! And in 1955 – we had such a long way to go.

Ms. McCardell was known in the 1930s through the 1950s for her innovative use of sports wear elements in women’s fashions. Like Chanel before her, Ms. McCardell broke barriers and designed clothing for women in which we could move, breathe, and live while still looking attractive. She was the first designer of her era to stop considering Paris fashions and focus on a new American look. This new style was more casual favoring every day fabrics such as denim, calico, and stretch jerseys in drapped and wrap styling. McCardell’s fashions did away with girdles, shoulder pads, and heavy construction. Comfort was key and she designed always with the idea of – “clothes should be useful.”

I agree with Ms. McCardell, however, I wonder what she would think of the way women dress today. We seem to have taken her ideas too far, in Uggs, flip-flops and yoga gear, completely sacrificing style for comfort and ease. I believe Ms. McCardell was striving for both.

Cycling ensemble including McCardell's signature Superman Hood. Photo: Kay Bell. 1944.

Cycling ensemble including McCardell’s signature Superman Hood. Photo: Kay Bell. 1944.

I just finished reading Claire McCardell: Redefining Modernism, by Kohle Yohannan and Nancy Nolf (Abrams, Inc., 1998). This was a really interesting read covering the designer’s early life and entire career from her schooling at Parsons to working for Hattie Carnegie to her early death in 1958. I particularly enjoyed all the fabulous photos included, which exemplifies how we can successfully combine comfort with style.

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sjcf_01_img0259Reminding you that casual never means careless and that the appropriate is always the aim of the woman with a true sense of Fashion and the taste that goes with it.

– Claire McCardell, celebrated American women’s fashion designer of the 1940s and 50s.

This quote is taken from Ms. McCardell’s 1955 book, What Shall I Wear?: The What, Where, When and How Much of Fashion, which was recently reprinted by Overlook Press.

Ms. McCardell’s designs helped put America on the fashion map after World War II. While Paris was getting back on its feet, America launched ahead in fashion and Ms. McCardell was among the leaders. Designing for the new active woman, she favored mix-and-match separates and was the first to make denim a chic option.

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