Thursday, March 31, 2016

New York Fashion Cool-Aid ®

"Rock Paper Scissors"- Shoot Your Wad on Art for a Good Cause

All photos by Laurel Marcus
Click images for full size views

This could be my week on the A-list -- that is, if A stands for Art, since this is my second art related event in less than seven days. Last night's event, similar to the recent Patricia Field exhibition, hit at the intersection of art and fashion while throwing fund raising into the mix. "Rock Paper Scissors" the first annual art auction (run by Paddle 8), was to benefit Alphabet City Art School at The Lower Eastside Girls Club. The event was held at The Highline Loft on West 26th Street.


"You've got to visit the school-- it's incredible. It's just like Julliard, only on the Lower East Side," said well-known publicist/brand ambassador Amy Rosi, who I'm convinced knows absolutely everybody worth knowing on the island of Manhattan.

Bob Gruen, Elizabeth Gruen & Tommy Silverman

The auction featured 79 works of donated art from famous local artists including paintings, lithographs, sculptures, photos, collages and more. Many of the artists were present in the crowd including rock 'n roll photographer Bob Gruen who has chronicled just about every famous rocker over the past 40 years.He is especially associated with an iconic photo of John Lennon in a New York City t-shirt which is particularly apt since he was Lennon's personal NYC photographer. His 1977 photo of Debbie Harry in front of the Cyclone roller coaster at Coney Island was his auction contribution.

Scooter LaForge, Patricia Field & Jenny Dembrow

Another artist with a piece up for auction was Scooter LaForge who accompanied Patricia Field, a big supporter of the Girls Club. Pat actually told me about this event and confirmed that she has more time now to be social since the closure of her store. When this duo entered the room it was like the king and queen had arrived at the punk art prom. Scooter's charcoal on paper titled "Love Myself Better Than You" depicts two of his immediately recognizable clowns.

Chris Bors -- Happy Face #1

When I asked him which pieces he liked (besides his own, of course) he mentioned a collage of a shredded $1 bill (Napoleon), a Buddha-like sculpture in resin (Mao Buste McDonalds), and something "messy and round" which I believe could have been the monoprint (Happy Face #1), a work that somewhat resembles his own.

Skull (Diana Ross)
Silk Screen from vintage album cover by Peter Tunney

Noted event photographer Andrew Werner chose "Love is a Drug 'Louis Vuitton'" which features a raised plaster "pill" with an embossed LV, mounted on a card.

Chairman Trump
Silk screen

I could not decide which was my favorite but I definitely had to laugh over "Chairman Trump" by Knowledge Bennett, although of course, you wouldn't want to hang it in your house.

"Love Myself Better Than U"
Scooter LaForce

The event was hosted by Deborah Harry, Rosario Dawson, Cynthia Rowley and Chloe Sevigny however only one of these illustrious women deigned to show up. Give the gold star to Cynthia Rowley who appeared fashionably late, but, at least she appeared. Here's something I discovered about these art events: if you want to meet people, don't wear basic downtown black. I wore what I refer to as my "faux Balmain" jacket (it's a black, white and red shiny tribal beaded number) over a ridiculously flapper-esque fringed black Rachel Zoe short dress, patent leather booties and wood and plexiglass round drop statement earrings -- a turnout that certainly turned out to be a conversation starter amongst the art world habitues.

"Sounds Like Skewville"
by Skewville

I mention this because the jacket got me involved in a three-way (not THAT kind of a three-way!) between stylist Phillip Bloch and Cynthia Rowley who inquired about its provenance. After letting Bloch check my label (Cecelia Du Bucort), Ms. Rowley mentioned that it reminded her of something she had attended an event for and posted on Instagram; an upcoming TV show docuseries called "States of Undress" featuring Hailey Gates who explores remote areas of the world including the Congo for fashion finds. Apparently the beading on my jacket is reminiscent of the handmade work that they do in the Congo so I'll definitely have to check that out.
Patricia Field & Michael Krasowitz

As the two room space filled up and became claustrophobic (especially the second room with the hors d'oeuvres buffet) I couldn't help noticing that there were many more creatively dressed "peacocks" (men) than "peahens" (women). Males amongst the art crowd really put in a lot of effort to stand out including Michael Krasowitz of Art Clothing in a self-made incredible hand-painted floor length tunic; a guy named Prince (who recently worked for Nicola Formichetti) sporting a black jacket with silver Mylar-ish sleeves which read MINY (Made In New York)a company he has started; a guy in a red tail coat and top hat; several men in loud printed multicolored shirts; as well as Scooter LaForge in his own signature creation of a collaged clown suit (the clown on his back had fake eyelashes and other appliqued touches).

DJ Donna D'Cruz

I kept staring at the evening's DJ Donna D'Cruz since she wore an outfit that was so me. In fact, I own some of the pieces of her ensemble, granted in slightly different iterations. Check on the Norma Kamali fringed items (hers was the white pants and top; I own the black skirt and top), Check on the pair of oversized neon orange hoop earrings (Alexis Bittar designed for Jeremy Scott, I own the exact same ones as well as the matching bracelet), and the piece de resistance: the "Devil Ladies" Jody Morlock coat from Pat Field's Art/Fashion website (which sadly, I do not own).

Cynthia Rowley & William Powers

About halfway through the evening, Lower Eastside Girls Club Co-Founder Jenny Dembrow got up to say a few words about why we were all there. She spoke of how, in 1996, when local artists, activists and mothers got together to organize and build a girls club, everyone thought they were crazy to undertake something so ambitious. At that time there were two boys clubs in the area, yet nothing existed to serve the needs of the underprivileged girls.

"X Marks the Spot"
George Kroenert

Fast forward 20 years and things are quite different. The LES Girls Club now has a 30,000 square foot building on Avenue D from which they run over 50 free programs weekly, year-round for the local community, all established to meet the needs of girls (ages 8-23) living on the Lower East Side, an area which has the third highest number of children living in poverty in Manhattan. "Art is maddening but it can sometimes lead to a successful career," Ms. Dembrow said while encouraging the guests in the packed house to "please bid, eat and drink," no doubt in that order. Most guests seemed happy to oblige.




- Laurel Marcus

New York Evening Hours by Lieba Nesis

Dylan's Candy - A Resident of Union Square

Dylan Lauren
All photos: Lieba Nesis
Click on images for full size views

Resident magazine held its party to celebrate cover girl Dylan Lauren at Dylan's Candy Bar at 33 Union Square West from 6PM to 8PM. Entering a sugar haven is always a delight and the beauty of Dylan's is attributable to both its delightful decor and delicious treats.

Models Nneka, and Jennifer Ohlsson

Tonight there were a bevy of models standing in the doorway who appeared scared to move too close to the candy bins lest some of the calories enter their picture perfect body frames. The Lauren's have a magic touch with both fashion design and gastronomy, as exhibited by the outstanding success of the Polo lounge which is consistently booked every single day of the week at every time period.

Bonnie Evans in a Ralph Lauren jacket

Dylan, 41, is the daughter of Ralph and a mom to two children, but she is also an entrepreneur in her own right creating the world's largest confectionery emporium and lifestyle brand. Started in 2001, Dylan's houses over 7,000 sweet treats and also contains candy related lifestyle products from stationery to sweaters. Tonight was a celebration of Dylan whose svelte figure led me to question whether her love for sweets was sincere. However, she promised me that she loves sugar but engages in its consumption in "moderation" while maintaining a rigorous workout schedule.

Philanthropist & animal lover Jean Shafiroff

Dylan is low key and modest wearing a plain magenta Lauren jersey dress and stating that her father, Ralph, is her favorite designer. Dylan said she has 15 stores and is in the process of global expansion choosing to appear on the cover of Resident because it's a great magazine and they helped her launch her foundation which assists in finding homes for sheltered animals.

Jane Pontarelli and Rosemary Ponzo

As DJ Freddy spun tunes, the crowd poured in to sing the praises of the Lauren's with Bonnie Evans, one of Ralph's first models in the 70's, saying she was a big fan and was wearing one of his camel colored jackets. Another old friend, Bo Polk, also clad in Lauren, spoke of Ralph's continued loyalty to his high school friends and recalled the day he learned he was changing his name from "Lifschitz" to "Lauren."

Michael Travin and Vincent de Paul

Vincent de Paul, Emmy winning producer of "The Bay" said that Versace was his favorite designer but he loves to wear Ralph when he is on camera because his clothing looks "so cinematic." After overdosing on some chocolate covered strawberry treats and sno-caps,

Michael Travin and Melissa Kassis

I ran into Michael Travin, Publisher of Resident, who said he chose Dylan as cover girl because she has an expanding business which has national recognition and her personality appeals to both kids and adults. He said he admired her business acumen and pleasant persona and was looking forward to future covers with phenomenal businesswomen such as Barbara Corcoran.

As the DJ played the Rihanna song "Work" I headed home to tend to some writing and recount the highly saccharine evening I had just experienced.






- Lieba Nesis

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

New York Evening Hours by Lieba Nesis

Cocktails & Clothing - The Perfect Mix

Romona Keveza
All photos: Lieba Nesis
(Click images for full size views)

Romona Keveza held a cocktail party at her penthouse flagship at One Rockefeller Plaza on March 29 at 6PM in honor of the 34th Fred and Adele Astaire awards which will be held in June. Regrettably, my poor sense of direction had me twirling around the ice skating rink inquiring as to where this address was located.

Models in the gowns by Romona Keveza

Arriving at my destination, I headed to the 33rd floor to meet Keveza, the designer, who started her company in 1999 and has been creating gowns for Angelina Jolie, Kendall Jenner and Kate Beckinsale.

Consuelo Vanderbilt and Suzan Kremer

Beckinsale recently wore one of her gowns to the Academy Awards and Keveza brought this dress as well as others in emerald green, ruby red and floral print to the showroom. Keveza said that a lot of her designs are inspired by James Galanos, a favorite of her mothers, and her pieces were reminiscent of Galanos, with long dramatic trains and crisp tailoring. Additionally, Keveza uses the most expensive five ply silk crepe material, justifying her prices which start at $3,000 for cocktail attire and $6,000 for gowns.

Jean Shafiroff

The crowd was comprised of socialites: Jean Shafiroff, Pamela Morgan, Paola Bacchini, Consuelo Vanderbilt, Montgomery Frazier and Nicole Noonan. It was also great to see some rarely spotted luminaries such as actress Sean Young and book publisher Maureen Regan.

Pamela Morgan

What could be more enjoyable then sipping on champagne with the accompaniment of beautiful dresses and great company. However, the event was beginning to wind down and I was headed to Beautique to watch some "Real Housewives" tend to their duties-none of which were household related.




- Lieba Nesis

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

New York Fashion Cool-Aid ®

Inside Patricia Field's New Art/Fashion Website Launch

Debi Mazar, Rick Poppel, Patricia Field
Click images for larger views

Cheer up downtown denizens and anyone else who likes one-of-a-kind wearable art! Although famed costume designer of iconic movies (The Devil Wears Prada) and TV shows (Sex and the City and my new fave Younger), Patricia Field recently shuttered her long standing retail store, all is not lost!

You can now find a curated version of her former store as an online art/fashion gallery (patriciafield.com) featuring made-to-order garments custom painted by several of her hand-picked artists. These include Scooter LaForge, Suzan Pitt, Jody Morlock, Iris Barbee Bonner, Thomas Knight, Suzanne Mallouk and Kyle Brincefield. Several of these artists already have a fan base of performers (as you will see below) and can be delivered worldwide.

Suzan Pitt Comic Coat

This past weekend I attended a short-lived exhibition of the Patricia Field Art/Fashion at Howl! Happening Gallery. This was really an exhibition within an exhibition as the Arturo Vega Project of Insults (and curses!) served as a perfect backdrop to the occasionally NSFW clothing.

Linda Fargo and Patricia Field

In contrast to the crowded scene of eccentric and colorfully dressed characters who swarmed the space on Thursday night's opening party (hosted by Mx Querrk the costumed character pig mascot, and sponsored by Perrier), I showed up on Friday morning as the weekend only exhibition opened to the public, to a totally quiet yet still dramatically colorful environment. Unlike the evening before there were no Younger actors such as Debi Mazar or Nico Tortorella, no fashion icons such as Linda Fargo, actually no people at all. What I did encounter, besides the lingering smell of weed, was the chance to float freely amongst the highly personalized garments, all the better to appreciate each one without distractions.

Pat Field has always turned to artists including those of past decades such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat who sold painted garments in her famous 8th Street shop. Now, she looks to the burgeoning talents of today with a who's-who of young creative visionaries. The 75-year-old legend feels that art and self expression in clothing is especially important lately as a response to the weariness of "fast fashion," mass production and homogenization. Items are available for both men and women or you can send the artist one of your own clothing items to customize.

Works of Scooter LaForge

Definitely the "ring leader" of the artists is Scooter LaForge who has been featured in T Magazine and Forbes, and has recently worked with Walter Van Beirendonck on a menswear collection collaboration as well as an installation of painted army clothes for VFiles.  Perhaps his biggest moment came when Beyonce ("pretty much the Holy Grail!" ) selected one of his army trench coats from some items that her stylists chose for her at Pat's store and wore it to a 2015 NBA All Stars game.  He got so many orders for that coat:  "I can draw that clown with my eyes closed now" he added. His aesthetic is very much  "clothes as canvas" and the idea that art should be accessible to everyone rather than the few who buy a piece of art for their wall.

Scooter LaForge Clown Jacket

Scooter loves cartoons (as do several of the other artists) and describes his work as "shocking, ugly, playful, and scary." He also finds clowns "kind of sexy" which should give you some idea of why he often features them in his work. LaForge embraces the idea of collage and will mostly use objects that have been found or given to him for his often multi-textural designs. He finds head-to-toe designer looks "boring" and encourages any owners of a $20,000 Birkin to individualize it by painting on it themselves!

Looks of Iris Barbee Bonner

It took me a minute to figure out why Iris Barbee Bonner's designs looked familiar to me. She was the designer responsible for the "graffiti" slut-shaming/feminist catsuit and dress worn by Amber Rose and Blac Chyna to the MTV Video Music Awards last year. Bonner's brand is known as These Pink Lips and while her aim is to promote the strength of women, she does it in a provocative way, hence the slogan "P***y Power." She also uses some rather suggestive fruit imagery, along with the tagline "It's Only A Banana." Ahem --enough said!

Back of  Women Comic Coat by Suzan Pitt

Also embracing cartoon imagery is Suzan Pitt who had some of the most striking and interesting designs on coats, trenches and denim jackets. Her paintings and animated films have been featured at MoMA, The Whitney Museum of American Art and many others. Her designs here include a "Big Flower Coat", a Tattoo Coat as well as the Comic coat. Pat recently outfitted actress Sutton Foster of Younger in one of her blouse designs which is featured on a poster for the show.

Jody Morlock Rhinestone Snake Painted Coat

I also really liked some of Jody Morlock's more colorful, geometric coats, dresses and suits. "It is a mashup of two ideas.  Take something old and make it new. Paint, stitch, knit, embellish and JUST PLAY," is her motto. All of her pieces are gathered through thrifting but whether name designer or not, she hopes the original designer "would be charmed with my collaboration and amused with the metamorphosis."

Works of Tom Knight

Tom Knight or Tom Tom was discovered by the buyer for Patricia Field's boutique who saw a friend wearing one of his creations.  She quickly ordered some custom pieces for the store which were snapped up by Lil' Kim, Amanda Lepore, Beyonce and Miley, to name a few. He collaborated with famed stylists B. Akerlund, Arianne Phillips and Nicola Formichetti and has been commissioned to make custom pieces for the tours of Madonna, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry.  His work has also appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine and on the runway for Mugler.

STUDMuffin Spiked Beanie Shorts and skull top backpack

Kyle Brincefield started a company called STUDmuffin NYC in 2010. He draws inspiration from Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf and Stephen Sprouse and Pat called him "one of her missing puzzle pieces" when she began carrying his line in 2012. He has a celebrity following including Alicia Keys, Miley Cyrus, Missy Elliott, Gigi Hadid, Emma Watson, Jena Malone, Carmen Electra, Adam Lambert and more as well and has been featured in Vogue, Cosmopolitan, GQ, i-D Magazine, Nylon Magazine, Paper Magazine and The New York Times Style section.

Works of Suzanne Mallouk

Suzanne Mallouk has a slightly different background than many artists. She is a psychiatrist, writer and artist whose most recent works feature black leather jackets with stenciled words on the back "meant to conjure up a cacophony of marching urban blackboards." She is the author of "Widow Basquiat" which chronicles her life as the artist's girlfiend in the East Village during the 1980s. Her work has been shown at the Patrick Fox Gallery of the Chelsea Hotel and is in various private collections including that of Trey Speegel, Patricia Field and Alda Balestra.

According to LaForge, this is Pat's core group of artists.  "Everyone has either worked at the store or knows Pat from the '80s.  That's the beauty of Pat Field," he told me in a phone conversation.  "She gives everyone opportunities and her loyalty".  As for the opening launch party that I missed, he describes it as "a point in time."


"It was like a color bomb exploded in the room which was full of people who express themselves with their clothes.  There were the people from Advanced Style along with the club kids."  Unsurprising when you take into account that Pat has been around as long as the boomers, yet is still very much relevant to a new generation of millennials.

Feeling inspired to take paintbrush to your apparel? You might want to tackle the canvas Keds before attacking the leather Kelly. Who knows? If you're any good, Pat may add you to a future roster of online artists.




- Laurel Marcus

In the Market Report

Rediscovering Bonnie Cashin

Bonnie Cashin in her Studio
Photo credit: corbisimages.com 

I can’t remember exactly when I first fell in love with the brilliant, pioneering designer Bonnie Cashin, (ca.1908 – 2000), who was among the “most critically acclaimed and commercially successful designers of the 20th century”, and considered to be the “mother of American sportswear”; but I do remember our meetings at her UN Plaza studio when I was a fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar. By choice, this 5 foot tall dynamo, whose career began as a costume designer, was about as far removed from 7th Avenue as could be. She never trained to be a fashion designer, did not consider herself as such, and actually disdained the term. Above all else, she considered herself to be an artist (she studied painting and drawing and approached fashion as a “studio artist”).

Not only do I remain a huge fan; quite frankly, the older (and wiser) I become, and the more I see, the more appreciative I am of her inherently modern, versatile, simply cut yet highly distinctive, smart and practical designs that perfectly merge form and function. She truly thought outside the box and it’s not lost on me that we just happen to be at a time when fashion is celebrating and embracing each and every one of these things. Everywhere I look, I see bits and pieces of Bonnie, whose work is so highly influential it is now commonplace and, as such, it's easy to forget their origins.

Her aim had always been “to create simple art forms for living in, to be re-arranged as mood and activity dictates”.  She was obsessed with making unfussy, wearable, comfortable clothes that were easy to get in and out of and move in; perfect for busy globetrotting women like herself. In an article that appeared in The New York Times back in January 2001, “Designed for Living”, the late Amy Spindler observed that Bonnie “photographed her clothes on models dancing, jumping, running, laughing. While so many clothes today seem designed to slow women down, distract them and take them out of the game, Cashin’s invited women to play—to win.”

Handbags in an ad for Coach

Among her inspired ideas: referencing ‘humble’ work clothes and using timeless shapes from the history of the world (military uniforms, togas, kimonos, ponchos, tunics, Noh coats); inventive layering; mixing fabrics and textures (such as leather with tweed or mohair, and suede with canvas); the employment of new and interesting industrial-like metal closures instead of traditional buttons and zippers: dog leash clasps, brass turnlocks and toggles (inspired by the ones that closed the top of her convertible); handbags with double entries (when she worked at Coach, 1960 – 1975, she revolutionized the handbag); and “problem solving” garments with multiple uses.

Bonnie Cashin for Sills butterscotch plaid mohair
wool dog leash skirt 1960's

Thus, the funnel necked sweaters whose necklines doubled as a hood, and ball-skirts fashioned from yards of weightless mohair made all the more innovative with the use of a dog-leash clasp which enabled the wearer to instantly change the length. This was inspired by “Cashin’s own frustration at tripping over her skirts when hosting a party and trying to navigate with a martini in hand”.

Vintage red leather jacket with attached  handbag

Then there were the coats with built in coin purses and “pocketbook” pockets with latch closures. Her use of pockets, a signature, were often so pronounced (they were made for carrying books around), they obliterated the need for carrying a handbag, freeing your arms and keeping you unencumbered: the essence of modern. Sometimes the pockets were placed in back as well as the front. Just a note, I wouldn’t put my valuables there if I was planning to go on a crowded New York subway (lol). But I suppose the Oakland born designer never considered the threat of pickpockets, which one could blame on her cheerful optimism and preternaturally sunny California disposition.

Marilyn wearing Bonnie Cashin in Bill Cunningham's On  the Street column,
December 11, 2011

As for her fabulous coats, they look as good today as they did some 50, 60 years ago (if not better) and they are highly collectible (they can be found on vintage websites, at vintage shops, and of course, eBay and 1stdibs). I am fortunate to own 7, including a duo in mustard and olive leather and raccoon that are short and trapeze shaped and hooded. They are not only durable and the warmest coats I own, they never fail to elicit compliments from complete strangers whenever I wear them. I have been photographed in both, several times, by Bill Cunningham for his ‘On the Street Column’.


Though perhaps the coat that is most ‘Bonnie’, is the nubby wool, short, full checked coat in shades of orange, teal, red, purple, ivory, which is piped in ivory leather and has two huge pockets (she loved checks, Scottish plaids, and vibrant colors used in unorthodox combinations). FYI, the same exact coat is currently for sale on 1stdibs. (Buy now)

It’s that modern, timeless element, and the enduring, high-quality of her designs (everything was made in small amounts as opposed to being mass produced), that unites many of us fellow Cashin fans. We ‘get’ it and we ‘get’ Bonnie’s artistic, madcap, somewhat boho, freewheeling, rule breaking aesthetic. I call it the “Cult of Cashin”; “Birds of a feather flock together”. It’s what brought Dr. Stephanie Lake, the foremost scholar on Bonnie Cashin, and me together.

In September 2010, I received an email from Dr. Lake after she saw a picture of me wearing my Bonnie Cashin tan thick canvas and leather coat during New York Fashion Week. She told me about her very special personal and professional relationship with the iconic designer and explained that she is the caretaker of the Bonnie Cashin archives (www.bonniecashin.org), the most comprehensive in the world. She also told me that she curated the first major Cashin retrospective (it was at the Museum at FIT and opened 7 months after her passing in 2000).


Click here to purchase book on Rizzoliusa.com

Fast forward to March 2016. We are now back in touch because the publication date of her monograph “Bonnie Cashin: Chic Is Where You Find It” is April 12th. The hardcover 290 page tome, published by Rizzoli, is so named because that was the designer’s favorite phrase (she always found inspiration in everyday objects). The forward, “The 10 Commandments of Cashinism”, is written by Jonathan Adler, who admits to worshipping at the “alter of Bonnie Cashin”. It doesn’t surprise me in the least bit, that this potter, designer, author and design aficionado (and Simon Doonan’s husband), is a self-professed “Cashin addict”.

On April 13th, Dr. Lake will at Rizzoli (located at 1133 Broadway at 26th Street) for a book signing that will take place from 6 to 8 PM and, in celebration, the store windows will feature 3 ensembles from her archives. We have conversed though a number of phone conversations and emails, and she has been a wealth of information. She is so articulate and animated; you could literally feel the love, admiration, respect, and awe she feels about her subject. “There is longevity to her designs…the geometry, the color, the texture, the utilitarian elements”. “She was so stubborn and completely transfixed by her own vision - she was always ready to walk away and be a painter”. She enthused that in addition to keeping her archives completely intact, Bonnie was “brilliant and gorgeous”. Of course, I would like to point out that the same can be said about this brilliant and gorgeous woman who can also boast that she is only the fifth person in the world to hold a PhD in decorative arts, design history, and material culture. Her curatorial work has taken her to Tokyo, London, Paris, and Istanbul, but she now resides in Minneapolis with her husband and young daughter.

Oh, did I mention that she is very much involved in philanthropic work and has her own design collection of otherworldly, one-of-a-kind luxury jewelry (www.stephanielakedesign.com), which incorporates different centuries and design elements (Hollywood Regency, mid-century, 70s-era Fleetwood Mac, and glam rock).

Leather multi pocketed coat
Photo: Charles Lee

She told me that she was first introduced to Bonnie Cashin’s designs in 1997 while working as a research consultant at Sotheby’s and, when she saw the designer’s turquoise leather “paperback” pocket coat meant for toting books, it was love at first sight. The coat was subsequently given to her by Tiffany Dubin and Dr. Lake said she always receives compliments when she wears it. It’s easy to see why. Soon after, she met Bonnie (she was in her early 20’s and Bonnie was in her 80’s, though she thought the designer was at least a decade younger because of her high energy level and unbridled enthusiasm for life). They became so close the designer referred to her as her “older sister” and they saw each other every week or so until her passing.

Dr. Stephanie Lake's Bonnie Cashin Archives
(Photo by husband)

“We had lunch plans the day she went into the hospital with chest pains. I did not get to say goodbye. I still have my old answering machine tape with her voice on it.   She never had a computer so it was all phone calls, lunches, and visits to her apartments at the UN. I would dig through her archive for days at a time, and she would pop in with a plate of cookies and see what I had discovered”. With her unrestricted access to her archives, which were entrusted to her, she was able to follow through on her promise and dream of penning a book about Bonnie (and Rizzoli was always at the top of her list as publisher). Even though Bonnie was an iconic, highly influential, highly celebrated, award winning American designer (she won every fashion award, multiple times) who is considered to be one of the most significant pioneers of ready-to-wear and sportswear, and whose work is constantly being referenced, Stephanie has always felt that she has nonetheless been highly underrated and has always “campaigned for Bonnie’s significance”.

 One of Bonnie Cashin's sketches

She refers to the book, (a labor of love filled with approximately 350 images which were edited down from over 650) as “A visual pleasure” quickly adding, “But then of course, there was an embarrassment of riches to begin with”. Eye candy it is. Everything about the book is visually arresting, highly personal, and informative, down to Bonnie’s own dictums. Among them: “All the things that are ‘in’ and ‘out’ are ridiculous. They’re ‘in’ if YOU like them”. And,“Fashion should be pure enjoyment. Our closets are shockingly overstuffed. One does not need clothing for practical reasons. One only needs new clothing to feel wonderful in”. And then there are her fabulous sketches which are scribbled with her own marvelous notes and bursting with exuberant joyfulness.

Among the fashion notables who are quoted is Bill Cunningham, who knows a thing or two about fashion, and among other things, happens to be the ultimate fashion historian. He raved after attending Bonnie’s Living Sketchbook show in December, 1962, and said he felt as though he had been “shot into the 21st Century” with models that were “just too sexy for words!” “This is the comfortable future!” he exclaimed, and added, “The French should see Bonnie’s clothes- they really would rejuvenate Chanel.”.” He also suggested that there should be a “national monument in her honor”.

It’s not “a typical fashion history book” the author points out. ” It’s more about “attitude and approach. “The approach to design is what was important to Bonnie. Not the ‘what’ but ‘why’.” Even though the book is “scholarly”, Dr. Lake considered the designer’s “life as a whole”, so she hopes that “people will feel as though they are walking into Bonnie’s life” when they read it. Mission Accomplished! In addition to be completely transfixed and inspired, Bonnie truly came alive, and I found myself wishing that Bonnie was still with us and she could share our thoughts on fashion.

Dr. Lake also answered four questions I had.

1: How did the iconic brass turnlock closures first come about?

Crescendoe-Superb leather gloves  1972-1974

“The turnlock was inspired by the toggle closures that secured the top of her convertible roadster that she drove in the 1940s. In 1964, she began using it on all of her designs, and it remained her signature until her retirement. They were mass manufactured (never custom-made) and in the 1970s a model told the press that Bonnie was still sourcing them from automobile manufacturers. They appear on her designs for more than 10 firms from 1964 until 1985, and they are still mass-manufactured, and readily available, today”.

“Bonnie loved all types of industrial hardware. I have a box of samples that she collected—the turnlocks, tent zippers, dog leash clasps, some from firefighter’s uniforms, others inspired by old-fashioned appliance handles. She took credit for introducing the term hardware to high fashion, and was pioneering in her refusal to use anything conventional (fussy, delicate, or difficult) as a closure”.

2: What about her love of boots?

 A booted look from the 70's

“Knee-high boots were her preference; she considered “the booted look” one of her great contributions to 20th-C fashion, first showing it in Harper’s Bazaar in 1944, and in the early 1960s she designed a few. A description for a 1963 coat reads “Boots should go with it and pants can.”She did wear high heels in the 1950s, but thereafter usually very low heels and considered footwear such a nuisance that she once wrote “The problem with dresses is feet!”

3: To belt or not to belt?

Marilyn in Bonnie Cashin coat taking during
NYFW September

When I sheepishly admitted that I tend to belt my Cashin coats (they generally feature tent like, trapeze shapes, and I pull them in to fit my small frame), she exclaimed, “Oh, Bonnie would love that!” Of course, they are so beautifully made and fabulously cut, that they look as good worn loose and unbelted as well.

4: Why the hoods and head coverings?


Bonnie Cashin in Scholars Hat 1957

“She collected hats from around the world and, as a globetrotter; she thought it was important to be able to tuck your hair away after a long train ride or boat crossing. She attached hoods to everything—her ponchos, jackets, cashmere sweaters, jersey dresses. The Madonna hoods and her cashmere funnel necks were staple designs, meant to provide an additional layer to the head when needed (she layered these attached hoods under hats). Hoods were always fully integrated, with shapes carefully considered whether they were pulled up or flung back, often outlined in varying widths of leather banding to create a certain silhouette.”

“She loved any head covering. She claimed to be able to think more clearly with something on her head”.

Hmmm, think more clearly? I’ll have to give that one a try!




- Marilyn Kirschner