Watch Out, World, Here Comes Diane von Furstenberg

Before the ubiquitous wrap dress, before the CFDA lifetime achievement award and the multi-million dollar luxury brand, Diane von Furstenberg was just a newbie designer making sales calls from her living room. OK, she wasn’t just any newbie designer, she was Princess Diane von Furstenberg through her marriage to German Prince Egon von Furstenberg in 1969. The 23-year-old Belgian and her husband had recently moved to New York City, had a baby and quickly became a fixture in the society pages, thanks to her good looks and great fashion sense. But von Furstenberg wasn’t one to rest on her title. When the New York Times profiled the princess on this day in 1970, she Read More »

Remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire or, In Praise of the Ladies Garment Workers Union

If you were a teenage immigrant in New York in the early 1900s, you might have worked in a dress shop. And if you worked in a dress shop, you would have worked nine-hour days, probably crammed into some moldy basement with locked doors and a complete dickhead for a boss who was likely also a mobster. You would make about $3 a week—about $77 in today’s world—but you wouldn’t be able to keep it all. Some of it you’d have to give back to your dickhead boss (who sometimes beat you) to pay for the thread Read More »

Fashion Statement: Mollie Parnis

“I’ve always had a theory that good designing doesn’t mean dresses you have to throw away every year. Things shouldn’t go out of date overnight.” —American designer Mollie Parnis, who was born on this day in 1905.

Parnis’s inspiration to go into fashion came thanks to a very important first date that resulted in her first-ever design—and then some. A young man working in the fabrics industry had invited her to a football game, and she pestered her mother for a new outfit. “She took me down to Division Street and got me a navy dress,” Parnis said later. “I still remember it. Blue serge.” After the football game, her date offered to take her dancing and suggested she go home and change. But she was wearing the fanciest dress she owned, so she cut the neckline with scissors and added a lace collar from a blouse of her mother’s Read More »

Three “Socko” Designers: Betsey, Willi and Getty

Oh, to time travel back to this day in 1971! I’m totally grooving on this ad for a three-designer in-store appearance and informal fashion show on this day in 1971 at Franklin Simon, an old Manhattan department store that closed its doors in 1979. On this Monday afternoon from noon to 2 p.m., the store was hosting fashion designers Betsey Johnson, Willi Smith and Getty Miller, the latter of whom I can barely find a drop of information about, for an informal fashion show and meet-and-greet with these “really socko” designers. “We urge you,” the text reads. “These people are the ones who are leading the way—influencing the directions that life is now taking.” Read More »

Forget the Thread and Needle, Just Use the Eye: Hattie Carnegie’s Sixth Sense of Style

If Hattie Carnegie had been a contestant on Project Runway, she never would have made it past the first round. The famed Seventh Avenue dressmaker, who died on this day in 1956, did not know how to sew. A Time magazine tribute noted that, “her needlework was atrocious, and if she ventured to baste a hem it was likely to sag.” But she had an eye for editing and the gene for style, so it’s no surprise she was able to build up an $8 million empire on the “little Carnegie suit.”

Born Henrietta Kanengeiser in 1889, the designer appropriated the famous steelmaker Andrew Carnegie’s name for herself in the hopes of living out her own rags to riches fantasy. Growing up in a poor family of Austrian immigrants, Carnegie starting working at Macy’s department store at age 15. That, as they say, is where it all began. She was no awkward tween wallflower, and the youngster felt confident enough to weigh in on a window display of a black, beaded evening gown, suggesting to the fitter that it needed a white fur collar and cuffs. The dress sold fabulously well with the Carnegie touch. And so, a fashion prodigy was born.

In 1909, Carnegie and a seamstress friend set up shop together as Carnegie—Ladies’ Hatter. Rose made dresses and Hattie made hats to sell in their tiny, second-floor shop, Read More »

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