Friday, May 2, 2008

Bonnie and her Technicolor Dream Coats

Let's talk about Bonnie Cashin here for a moment. I'm her new biggest fan.

Jetsetter, fiercely independent and whimsical with lines like "Wouldn't it be nice if I could get a tweed by spinning together a bird's nest and a spider's web?" I know.

Wednesday, I was down in the catacombs, going through a whole cache (ha) of Bonnie Cashin artifacts that the school had received as a gift some time ago. These include pattern pieces, press releases and photos, sketches, and garments.

Bonnie received no formal fashion design training but was the costume designer at Twentieth Century Fox during the 1940's, designing for over sixty films. Eventually, she transitioned into making coats and suits. Dissatisfied with limiting her skills (if you could call it that, the coats are brilliant) in this market, she began designing in all sorts of capacities, launching the accessories division of Coach in the 1960's, and designing for Hermes and American Airlines. In her time, no designer crossed as many design categories as she had, and she never licensed her name. She is also credited with introducing layered looks, to keep up with a jet-setting lifestyle that might find her breakfasting in one climate, and having dinner in quite another.

Yipe! Space was so tight, I couldn't get a full head-to-toe, but this is pretty representative. The monster beret is made out of mohair. The coats actually looked like they could keep you warm, too... when does that happen anymore?

As I organized and archived sketches with their corresponding garment, I became enthralled. First, the sketches. Here at school, our croquis drawings are required to be as anatomically and 3-D correct as possible (I disagree with this, but I see the value in it). Bonnie's were just a swoop and a dash and a scribble here and there, but the garments are so simple, anything more would have been to take away their souls. Her specialty seemed to be large, cocoon-style coats that tie close or fasten with metal toggles, ponchos, capes and other simple things. The very best part, though, is the fantastic technicolor tweeds and plaids that the coats are crafted from --identifiably 1960's and 70's but completely timeless.

Enjoy the haute (hehe) textile action below!

My fave, and actually rather Coach-looking, now that I'm thinking of it. My camera doesn't do it justice. An eggshell background, transversed by navy, poppy red, camel, butter yellow and peach. All of her coats were piped in leather. The leather goods company she worked for loved her, but she wasn't all about making leather things all the time. They worked out an agreement where as long as her designs were at least piped or edged in leather, they would continue to manufacture her wool, mohair or canvas creations.

Light grey background with electric tangerine, watermelon and cherry houndstooth.

I'm not even sure if this pattern has a name, but it came from a two-piece skirt suit, the jacket sporting lengthy fringe along the bottom hem. I immediately pounced on it, being rainbow-y purple and intricate.

A coat whose fabric is made of huge, slubby yarns in the most saturated hues ever: orange, mauve, forest green, grey-blue....

If you want to check out some full-length views of some of Bonnie's stuff, you can check out the Bonnie Cashin Foundation's beautiful and comprehensive site.

[info help from Wikipedia. info and Bonnie Cashin image via BCF. other images courtesy of the Historic Costume and Textiles Collection at The Ohio State University.]


WendyB said...

Check out this vintage Cashin dress:

Elissa said...

Oh wow! Thanks for the link! I would love that over a turtleneck and tights for the fall! With one of those monster berets...

madam0wl said...

Hello, I followed a blog link from w_r on flickr... cool bits about Cashin. A grad student that graduated last year from our program wrote her thesis about Cashin- "Bonnie Cashin: Connecting the designer to the designed garment through a material culture analysis of five examples of her work, 1962--1975
by Bute, Martha Jane, M.S., Iowa State University, 2007, 126 pages; AAT 1447581"

Elissa said...

That sounds fascinating! I'm realizing that Bonnie might just be one of my favorite designers of all time and can see myself springing for a vintage coat if I can find one this fall...