It has been so much fun to post about Stephanie Lake and Bonnie Cashin all week. Now it is my turn to talk a little about my experiences with the innovative creator, Bonnie Cashin.
Bonnie Cashin as I remember her.
One thing I don’t think I have mentioned during my Fashion Flashback ramblings is that I was well aware of the fashion icons I was working with. They were all very much my idols when I was growing up and reading all my fashion magazines (I would check the newsstand, a couple of blocks from my home, on an almost daily basis to see if the new Vogue, Seventeen, Harper’s Bazaar had arrived, the newsstand owner always saved copies for me). I clipped them and did inspiration boards of my favorite fashions, models, designers, colors, etc. I don’t remember ever not loving the glamour of the industry and started sewing for my dolls and making clothing for my Brenda Starr paper dolls at a very early age. As I got older I along with my Mother, Ruth, made all my clothes. I never wanted what anyone else had. Can you imagine how exciting it was for me to work with and, in many instances, be able to call, these pillars of my industry, my friends?
Bonnie Cashin was one of them. She often came to the Chicago store and on a couple of occasions visited our Old Orchard store as well. As was usual with our visiting designers we did formal commentated morning staff presentations as well as formal shows for clients. Bonnie’s collection, she did some exclusive items for Saks Fifth Avenue at the time, was always totally different from any other designer, for that matter any designer now. They were right up my alley, I loved the casual elegance of the fabric, the practically of the designs but most importantly I loved the creativity and joyousness of the designer. We hit it off immediately and would chat on trips to and from the airport as well as in between shows. On more than one occasion she decided she wanted me to be in the shows, I was a sample size then! I had done a couple of bridal shows when I began at Saks but modeling wasn’t my career path. I was, of course, very excited to be chosen to model for her. What I find amusing now, certainly not then, was that I was producing the shows, lining up the models, calling the runs, etc. and I would call out a certain number and the model didn’t appear. I thought this strange…in those days I had each model, maybe two, in a fitting room and they would dress and get into the lineup. Where was the model!!!! Silly Nena, the model was me! So much for my modeling career. Once I realized I was in the show it was great fun for a change.
Yes, I did wear color! Bonnie suggested this would work nicely into my wardrobe. As I have mentioned, I’m not a blue gal, but this was definitely turquoise and who was I to argue with the designer! This outfit, leather coat and wool jersey dress which I donated to the Collection several years ago, was a part of the Chicago History Museum Costume Collection 2014-2015 exhibition Chicago Styled: Fashioning The Magnificent Mile. The outfit found its place in the sun, it appeared in numerous editorial pieces on the extraordinary exhibition
Labels from the garments. Above photos courtesy of the Costume Collection of the Chicago History Museum.
I would let Bonnie know when I would be in New York for market, usually twice a year, and we would get together for tea in her U.N. Plaza apartment or go to dinner in her neighborhood. Her apartment was tiny and filled with all her wonderful world travel memorabilia, whose stories she enjoyed sharing, the walls were white with the fabrics, art, and graffiti on the walls providing the vivid color she so loved. Conversation was easy and went into all directions. She was a voracious reader and, of course, had wonderful tales to tell about her Hollywood days. I still treasure those times.
Here is a three piece outfit of mine that I donated to the Costume Collection at the Chicago History Museum. I loved this outfit, of course, I did it is green and looks like the new Pantone color, Greenery, for 2017! The wool jersey stripe dress has a collar that snaps on the sides to form a funnel neck, you see it down here, it is trimmed in leather, which could peek out from the leather dress and/or under the looped wool mohair coat.
All above photos courtesy of the Costume Collection at the Chicago History Museum, taken especially for nenasnotes.
I remember when we no longer showed Sophie garments in the Annual St. Luke’s Fashion Show (now the Rush Woman’s Board Fashion Show, which just celebrated it’s 90th Annual Fashion Show!) I took a chance and totally changed direction and decided to present Bonnie Cashin on our group of models, all society ladies. Her collection that season was inspired by Native Americans and I even had the models wear moccasins, it was a huge hit, totally against what everyone was expecting Saks Fifth Avenue to present. Great fun.
A look that I showed at the St. Luke’s Fashion Show. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Lake.
I always loved her sketches…wish I had asked for one as well as having a photo with her, ah for hindsight and cell phones!!!! Sketch from the Bonnie Cashin Archives courtesy of Stephanie Lake.
Probably my “funniest” remembrance was many years ago Bonnie was giving a lecture in conjunction with an exhibition of her pieces in the Mount Mary College fashion collection. I took a train to Milwaukee to attend the presentation and to surprise Bonnie. At the time, I didn’t realize how far the Mount Mary College campus is from downtown Milwaukee! I took a cab from the train station and it took forever to get to the campus. The lecture was just over and I dashed up the stairs to say hello when I got to one floor she was on another so up and down I went and up and down she went….it was like a comedy routine! We never made contact, again had we had the technology we have now all would have been saved! I hurried back to the station and got a very late train back to Chicago, not a happy Nena! I shared the story with her and she was as sorry as I was that we had missed each other and didn’t share the surprise visit.
Poster by Steven Stipelman, I adore his work. This poster hung on my office wall along with one he did of a Norman Norell gown. Both posters are now in the Nena Ivon Archives at Columbia College Chicago. I took this, not beautifully cropped, image with my iPhone.
Bonnie Cashin was awarded many honors in her career, two I find unique are her medallion on the Fashion Walk of Fame in New York (someone really needs to photograph these beautifully and do a book…they are quite amazing!). The other is the Sports Illustrated American Sportswear Design Awards which she received in 1958, it’s third year, I mentioned the Award in my post on Anne Fogarty. Bonnie was not present to accept her award for the “Sporting Look Award”, she was, according to a Sports Illustration account, “barnstorming”, as Bonnie called her travels, in Europe and India
The joy of having been exposed to the creativity and the humanity of Bonnie Cashin was a huge bonus in my career. There wasn’t anyone like her before she came on the design scene and there isn’t anyone like her now!!!! Again, thank you Stephanie Lake for bringing our Bonnie to the world, she would have loved it as she loved you! Fashion History made better and more complete!
“Bonnie Cashin: Chic Is Where You Find It” (https://www.amazon.com/Bonnie-Cashin-Chic-Where-Find/dp/0847848051).