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.



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.

image imagePoster 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” (


  1. Sally Schwartz December 16, 2016 / 12:15 pm

    This is one of your best posts yet, such fun to imagine you in that turquoise ensemble Nena!!

    • nenasnotes December 16, 2016 / 2:11 pm

      Thanks so much Sally. She was so much fun to know and work with.

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