Tory Burch highlights the forgotten American fashion design


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Before there was Diane Von Furstenberg, Vera Wang or Tory Burch, there was Claire McCardell.

In the year Born in 1905 and beginning to design clothes in her twenties, McCardell helped define American fashion as we know it. During her time, American dressmakers sought inspiration from a growing cadre of European fashion designers, but McCardell was not interested in making luxury clothes for the upper crust. Instead, she wanted to create clothes that busy women would wear every day. She also had a knack for clever creations like pockets, ballet flats and dresses that fit different body sizes.

Claire McCardell In one of her own designs [Photo: Maryland Center for History and Culture, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Claire McCardell Photograph Collection/courtesy Tory Burch]

Unlike famous designers like Coco Chanel and Christian Dior, McCartel’s name has largely been forgotten. Most people realize that many of the clothes we wear every day trace back to the designs she created. Tory Burch wants to change that. The American designer is using her influence to highlight McCartel.

[Photo: courtesy Tory Burch]

Burch wrote the foreword to McCardell’s new book, what should i wear It was originally released in 1956. She has established a fellowship at the Maryland Center for History and Culture (MCCC) focusing on McCartel’s work, one of her largest collections. She also created an entire Spring/Summer 2022 collection inspired by McCardell, including reproductions of two of her designs.

Burch first met McCardell in an art history class when she was a student at the University of Pennsylvania. Even then, Burch was shocked at how little people knew about her. “It’s another example of how women have been neglected throughout history,” she says. “Many women’s contributions are not properly recorded, and young girls do not have the role models they should have. I think we need to change this collectively.

McCardell, behind a wardrobe, with a model; Unknown photographer, 1950s. [Photo: Maryland Center for History and Culture, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Claire McCardell Photograph Collection/courtesy Tory Burch]

Burch eventually launched her own label in 2004 and ventured into fashion. As she designed the collections, she began to see how McCartel’s work would continue on American fashion. “She borrowed from menswear and workwear,” Burch says. “She used unusual fabrics like denim and jersey. She brought new ways of looking at clothes, adjusting them, cutting them in new ways. I don’t know a single designer who wasn’t inspired by her.”

Left to right: Red and black plaid woolen dress with business fit fabric and monastic figure with self-belt, triangular collar and three-quarter-length pleated sleeves, designed by Claire McCardell, 1948. Pale-pink silk faille evening gown, designed by Claire McCardell, 1940. The. Green and black-plaid cotton “popover” dress, self-tie belt and button closure, designed by Claire McCardell, 1950s. [Photo: Maryland Center for History and Culture/courtesy Tory Burch]

In the year In the 1930s and 1940s, women were overwhelmed by their clothes; Many still wear corsets, Burch pointed out. But McArdle wanted to design clothes that would allow women to live a full and active life. Ever since she was a child in Maryland, she has been fascinated by fashion. She moved to New York City to attend the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts, now known as the Parsons School of Design, and then attended the school’s Paris branch. While many of McCardell’s peers were drawn to the art of French high fashion, McCardell was interested in combining beauty with practicality: she wanted to create pieces that allowed women to move freely.

A few years after graduating, in 1930, she was hired as an assistant to designer Robert Turk. When Towley began designing for a clothing company called Frocks, he brought McCardell with him. But in 1932, Turkey died in a diving accident, and McCardell was asked to complete the fall collection. Over the years, she was the brand’s most popular designer, with her name appearing on clothing labels. McCardell chose to spend her career designing affordable mass market clothing rather than luxury clothing. Most of her outfits cost $100 in today’s money.

Pumpkin-and-black rayon falls trapeze-style Monastic
Dress, trimmed with coordinating leather and fabric straps; Claire McCardell dress by Townley, 1950s. [Photo: courtesy Tory Burch]

In the year One of the first pieces from 1938, the monk’s dress, came with a belt without a defined waist, meaning women could wear it comfortably even as their bodies changed over time. The popover dress, perhaps her most famous piece, was a wrap dress designed in 1942 to be worn from the kitchen to a dinner party. A large pocket in which some women carry oven mitts, a rarity then (and today).

And she effectively invented the ballet flat. Instead of the heels of the time, ballet brand Capzio reached out to design a shoe with a sturdy sole that a woman could comfortably wear around town. “She was a woman,” Birch said. “She was driven by the concept of giving women freedom; men didn’t have to deal with these problems, so why should women?”

There is no reason why McCardel has faded from our collective memory. One possibility is that McCardell died of colon cancer at age 52, Birch Postas said, meaning she died at the height of her career and didn’t have time to build on her legacy. After her passing, her family immediately shut down her brand instead of bringing in another designer like most European fashion houses.

Burch believes we now have an opportunity to remember McCardell and celebrate her work. For one thing, she wants researchers and designers to archive her work, which is why she’s sponsoring a fellowship that would allow a fashion scholar to organize an exhibition on her. Burch herself spent hours at the MCHC, documenting McCarthy’s correspondence with famous designers and artists of the time, from Picasso to Yves Saint Laurent. “You start to see the global impact she had,” Birch says.

Burch also studied the clothes McCardell designed. “There aren’t many dresses left because women have worn the skirts,” Birch says. “That’s a lesson in itself. Today, women want durable and reliable and quality clothes. McCardell showed us how to do that.”

Tory Burch’s Spring Summer 2022 collection inspired by Claire McCardell. [Photo: courtesy Tory Burch]

But Burch thinks designers like herself can play a role in highlighting McCartel’s influence and legacy in their own work. As she designed each piece in her McCardell-inspired collection, Burch drew inspiration from McCardell’s work for both beauty and functionality. Instead of cinched waists, Burch defined their waists in dresses with belts, girdles and bandeaus. McCardell created two pairs of shoes, exact replicas of the flat and laced silk-cotton boots she created with Capezio in 1953.

Claire McCardell dress. [Photo: courtesy Tory Burch]

One of Burch’s favorite pieces in the collection is called the Claire McCardell dress. Made of cotton, it features a shoulder to hem drape that allows the wearer to move comfortably and features side pockets. It is both practical and beautiful, and it is surprisingly similar to many of McCartel’s famous dresses, although it looks modern. “People are very visible,” Birch says. “One way we can wait [McCardell’s] The legacy is in showing what she did. Her clothes are timeless.”


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