Claire McCardell Celebration – WWD

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It’s not exactly a comeback, but Claire McCardell has a moment.

Sixty-three years after her death, the American designer is enjoying a burgeoning appreciation, which has brought ballerinas, oversized pockets, zipper dresses, matching pieces, spaghetti straps and the monastic dress to generations of buyers.

More than 400 people showed up in McCardell’s hometown of Frederick, Md., For the unveiling of a 680-pound statue of him on Sunday. Tory Burch hailed the designer as the inspiration for her spring collection. The Maryland Center for History and Culture has announced the Tory Burch Claire McCardell Fashion Fellowship, which will begin early next year.

In a touch of appropriate irony, the bronze piece rests in the foreground of a public park with Union Mills, the first factory to make tights, in the distance. Perhaps more than any other American designer, McCardell has freed women from the constraints of proper attire. Ballerinas, modern dirndl, spaghetti straps, monastic dress and popover dress are just a few of her biggest hits. But after her death at the age of 52, WWD reiterated that McCardell made “no claim that I was the first with her on fashion, claiming too many elements go into it, which makes very questionable origins “. Her American look was all about living clothes that women could wear and afford.

Burch spoke rhetorically of McCardell’s enduring influence in an interview on Friday: “Beyond zipping a dress, pockets in clothes, that casual elegance and letting women feel free? Also, the idea of ​​accentuating the waist was something we wanted to think about. Everything she has done has had such an impact on so many people that it is even difficult to quantify its lasting impact because it has been everywhere. “

Patricia Mears, deputy museum director at the Fashion Institute of Technology, said on Monday that people who know a little bit about fashion history “truly revere” McCardell as possibly America’s greatest designer. “We had enormous talent in many areas. But if you’re talking about American ideals – democracy, accessibility, certain levels of freedom, fairness – McCardell fits that more closely. She doesn’t do haute couture and even the ready-to-wear she did was not luxury. It wasn’t what Norman Norell, Pauline Trigère, James Galanos were doing. They did a great job, but it was relatively expensive, ”Mears said. “While McCardell was making clothes for real working women of many classes. Besides creating practical things, she found a way to cut clothes so that you can customize the way you wear them on your own body.

A full-fledged athletic, McCardell had such a deep understanding of American sportswear that she served on a committee that helped create Sports Illustrated magazine, according to Allison Tolman, who oversees the centre’s museum and library collection. from Maryland. The magazine awarded him its first American Sportswear Designers award. McCardell, a Coty Prize winner and cover star of Time magazine, was also honored by President Harry Truman with an award from the Women’s National Press Club. His 1956 book, “What Should I Wear? The What, Where, When and How Much Mode, ”has been used by many colleges and universities as a textbook.

Working on behalf of the Frederick Art Club, sculptor Sarah Hempel Irani said the statue unveiled over the weekend must be larger than life, since McCardell was. Standing 7 feet 6 inches tall, the bronze figure depicts the uninhibited designer wearing a dirndl with one hand in a skirt pocket and her shirt collar turned up. Hempel noted that of the more than 5,000 statues of historical figures, only 7% are women.

The 7-foot-6-inch statue transported to Frederick, Maryland.
Courtesy of Sarah Hempel Irani

Transporting the standing statue 1,600 miles in the bed of a pickup truck (as advised by the Loveland, Colorado Foundry) to McCardell’s hometown was memorable. “You can imagine the curious looks we got along the way,” Irani said on Monday. “Every time we stopped for gas, people wanted to know who it was. When I started telling people this, people got more and more curious. [I told them], ‘She is the one who puts pockets in women’s clothes.’ ”

The new Claire McCardell statue by Sarah Hempel Irani

The new statue of Claire McCardell by Sarah Hempel Irani.
Courtesy of the Frederick Arts Club

Stan Herman said, “She was the first of the poets that I discovered in our industry. First of all, she was a female designer. They weren’t many. She did not make clothes that carried people. She made clothes that people wore. She simplified the message of how to dress. The clothes were so simple that they were deceptive. Simplicity is the poetry of our profession, and very often it gets lost.

After McCardell died in 1958 from colon cancer, more than 300 people attended St. James Church in Manhattan. Many in the crowd were the people who had cut, sewn, ironed and finished her clothes during her 25 years of affiliation with Townley Fabrics. Indicative of how gargantuan fashion brands became today compared to the time, McCardell’s estate was valued at just over $ 20,000, based on a 1949 will signed nine years older. early. In 1990, Life magazine named McCardell one of the most influential women of the 20th century.

Burch said of McCardell: “She’s been a hero of mine for a very long time. I have always been interested in women of substance. Even in college, I remember hearing about her and thinking, “This is someone who has transformed the way women dress.” I didn’t feel like people knew enough about her. Beyond our industry, I don’t think she gets the credit she deserves for really changing the way women dress, embracing empowering women, and making women feel more. free to express themselves as they dressed in the 1940s.

For her spring collection, Burch referred to McCardell’s signings, but wanted “I hope to do it our way, take it further and think about it for today,” she said. Dresses, knitwear, accessories and re-released Capezio ballerinas are some of the store’s top favorites.

A year ago, Burch and her team visited the Maryland Center for History and Culture to comb through the McCardell archives, which also include letters and other personal documents the designer left behind at the institution. Drawn to McCardell’s fearlessness, irreverence and his way of thinking about design, Burch said, “She was really someone who wanted to solve women’s issues. This is something that I have become very attached to. She definitely ignored the rules of fashion in the 40’s and 50’s. It was interesting to me that people in Europe turned to her.

In addition to McCardell’s design talent, Burch was also inspired by his wit and character. Noting that McCardell’s collections “were never meant to be valuable,” said Burch, “A lot of things actually don’t exist anymore, because people wore them so much.”

In 1938, McCardell created the “monastic robe,” which could be worn loose or belted. What some considered to be a forerunner of the “dress bag” had been inspired by an Algerian costume that intrigued McCardell at the Beaux Arts ball. After making a red wool version with a black leather belt and before going on vacation, she gave her team strict instructions not to show the design to retailers, convinced they wouldn’t want it. Best and Co. disagreed and presented it in their stores a month later and named it “Nada Fashion”.

In the grip of the prevalence of counterfeit monastic attire, Townley tried to fight them legally, but it brought the business down. McCardell had started his career painting lampshades at B. Altman before taking on a short-term design job. Before joining Townley in 1931, she joined Robert Turk, and after the creator of the same name died in a drowning, she was asked to complete her collection.

After Townley’s shutdown for two years, McCardell joined Hattie Carnegie. In 1940, when Townley reopened with new owners, McCardell returned as a designer and director with her own label. “Everyone looked at what she was doing, including the tailoring people in Europe,” said Burch, adding that McCardell often used very unusual materials at the time to put on a dress. “She took a lot of risks back then with the way she was setting things up. But now it looks quite modern.

The fact that her clothing brand ends with her is just one of the reasons her name recognition has not survived. “Don’t forget that the French know how to use their heritage very well. It’s part of a national mindset to respect fashion. In the middle of the century, haute couture represented more than 5% of the GDP [gross domestic product] in France. There is nothing like it in America. Someone like Christian Dior accounted for over 50% of the gross total that fashion brought in. Much of it was licensing. These companies benefit from the lasting legacy of these creators. An American is much more likely to remember a Chanel for this reason than McCardell, ”Mears said. “Even when we try to revitalize a name like Halston, it has been spotty.”

Thanks to the McCardell scholarship, which will last for one year, the objective is to advance museum professionals. The one-year program will include the creation of a McCardell exhibit at the Maryland Center for History and Culture. The pledge is aimed at preserving McCardell’s legacy as such an important part of American fashion, Burch said. The initiative will also familiarize young designers with his contributions.

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