Photo of Bonnie Cashin Courtesy of TheGlobeandMail.com
If you had to name the “mother of American sportswear” who would it be? Are you stumped? It’s Bonnie Cashin, who started her career as a Hollywood costume designer and became one of the most influential and least-known fashion mavens in the industry. Who knew? Well, just ask jewelry designer Stephanie Lake, caretaker of the extensive Cashin archive www.stephanielakedesign.com and author of “Bonnie Cashin: Chic is Where You Find It.”
. Photo of Stephanie Lake with Bonnie Cashin Archive, Courtesy of Erika Loeks for MinnesotaMonthly.com
Stephanie enlightened me at an event in early fall sponsored by the Chicago History Museum’s Design Council, where my friend Annette Findling is an active member. I became intrigued by Cashin because she was so quietly influential compared to some designers. After the event I caught up with Stephanie via email and asked her for more info:
Photo by Erika Loeks, Courtesy of MinnesotaMonthly.com
SB: What is Bonnie’s greatest contribution to fashion?
SL: Her ideas, once radical, are now generic fashion terms: season-less wardrobes, mix-and-match separates, winter pastels, and most famously, layering – the concept and the term. She inaugurated the use of hardware in high fashion, too.
SB: How did you meet and become good friends?
SL: I was working at Sotheby’s New York in the fashion department, and a Bonnie Cashin coat came in for auction. When I tried to research her I was shocked to find that there was virtually nothing published about her work.
SB: What happened next?
SL: I called her, we met for tea at her UN Plaza apartment and immediately struck up a long-lasting friendship.
SB: That’s pretty amazing! Why did you write a book about her?
SL: One of the most iconic fashion designers of the last century was going to disappear from the historical record unless a serious examination of her career and archive could take place.
SB: Why didn’t she become a celebrity like other fashion designers?
SL: Bonnie did not play by the rules. She worked as an artist in a home-based studio that she called her “secret laboratory.” She did not license her designs and did not have any assistant designers. She turned away untold millions of dollars because, as one colleague said, she was “too bloody uncompromising.”
Photo Courtesy of Pinterest.com
SB: What impressed you most about Bonnie’s work?
SL: Its enduring validity is singular. Every year, elements of Cashin’s work still inform and influence high fashion, including designers such as Perry Ellis, Calvin Klein and Miuccia Prada.
Photo Courtesy of Coach.com
SB: What would surprise us about her inspiration?
SL: Most notable is the brass turn-lock closure inspired by the convertible top of her 1940s sports car! She used it on all of her clothing and accessories from the 1960s through the 80s. This iconic piece is still used by many companies today, particularly Coach.
SB: Have you worn some of Bonnie’s pieces?
SL: Her work is completely integrated into my regular wardrobe, and they never fail to elicit comments as I dash about.
Photo Courtesy of StephanieLakeDesign.com
SB: As a jewelry designer, do you feel a connection to Bonnie?
SL: I work almost exactly the way that she did. I work alone, in a “secret laboratory” and I only design what I want to own and wear. We both worked from complete imagination, never looking at what other designers were doing.
SB: What is your favorite quote?
SL: Two favorites: “Accepted practices are not sacred,” and “Chic is where you find it.”
SB: Sounds like Bonnie Cashin, right?
SL: Of course!
SB: Thanks, Stephanie.