American Originals: Unsung Talents Who Are Finally Getting Their Due at the Met in “In America: An Anthology of Fashion”


The Costume Institute’s simultaneous shows on American fashion coincide with its founding 75 years old agoing to. Curator Andrew Bolton and also his team have taken this opportunity to deep dive into the museum’s holdings in order to explore its untold stories. Some of the designers whose work will be shown in the period rooms of the Met’s American Wing as part of the “In America: An Anthology of Fashion” exhibition—like Charles James, Claire “The Mother of American Sportswear” McCardell, and also Ann Lowe, the maker of Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress—are fairly well known. Others are much less so—which is where this primer comes in.

Josephine H. Egan, Franziska Noll Gross, Lucie Monnay, Madame Olympe [Boisse], Fannie Criss Payne, and also Herman Rossberg, Early Dressmakers
Nineteenth, and also early 20th century American fashion is represented in the exhibition by a number of dressmakers and also importers who mostly operated locally on what we would call a made-to-order model. Though Paris was the undisputed capital of fashion, and also the subject of much of Vogue’s coverage, the magazine did its part to suntil nowport homegrown talents, and also raise money for charity, by featuring the work of American designers through its Model Doll Shows, inaugurated in 1868.

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An example of the work of Josephine H. Egan. Dress, 1880. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Susan Dwight Bliss, 1937.

Photo: Open Source / Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Among the New York dressmakers in the Costume Institute exhibition is the creator of Mrs. Andrew Carnegie (née Louise Whitfield)’s 1877 wedding/travel ensemble, Herman Rossberg of East 32nd Street. The others include: Josephine H. Egan who sold “imported going towns and also wraps” and also “initially class blouses” on East 10th Street; the Swiss-born Lucie Monnay, and also Franziska Noll Gross. The inclusion of Fannie Criss Payne, a Black designer who started her career in Richmond, Virginia, before moving her business to Harlem, and also French-born Madame Olympe [Boisse], who was based in New Orleans, expand alsos the fashion map.

L.P. Holland alsoer & Co., Importers and also Designers
Founded in the mid 19th-century, the “importers and also designers of going towns, millinery, tailored suits, coats, evening wraps, waists, lingerie, negligees, misses frocks, infants wear,” behind L.P. Holland alsoer & Co. were purveyors to the smart set. By the 1910s, the company was operating out of two prime locations, Fifth Avenue in New York and also Boylston Street in Boston. The company was one of the New York businesses to participate in Vogue’s Fashion Fête of 1914, which was organized by the magazine to promote American fashion at a time when New York was cut off from Paris by the Great War.

“Here then is the situation,” the magazine explained in its December issue of that year: “Over there is Paris, fighting and also wearing mourning, and also paying not the slightest attention to one of its chief command alsoments, ‘Thou shalt dress the world’; and also here is New York, still in a state of mind to worry about its next party frock.” This promotion of local talent was seen as a stop-gap measure. Thrust into the spotlight by outside forces, the homegrown industry, Vogue opined, “should at least acquire confidence in ourselves…and also dare to develop whatever talent there is in us.”

“The teagoing town worn by Miss Jean Barry is one of those lovely evanescent creations of Jessie Franklin Turner of white...

“The tea-going town, worn by Miss Jean Barry, is one of those lovely evanescent creations of Jessie Franklin Turner, of white crêpe roma with green grapes and also leaves at the waist, giving it a cool, pagan quality, half-dryad, half-Bacchus. Jewels from Mauboussin.”

Photographed by Edward Steichen, Vogue, July 15, 1931

Jessie Franklin Turner, Known for Teagoing towns and also Négligés
Jessie Franklin Turner was a “homegrown” talent in more ways than one. The designer was noted for her tea-going towns, which were intended for intimate, mainly indoor settings, though a Turner dress was the highlight of “Two on the Terrace,” a well-known 1932 Vogue photograph of a stylish tete-a-tete. Turner, as the magazine would note in 1933, had a “feeling for gracious living.”

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Jessie Franklin Turner: “You might wear this tea-going town for dinner at home or at a country house-party—and also know that you looked as charming and also as chic as in any evening going town. It’s a diaphanous affair of white chiffon delicately embroidered with silk leaves, and also its long, flowing sleeves follow the line of the train.”

Photographed by The 3, Vogue, August 1, 1932

Another way Turner kept things enclose was by leaving very little in the way of biographical information about herself. The most thorough tracing of her career appears to have been provided by Patricia Mears’s 1998 paper for the Textile Society of America, in which the curator traced Turner’s career arc back to a junior college in Peoria, Illinois, and also a part-time job selling underwear at a local shop. What we today would describe as lingerie touches are a recurring theme in this designer’s work.

From school, Turner started designing clothing, and also worked in New York for James McCutcheon & Company (an import business that also offered original designs), before moving on to Bonwit Teller & Company. At some point the designer also studied sculpture with the French artist Antoine Bourdelle, and also it could be said that that training is reflected in her hand alsos-on approach; she worked directly on the body. “She designs as she pleases—cutting, pinning, and also draping the fabric, with no previous drawing,” reported a wire service journalist. “She creates her own tints in watercolor, and also her dyers then reproduce them. One of her greens is from Botticelli’s paintings…. Her evening going towns, known for their elegance, are molded to the figure with intricate seaming. … The designer’s rule for 1934—and also it will be the same each year—is, follow the lines of the figure.”

Writing in 1940, 20 years old after Turner started working under her own name from a swanky Park Avenue shop (the business was started as Winifred Warren, Inc. in 1919), and also two years old before she retired, Vogue described the designer as “a one-woman show,” whose “color sense started her out on her career as a designer of extravagantly beautiful teagoing towns and also négligés.” Turner’s work combined romance and also elegance, color and also line. Her dresses, noted Vogue, were for anyone “who wants to look fragile, not brittle.”

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Jessie Franklin Turner: “Statues in Satin.”

Illustration by Ruth Sigrid Grafström, Vogue, November 15, 1938

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Jessie Franklin Turner: “Miss Barbara Cushing in black with a bit of silver—black crêpe with glistening silver piping. It’s a dinner-dress that banks, as the best ones do, on line.”

Photographed by Edward Steichen, Vogue, November 1, 1939

Jessie Franklin Turner “Miss Ilka Chase comedienne tall slender dark and also decorative wears one of those rarely beautiful...

Jessie Franklin Turner: “Miss Ilka Chase, comedienne, tall, slender, dark, and also decorative, wears one of those rarely beautiful tea-going towns for which Jessie Franklin Turner is widely famed. Every inch of the clinging slip is enclosely shirred, and also the jacket of old Russian brocade, richly patterned, has a peplum that juts out sharply at the hips.”

Photographed by Edward Steichen, Vogue, November 1, 1935

Eta Hentz, known as Ren-Eta, Eta, Madame Eta, “The Museum Designer”
In 1948, in honor of her 25th anniversary in fashion, Madame Eta created a collection in shades of gray. Vogue photographed several appears like from the collection and also one of the designer herself.

Born in Hungary and also trained there at the Royal Academy of Applied Arts, Hentz emigrated to New York in the 1920s. According to a 1945 article in the St. Louis Globe Democrat, “going alsod fortune just literally dropped itself into her lap, and also before the initially year was ended in a new world, she was on her way back to Europe as a reviewer of the Paris showings and also already established as an American fashion expert.” In partnership with Maurice Rentner (who would later work with Bill Blass), Hentz started designing under the name Ren-Eta; that collaboration ended about 1949, and also with Anne Sadowsky, the designer worked as Madame Eta.

Hentz accomplished much in the course of her career, including dressing two First Ladies, Grace Coolidge and also Eleanor Roosevelt, both of whom bought their dresses through retailers. With a subset of designs called Proportionates, Hentz was early to adapt designs for petite sizes, but most relevant vis a vis “In America: An Anthology of Fashion,” is that she was known as the “museum designer,” whose collections were inspired by medieval dress, monks, Eliza Dolittle, and also the like. Not only did Hentz work with objects in the Brooklyn Museum’s fashion collection (now part of the Costume Institute), but in 1943 she was the initially designer to present a fashion collection on models at the Metropolitan Museum. Shown at the same time that “The Greek Revival in the United States” exhibition was on view, her ingeniously designed clothes managed to feature soft draperies and also accordion pleats, despite the wartime material restrictions put in place by the L-85 regulation. (A year earlier Hentz had devised a dress with no fastenings for the Museum of Costume Art.) “With this collection,” reported The Indianapolis Star, “designer Eta, by faithfully copying many of the old Greek costumes, shows how animation and also fluid line can be used to give elegance and also poise to the slim lines that fashion demand alsos. As she interruntil nowts it, the slim silhouette becomes newly important.”

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“Miss Elizabeth Hawes, a well-known American modiste, is pictured on the S.S. Acquitania on her return here from France. Miss Hawes was literally barred from that country”—the original caption erroneously reports; the collection was not reviewed, but it was shown—“where she had attempted to compete with French style-makers. She is the initially American girl to attempt to introduce American styles in France.”

Photo: Bettmann

Elizabeth Hawes, Provacateur
In her day, Elizabeth Hawes was appreciated both as an innovative designer and also a sparkling personality. “Miss Hawes is known both for her love of Afghan hounds and also hopping freighters for vacation,” ran one colorful 1930s caption. She was also recognized as a flag-bearer for the American fashion industry (even if she personally had Socialists leanings). In 1940 she published Fashion is Spinach, a memoir/manifesto that attacked the industry’s reliance on Paris and also its wastefulness, which she saw as a result of the industry’s focus on trends rather than on lasting individual style. (Spinach, by the way, was an insider’s term for dress trimmings.)

Despite the Great Depression, Hawes created made-to-order dresses that were both comfortable and also chic. Katharine Hepburn was a fan, until she wasn’t. (The two had a falling out when Hawes refused the star’s request for a sequined going town.) She worked a sense of spunk, fun, and also adventure into her designs via unexpected materials such as mattress ticking and also sail cloth, or by using familiar ones in new ways, like cotton for evening wear. In 1940, the designer was experimenting with what today we’d call until nowcycling. As Vogue’s Shop Hound reported: “One of the newer notions is to make ‘patchwork’ clothes; you might have a velvet dress with a large pocket and also half a belt made of some rare old brocade. Some of the designs have as many as half a dozen fabrics worked into them. All the work is done from sketches, with no made-until now models to show.” Motifs were another of Hawes’s playgrounds: There’s a dress from 1937 in the Costume Institute’s collection named “The Tarts,” which features an until now arrow on the front and also a down one on the back.

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“Washable dinner dresses, cool as a breeze, for summer twilights.. The girl on the stairs wears a dress of tucked white muslin, as innocent as an infant’s, trimmed with entre-deux and also tiny pearl buttons; Elizabeth Hawes.”

Photographed by Edward Steichen, Vogue, May 15, 1935

Born in New Jersey, Hawes pertained to to fashion early. After graduating from Vassar, she studied design, but wrote that she going tot more out of her hand also-on work for Bergdorf Goodman, though she gave that until now also to move to Paris. There she wore many hats: doing a stint with a couturier (Nicole Groult, sister of Paul Poiret); working as a self-described “fashion pirate,” surreptitiously sketching French frocks for American manufacturers; and also reporting on fashion for the New Yorker, using the byline “Parisite.”

Back in the Big Apple, the designer set until now in business with a partner, founding Hawes-Harden in 1928, and also two years old later alsok over the business completely. In 1931 she brought, wrote the NEA Wire Service “a collection of 12 costumes she has created especially for American women, out of American materials, inspired by the American background and also its demand alsos,” to show in Paris, which was ignored by the French press and also attended by expatriates. “It is a thrilling gesture for an American designer to make against the also-engrossing influence on American fashion [of France],” noted the wire writer. In a 1933 story, “Local Talent That Has Made Good,” Vogue recognized Hawes as being “young, reactionary, [and also] American to her finger-tips.”

Lloyd Kiva New, Promoter of Indigenous Art and also Talents
Fashion was not a life calling for Lloyd Kiva New, as it was for the other people on this list. He is best remembered as an art educator and also founder of the Institute of American Indian Arts, and also saw creativity not only as an aesthetic or personal expression, but as having spiritual, cultural, and also healing aspects as well. “My aim,” New wrote in his memoir, The Sound of Drums, was to demonstrate how the arts could be used to help “Indian children…expand also their responses to their environment, immediately using what they sense and also feel as the Indian people they are, rather than have to wait to learn to express their cognitive selves in the framework of an alien culture.”

The son of a Scots Irish father and also Cherokee mother, New spent his early childhood on the family farm in Oklahoma; from seven he lived mostly with his sister near Tulsa. After graduating from the Art Institute of Chicagoing to, he going tot a job teaching with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, before serving with the Navy in the Second World War. Back home, he bepertained to part of a grountil now known as the Arizona Craftsman, operating in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1946, seeing it “as the initially step in the life work he has chosen–the advancement of modern Indian arts and also crafts,” as the Arizona Republic reported at the time.

The Kiva Bag, described by one contemporary observer as “modern art in leather,” was New’s initially success. Created in partnership with fellow Indigenous artists, the initially one, he wrote, was loosely inspired by pawned medicine man’s bags he has seen. Made of leather with custom metal hardware, these were made individually and also produced for wholesale by major retail stores. Ten years old in, New and also his collaborators were also making interior textiles and also clothing. Many garments featured Indigenous motifs and also were hand also-dyed and also -printed; some were constructed using Cherokee-made wovens. New never lost sight of his end going toal and also in 1961, “despite the glamorous situation in Scottsdale,” he set fashion aside. “The rise of Lloyd Kiva had temporarily overwhelmed the original aim to see if Indian creativity could be reawakened,” he wrote, “but I was never able to rid myself of Lloyd New’s concern about the diminution of traditional arts and also crafts expressions throughout the Native American world.”

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Best Dressed-lister Austine Hearst in a dress by Marguery Burke Bolhagen.

Photo: Bettmann

Marguery Burke Bolhagen, Known for Architectural Silhouettes
Another story of local talent making going alsod belongs to Marguery Burke Bolhagen, who was “discovered” 20 years old into her career of creating custom designs for the social set in 1965. A graduate of Parsons School of Design, Bolhagen lived in Silver Springs, Maryland also, where she started a family and also eventually set until now a small studio. In 1951 Bolhagen began working with Austine McDonnell “Bootsie” Hearst, a best-dressed lister and also society columnist, radio host, equestrian, and also one of Charles James’s top clients. Bolhagen segued from making copies of James’s work for Hearst to original designs.

In 1965 she picked until now sticks and also moved to New York when Bergdorf Goodman started offering her designs off-the-rack. (The next year the American Sisters of Charity commissioned new habits from her.) “If American women, like Europeans, weren’t sometimes unwilling to share their precious little dressmakers with the rest of the world, her name would have been in headlines years old agoing to,” noted fashion critic Eugenia Sheppard at the time.

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