Bonnie Cashin, the Twentieth Century Fox designer

The first half of the twentieth century was marked by numerous significant political and social changes: war, activism, changes in the perception of women, all manifested themselves in fashion. During the 1940s, movie industry had a massive impact on how clothes were understood. 

Because of the War, Paris was no longer exclusively dictating fashion and Hollywood became now a source of fashion trends. In this context the American designer was born. American designers had now the freedom to develop new styles using unique materials. The adornment of feathers, raffia and other leftover items, not rationed, provided a creative outfit.
Bonnie Cashin in 1950
One of the most important American designer’s of the time was Bonnie Cashin, a pioneer in the sportswear industry. In 1937 Carmel Snow, the Harper’s Bazaar editor, an admirer of Cashin’s costume designs, encouraged her to work in fashion. So, she arranged for her to become the head designer at Adler and Adler, coat and suit manufacturer. 
However, from designing sportswear, in 1942 she moved in California where she signed a six-year contract as a costume designer with Twentieth Century-Fox.  From the lead established by Hattie Carnegie, Bonnie Cashin’s designs avoided extravagance. Cashin designed costumes for the female characters in more than sixty films, with her favourite projects: Laura (1944), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) and Anna and the King of Siam (1946). 
Linda Darnell in ‘Fallen Angel’, costumes designed by Bonnie Cashin

Jane Tierney in the film ‘Laura’
Cashin’s designs for Laura’s star, Gene Tierney, were very different from the motion pictures of the 1940s tending to showcase their female stars as glamorous ladies: ‘Gene Tierney’s like no other of the period. She wore not costumes for an actress’s part, but real clothes that could have been owned by a real woman: separates, a witty raincoat and hat’.

The Regulation L85 which limited fabric use, width, length and trim restrictions affected the cut of clothing. Cashin responded to this in ingenious ways and all dress patterns were adapted to these requirements. Contrast cutting became very popular. The casual wear of the 40s was dominated by the idea of separates like two-piece full-skirt, just bellow the knee, popular in cotton with bright plaids and stripes. The blouses and shirts had puffed sleeves or padded shoulders. Sleeve lengths were short, three-quarter length or long. Casual skirts, designed for easy movement, were the A-line skirt, often with vents or pleats and the dirndl skirt, full, gathered into a waistband, often trimmed with ribbon or ricrac, in floral prints.

Bonnie Cashin returned to New York, and to Adler and Adler, in 1949 and in 1953 she teamed up with the leather importer and craftsman, Philip Sills. Through her work for Sills she is credited with introducing layering into the fashion lexicon.. Her layered garments were easily transformed to suit different temperatures.
Bonnie Cashin dress - Harper's Bazaar, December 1974
Cashin favoured timeless shapes for the history of clothing: ponchos, tunics, Noh coats, made from luxurious organic materials such as leather, suede, mohair, wool jersey and cashmere.
Harper's Bazaar, August 1966, Photography - Francesco Scavullo

Bonnie Cashin’s ingenious sportswear, separates, layering, toggles and luggage hardwear used for fastening her bags, gave her, along with Claire McCardell, the name of ‘the mother of American sportwear’.



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