We took out a few of the 1950s knit sets from our permanent rentals collection to showcase their beauty!
“Very rarely do I find the actual box that a knit set might have come in but I did an estate and this was the box that a 1950s Kimberly knit set came with, so I’ve saved it for posterity. In the 1950s, if you were a young career woman, a secretary or someone else on their way up, knits were a great way to get a finished look- not too professional but young, fresh, and if you fit it just right on you, sexy. A lot of these knits are embellished with pearls, seed beads, sometimes they have a little soutache trailing across the front or little bits of rhinestones. They will take you from a day at the office to cocktails after work and if you’re really lucky, a little bit farther into the night!” - Ian
Kimberly knitwear company was created by Jack Lazar in 1946. The company was named for the 70-carat Kimberly Diamond and often referred to as “the Rolls Royce of the knitwear industry.”
Lazar dropped out of school when he was 16 to work in a knitting mill where he learned every detail of the trade from the ground up including designing, operating machines, finishing, packing and selling.
After serving in the military during World War II, Lazar decided it was time to launch his own company. He married his wife Helen in 1947 and she joined the business as a designer. Around this time knitwear had fallen out of favour with women because it would stretch, shrink and sag to the point of being unwearable. Lazar turned these problems around by being adventurous with his textiles, using more sturdy novelty yarns and mixtures of wool with synthetics like Dacron and Orlon. Orlon premiered in 1952. It couldn’t take dark dyes to you often see it in pastel shades. Kimberley’s first products were sweaters and then knit skirt sets were added. Kimberly knits quickly became popular because they were lightweight, flat and easy to pack and care for. Jack and Helen took frequent trips to Paris to absorb the latest styles and brought back many popular patterns to manufacture as knitwear.
Soon, Kimberly was being worn by celebrities like Jackie Kennedy, Barbra Walters and the Duchess of Windsor. They were one of the largest clothing manufacturers in the US in the 1960s. Kimberly offered short skirts and day-glo colours aimed at the growing youth market. In 1968, the company introduced pantsuits, previously unheard of in knitwear. By the 1970’s the company had sales in the range of $30 million. In 1972 Kimberly was bought by General Mills Corporation. Lazar retired in 1977 and the company closed in 1979. Today, Kimberly knitwear is easily found in the vintage market. Jack died in 1990.
Above: A Kimberly ad from our August 1959 issue of Vogue.