Let's take a look at the history of this iconic apparel company and check out the video of our Lilli Ann collection (introduced by Ian) at the bottom!
Adolph P. Schuman was born in the early 1900s, the son of a Hungarian Jewish immigrant and founded Lilli Ann as a wholesale women’s clothing company in San Francisco in 1933 with just two part-time employees and an $800 investment. It was named after his wife Lillian Brown. Not long after, he became president of the Manufacturers’ and Wholesalers’ Association of San Francisco.
Jean Wright (above) originally worked for Schuman as a model but became his pattern maker by 1936 and eventually the head designer, with ‘Original by Jean’ appearing on the company’s labels by 1940. Though her name stopped appearing on the label by 1943, she was Vice President of the company by 1948 and continued to design until 1952 when she stepped down to consulting duties. She made excellent use of asymmetry in her designs, as well as contrast, diagonal closures, large buttons and two-tone elements.
After WWII, Adolph opened a showroom in Paris and organized a fashion show there in 1947 for Lilli Ann and other American companies including Levi’s, who showcased cowboy fashions and launched their 701 jeans, worn by modelling twins Pat and Priscilla Emery. It was staged in the Grand Ballroom of the upscale Georges V Hotel. The runway was decked out with blinding lights and 1,600 pounds of California chrysanthemums. Actress Joan Leslie was in attendance as an American rep and she also modelled a white wedding gown on the day. It was called ‘The Fashion Flight’ and it was the first all-American fashion show to be held in Paris. After the show, a designer from Jacques Fath, Philippe d’Asten, told the press “We were amazed by the show, by the clothes and by the music. Well, you know – everything was so different. Perhaps this will influence French styles.” The couturiers were distrustful of him at first but when they saw his low prices, they realized there was no competition and dropped their guard. The Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne made a deal with the San Francisco Manufacturers’ & Wholesalers’ Association so that Parisian designs and Parisian trends could be reproduced at a low cost in America.
Above: From left to right: The Emery twins, Joan Leslie, an unnamed employee from CBS radio and Pandora Hollister (the Fashion Flight show coordinator).
He came into contact with prominent Parisian designers like Coco Chanel and Cristobal Balenciaga, who it was rumoured advised on a Lilli Ann collection.
It was Schuman’s hope to break into the French market but French middle class women were not yet consumers at that time like American ones were.
Schuman added ‘Paris’ to his labels for marketing. He bought huge quantities of European textiles after the war, saving many mills from closing (for which he was awarded medals from the French). He also taught economic American manufacturing methods to these companies which improved their operations.
At the same time, Schuman increased national advertising in fashion magazines like Vogue, Harpers Bazaar and Mademoiselle.
Around 1950, a new model named Billie Jeanne Dugan came to work at Lilli Ann. By 1952, she had taken over design duties from Jean Wright despite having no formal training and being only 21 years old at the time. She designed for the company until the late 50s and she unexpectedly died in 1962. Pictured below are some of her illustrations.
The company had huge success throughout the 40s and 50s, well known for high quality affordable suits and coats with beautiful details. Their suits went for under $100 at the time. In the 60s, there was a knit line and a mod-inspired London line.
Schuman was a Liberal Democrat, frequently holding fundraising parties and had close ties to the Kennedy’s. He used his political affiliations to further his business.
In 1982, Lillli Ann reported retail sales of $20 million. Adolph died in 1985 but Lilli Ann continued under his heirs. It was sold in the 1990s and closed in 2000.
We have a number of beautiful 1950s Lilli Ann suits in the permanent rentals collections. Check out the video to see them and hear Ian talk a little bit about them.
"Here we have our collection of Lilli Ann skirt suits for women from the 1950s. These are great suits for women in the office, women executives, women going out for cocktails etc. They had very definitive waist cinching, great straight skirts, lovely covered buttons and wonderfully cut patterning for piecing the fabrics together. It was a very affordable line of clothing that was always in Vogue magazine. They had ads on the insides of the front covers in the 1950s and 60s. The ads you will see most often will probably be their swing coats which they were very famous for. These suits here are all wonderful examples of what Lilli Ann did that were made for women on the go and on the job".
Below: A Mademoiselle magazine advertisement from 1953 featuring a suit with similar circular appliqué details on the shoulder as this grey suit from our collection.
Additionally, these suits would also have been great travelling attire. Tailored suits were an important staple of airport style for the first few decades of air travel. Nowadays, it seems it is definitely comfort over style when it comes to travelling, but in the 1950s, a Lilli Ann set would have been just the thing to look smart while travelling on a business or leisure trip. Separates were a little more convenient to travel in than a one-piece dress as you could easily switch out the blouse or you might have even had mix and match pieces to co-ordinate your minimalist travel wardrobe. In fact, Lilli Ann even advertised an 'International travel suit of distinction' in 1958.
We hope you enjoyed this little run-through of Lilli Ann. Leave a comment below if you have a Lilli Ann in your personal collection!