American Women Designers 1960s-1990s
Norma Kamali is an American fashion designer from New York City. After studying at the fashion institute of technology, Norma worked as a freelance fashion illustrator before opening her own boutique in 1969. Bette Midler and the New York Dolls were some her earliest fans.
She became known for her use of parachute silk in her clothing and for adjustable garments by means of a drawstring.
Her 1973 sleeping bag coat became a phenomena and is still in production today. The puffer coat has been a Winter staple ever since. For the 10th anniversary of the coat, Kamali invited anyone who owned one to turn up to Wall Street in 1983 where they were filmed a flash mob fashion video.
She designed the bathing suit worn by Farrah Fawcett in the actress’ iconic 1976 poster, which is now in the Smithsonian museum.
Kamali also played a prominent role in adapting exaggerated shoulder pads in casual clothing in the 1980s.
She reached the peak of her fame in the early 80s with her sweats collection; casual garments done in sweatshirt fabric like rah-rah skirts. She received the COTY award in 1981.
Carrie Bradshaw was seen wearing an updated version of Kamali’s 1970s classic multi-style jersey dress in the recent Sex and the City revival show, demonstrating the longevity and relevance of her early work.
Her work is included in the Metropolitan museum of art and she has a plaque on the fashion walk of fame. To top off her achievements, she was awarded the CFDA Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.
We have a fantastic khaki wool jacket of hers available in the shop right now ✨
Linda Allard for Ellen Tracy
Ellen Tracy is a clothing manufacturer founded by Herbert Gallen in 1949. He had bought ‘Tranel underwear’ and transposed the letters in TRanEL to form ELlen TRacy in the belief that a women's line should feature a woman's name.
Ohio native Linda Allard took a bus to New York in 1962 after finishing school at Kent state university with an ambition to become a designer. She got a job cutting patterns at Ellen Tracy for $60 a week. Two years later, she was named director of design and brought the firm from a blouse house to the high quality RTW brand it became.
As an increasing number of its customers joined the workforce in the 1970s and as more women began to enter the ranks of management, Allard started to design suitable clothing, which in many ways was the kind of apparel she, occupying a similar place in the business world, wanted to wear.
In 1984, her name was added to the label. Ellen Tracy became synonymous with exclusive, high-quality fabrics, unique colour stories, and the concept of the total wardrobe for the working woman.
Linda became one of the highest paid designers in the industry.
A widower for several years, Gallen at the age of 84 in March 2000 married Allard, who at the age of 59 had never married.
Ellen Tracy was acquired by Liz Claiborne in 2002 and the companies archives were donated to Kent state university to be exhibited there.
Linda retired in 2005 and Herbert Gallen passed away in 2007.
George Sharp took over as designer and Macy’s became the exclusive retailer of the brand in 2010.
Check out this great 4 piece 80s pant set in the shop right now.
An ode to Betsey Johnson, who reinvented herself in 1960s downtown New York and became the go to designer for other rebellious girls who, as Rachel Syme put it in her 2020 New Yorker profile on Johnson, wanted “a prissy sweetness cut with a touch of poison”. Johnson is known for her over the top looks, with pattern clashing, vibrant day-glo fabrics, tulle frills mixed with studs. She ushered in an anything-goes-aesthetic that was swiftly adopted by artists, it girls and rockstars in the downtown New York scene. Did you know she was married to John Cale? Swipe for an excerpt from her profile on her wedding day look and how she dressed The Velvet Underground! To this day she has always remained true to herself and continues to inspire some rebellion in young women everywhere!
May we all have a little bit of Betsey in our spirits ❤️🔥
We have a fabulous pair of vintage gold lurex Betsey Johnson pants in the shop!
Donna Karan is an American fashion designer born in Queens New York to a fashion model and a tailor. After studying at Parsons School of Design, she went to work for Anne Klein in the late 60s, where she became the head of the design team after Klein’s death. She participated in the iconic Battle of Versailles fashion show in 1973.
She left Anne Klein to set up her own label in 1984. Her goal was "to design modern clothes for modern people”, pieces that she would herself wear. She became well known for her 'Essentials' line, initially offering seven easy pieces centred around the bodysuit which could all be mixed and matched- the original capsule wardrobe. Made of luxurious fabrics which followed the body, these pieces would omit excess detail and overt sexiness, creating a sensual allure. She was known as the Queen of Seventh Avenue.
She set up a less expensive line for younger clientele in 1988- DKNY, which proved enormously successful.
She left her CEO position in 1997, after which her designer contributions became less and less into the early 2000s. She is currently listed at number 68 on Forbes’ list of America’s richest self-made women, citing her as worth $475 million.
We have a 1990s Donna Karan black bouclé wool dress available.
Albert Nipon (designed by Pearl Nipon)
Albert Nipon was an American fashion label created by Albert and his wife Pearl. They started their first business in 1954, offering maternity wear. Pearl was the designer and their small shop turned into a nationwide chain of stores called Ma Mere. When birth rates started declining, they sold their maternity wear company and started a women’s high-end ultra-feminine clothing label in 1972.
Albert said of Pearl in a 1973 interview that “she has a feel for what young career women would like their clothes to be. Smart, fluid, comfortable, in wonderful fit and the nice detailing that looks like the dress was made to order in Europe."
The Nipons chose to focus on dresses. Pearl and Albert knew that their dresses — with their woven and natural fibers, intricate details and chic European sensibility — were unlike others on the market. The label would become known for its use of pussycat bows, elegant collars, cuffs, tucks and pleats. The brand became one of the preeminent labels of the 70s and 80s.
The lines popularity caught the fashion world by storm but by 1984, Albert was indicted for tax evasion and served 3 years in prison. They saw a drop in sales after this and filed for bankruptcy in 1988. They sold the company but continued to run the business. The brand ceased in 1992 and Pearl passed away at the age of 90 in 2018.
We have some lovely 80s Albert Nipon dresses in the shop right now.
Wang is an American fashion designer, the daughter of Chinese immigrants. She earned an art degree from Sarah Lawrence College in New York and immediately was hired as an editor at Vogue, making her the youngest editor ever of the magazine. She left this post in 1987 to Join Ralph Lauren as design director, for whom she worked for two years.
At 40, she became an independent bridal wear designer, for which is well known internationally. Her inexperience in bridal gave her a fresh perspective on the market and she has maintained an anti-traditionalist approach to designing.
In 1990, she opened her own design salon in the Carlyle Hotel in New York City that features her trademark bridal gowns. She has since opened bridal boutiques in New York, London, Tokyo, and Sydney.
She has designed the wedding gowns of such celebrities as Sarah Michelle Gellar, Avril Lavigne, Victoria Beckham, Mariah Carey and Kim Kardashian.
Vera Wang bridal gowns had big roles in film and TV including on Sex and the City, Gossip Girl and Bride Wars.
“I like to think that we really gave women permission to experiment and to be free. We showed women they didn’t have to conform or dress a certain way. We really encouraged diversity. If I go down for anything, that’s what I’d like to be remembered for – in a traditional business, we broke every rule.”
In 2013, she launched a bridal collection entirely in red – an homage to her Chinese heritage, where the colour is seen as a symbol of good fortune, reflecting love and romance.
“One year I did a black and nude lingerie-inspired collection because that’s what all my girlfriends were wearing,” she recalls. “A lot of people were shocked – they said it was depressing to have brides in black. I said, ‘Not at all, it’s sexy.’ Then of course a lot of brides embraced it.”
Her wedding dresses have had an enduring popularity and are coveted by many brides the world over. The name Vera Wang has entered into pop culture as being synonymous with luxury dream bridalwear.
LA born Diane Freis stepped into the fashion world after studying fine art at UCLA. She noticed a void in the market for clothing that was artfully designed with colour, texture and vibrancy - everything she saw at the mall in the 70s was plain and practical with jeans and tshirts at the forefront. She decided to set out and design a collection of reworked denim jackets that she turned into vests, with panels and trims of eclectic and embellished fabric, complete with feathers around the armholes! She sold these first 6 pieces to a boutique called CM bazaar in Hollywood, and they quickly sold to none other than Joni Mitchell and Diana Ross!
Things took off from there and she eventually left for Hong Kong to visit a friend and search for unique fabrics. She found a tailor to work with and created a collection of flowing silk tops and skirts that she brought back to LA. She quickly packed up and moved to Hong Kong and from there she launched what became her iconic bohemian dresses of mixed prints and embellishments. She first sold in Hong Kong boutiques and department stores before gaining international recognition, and then opened her own namesake boutiques. She continued to design into the 2010s and only recently closed her offices, however you can shop her archive at @freisspirit.
Jeanne Allen of Jeanne-Marc
Jeanne Marc clothing was founded by husband and wife team Jeanne Allen and Marc Grant in San Francisco in 1973. They were known for their bold quilted appliqué jackets, and were one of the big three boho-chic fashion brands alongside Jessica McClintok and Esprit! Jeanne Marc was one of the last brands in the 90s to also be fully made in the USA as other brands began to outsource their production overseas.
In 1988 they were elected to the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and later they were awarded with the Golden Shears Award - a prestigious award in the tailoring world. Their clothing was architectural and artful, combining interesting textures and prints, and using unique construction to create voluminous silhouettes and pleats. Their line was sold at luxury department stores like Saks and Bergdorfs, and internationally.
In 2011, Jeanne was selected to lead the San Francisco Fashion Incubator program, where she mentors emerging designers over a 4 year program to help San Francisco’s fashion community grow and thrive.
Jessica McClintock of Gunne Sax
They also made medieval and renaissance inspired designs.
It was America’s answer to Britain’s Laura Ashley.
Jessica McClintock partnered with Elle and Carol in 1969. She used insurance money from her husband’s death to invest in the company, and soon came to own the whole business. She was the main designer.
McClintock was born in Maine and was largely raised by her grandmother who taught her to sew.
The name is a play on ‘gunny sack’- a burlap sack used for storing grain or potatoes, often recycled into dresses during the Great Depression.
The mini-skirt era of the 60s had ended and every girl wanted a Gunne Sax in the 70s. They were very affordable and easily found across the country.
America’s bicentennial happened in 1976 and the whole country was obsessed with its past during that decade, particularly the pioneer era. The Little House on the Prairie TV show was hugely popular. It was also an important time for women’s rights. The Gunne Sax look embraced femininity at a time when confident power dressing was popular as women joined the work force. A Gunne dress was the beginning of the modern maxi dress.
Hillary Rodham married Bill Clinton in a Gunne Sax in 1975! These dresses were very popular bridal wear in the 70s.
Gunne Sax is seeing a resurgence in popularity in recent years amidst the escapist fantasy of the Cottagecore trend, no longer just ‘granny dresses’. Collectors consider clothing with the original "black label," used only in 1969, the most valuable. A "hearts label" was used for a short time following, until the 1970s and early 1980s when a larger label with scrollwork was put into use.
Gunne Sax moved with the times and focused on strapless prom dresses and other fashions as the 80s wore on and the prairie/peasant look was left in the past.