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NEW YORK — Working with Tiffany Dubin and Liz Goldwyn in Sotheby’s once-thriving fashion department during the late Nineties, Stephanie Day Iverson was quickly exposed to New York society and a vast archive of vintage apparel, but she ended up falling for a leather coat.
It was a vintage Bonnie Cashin style, which apparently interested no one — including potential buyers at auction — except Iverson, who was so intrigued by its functional buttons and a pocket shaped like a purse that she decided to hunt down its creator, who retired in 1985.
What Iverson discovered when she found Bonnie Cashin, still living nearby in the same United Nations Plaza apartment where she once operated her sportswear house, became a profound inspiration to Iverson, who has since dedicated herself to becoming a scholar of the designer’s career.
She left Sotheby’s and convinced Cashin to be the subject of her master’s thesis for Bard College, taking up with the designer and pouring through her archives for months. They became so close that when Cashin died three years ago, to the pupil’s surprise, the designer left her voluminous archives to Iverson, then 27, along with a significant bequest.
After staging exhibitions around the country, Iverson has now found a permanent home for the collection, which includes thousands of detailed sketches, childhood drawings, midcentury photographs, correspondence, travel journals, employment contracts and swatches, donating the archive and a $2 million endowment to the Charles E. Young Research Library at U.C.L.A. and its department of special collections. She selected the university for its ability to make the documents and samples widely available online, a project she will oversee as the library’s curator of the Bonnie Cashin collection.
“When Bonnie died, she asked for everything to stay together,” Iverson says. “I wanted it to go somewhere it would be treated as an absolute treasure.”
The timing and location were fortuitous as well, as Iverson and Goldwyn are now discussing a documentary on Cashin’s career, while Albert Maysles has photographed some of the Cashin collection for a potential project. What’s more, Kristen Buckley’s novel “The Parker Grey Show,” which features a character who looks to the colorful designer as a source of creative inspiration, is being developed into a film starring Kate Hudson.
Iverson is also in talks to stage a large-scale retrospective of Cashin’s work in Los Angeles in 2005 and exploring a book on Cashin’s life as she completes her dissertation.
Meanwhile, the bulk of Cashin’s estate is in the process of being established as a nonprofit organization to continue her legacy, which Iverson plans to spearhead.
“I can’t believe it,” says the Minneapolis native, who is now 30. “I’ve become a philanthropist.”