From the iconic Hollywood glamour of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire to the chic sportswear that defined Seventh Avenue, the history of American fashion is arguably as rich as that of its European counterparts. Yet there has never been an extensive book chronicling its evolution — until now.
In September, Assouline is publishing "American Fashion," reviewing the nation's fashion from 1929 to the present. The book, commissioned by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, is a visual journey, from Gilbert Adrian to Mainbocher and Hattie Carnegie, Mary McFadden, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. It was written by Charlie Scheips, a freelance writer, curator and art adviser.
"A great book on American fashion was overdue," said Diane von Furstenberg, president of the CFDA, who was instrumental in putting the volume together. "I know people will be inspired by this book — I am. This book should make us proud of American fashion."
Scheips said he wanted the core of the book to be the designers themselves.
"It was a story that hadn't been told yet,'' he said. "It has a vibrant history and culture. I don't look at it as the definitive history of American fashion. I see it much more as a celebration with a lot of history. And it's eye candy."
Scheips relied on many of his contacts, and conducted much of his research at the Condé Nast and Hearst archives, and the Time & Life Pictures collection run by Getty Images. And he interviewed "hundreds" of people, he said, including Babs Simpson, Susan Train, Grace Mirabella, Arnold Scaasi and Luis Estevez.
In addition, the CFDA had sent out letters to designers, asking them to submit images that were key to their careers.
"I couldn't start with the Revolutionary War period because it would be too big a subject, and the CFDA itself only started in 1962," Scheips said. "After much research, I came to the conclusion that 1929 was a pivotal year to start with for modern American fashion. There had been fashion before, but both the [stock market] crash and the fact that only the very rich could afford French couture after the crash, and the burgeoning designers in Hollywood as the talkies came into play...really took American fashion into the modern period."
A Stella McCartney sketch of a custom dress made from protein-based silk in partnership with biotech lab Bolt Threads. The dress will be displayed at The Museum of Modern Art's upcoming design exhibition, "Items: Is Fashion Modern?"