DESIGNER SHANNON RODGERS DEAD AT 85
Byline: Dianne M. Pogoda
NEW YORK — Shannon Rodgers, a designer whose gregarious spirit was captured in his lively party dresses, died Tuesday at Ravenna Memorial Hospital in Ravenna, Ohio, after a bout with double pneumonia.
He was 85 and lived in Kent, Ohio, where he devoted his retirement years to the Kent State University Museum, a fashion gallery and archive that he founded with his longtime business partner, the late Jerry Silverman.
Rodgers was the design half of the team of the powerhouse dress company Jerry Silverman Inc., a manufacturer known for dresses and suits and for many Miss Bergdorf creations in the Sixties and Seventies. In addition to the fashion museum, Rodgers and Silverman also established the Shannon Rodgers/Jerry Silverman School of Fashion Design and Merchandising at Kent State.
Rodgers was remembered by Seventh Avenue Tuesday as a jolly, spirited designer who had an eye for detail, who loved to cook, and who was passionate about the museum he founded. His name was not mentioned without reference to Silverman, who died in 1984 at the age of 76.
They were also known for their parties, which they threw in adjoining duplex apartments atop the Mayfair Hotel, overlooking Central Park.
Bill Blass said Rodgers was “big, blustering, modest and quite civilized.”
Thorough his association with Jerry Silverman, Blass said, “They made a breakthrough in smart, moderate-price clothing. That was certainly a contribution to American fashion. But perhaps what they’ll be best remembered for is collecting fashion and clothes and books to donate to the museum at Kent State.”
“Shannon had a great sense of humor, he was a great storyteller, and he was a great party-giver and party-goer,” Stan Herman, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, recalled Tuesday. “His designs represented a very happy and commercial spirit.”
Herman said Rodgers, in using design elements from Europe, “made Paris acceptable for Americans, and set the tone for Seventh Avenue for a good 15 years.”
But Rodgers was best known for his fun party dresses, like poodle and umbrella skirts, in which he used plaids, ruffles and taffeta, he said.
Richard Martin, curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, said Rodgers had a keen ability to look at fashion in terms of elements.
Recalled Martin, formerly curator of the Fashion Institute of Technology’s galleries, “We once did a show of Balenciaga at FIT, and he walked through it with me, pointing out details that he had used in his creations. He never copied a full design from Paris, but he took individual pieces of Paris fashion and made them work in dresses for Americans.”
Former Bergdorf Goodman chairman Ira Neimark said, “Shannon and Jerry Silverman were a great team. At one time they were a major resource for Bergdorf Goodman, and one of the first major resources for Miss Bergdorf Dresses.”
Rodgers was born in Newcomerstown, Ohio, and often noted he was the great-great-nephew of Jonathan Chapman, who became known as Johnny Appleseed. He graduated as an architect from Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
He came to New York, landed a job on Broadway drafting sets for the stage, got a taste of costume design, and eventually a Hollywood contract with Cecil B. DeMille. He created costumes for such films as “Cleopatra.” He served in the U.S. Army Transport Service for five years during and after World War II, then he returned to New York, where he got a job at the House of Martini, a dress company. It was there that he met Silverman, who was running the business. In 1959, with a third partner, Sheldon Landau, they formed Jerry Silverman Inc., a dress firm. Silverman was the selling force, Rodgers designed and Landau was the production head.
Under the label Jerry Silverman by Shannon Rodgers, they built one of the most successful houses on Seventh Avenue, and it was generating about $15 million by 1970. In 1970, the company was bought by Warnaco. Rodgers and Silverman stayed on until they retired in 1980 and 1981, respectively. Warnaco sold the division in 1981 to a group of private investors, and it eventually closed.
Rodgers and Silverman founded the museum at Kent State in the early Eighties.
Rodgers had no immediate survivors, and he is to be cremated. Plans for a memorial service at Kent State were not complete.