As the heir to Bonnie Cashin’s archives, Stephanie Lake is the last person who needs to be reminded about the designer’s lasting influence on American fashion.
Rather than reside in the I-told-you-so corner, Lake is actively trying to inform current and future generations about how Cashin’s aesthetic continues to appear in certain designer collections.
Last month’s Diet Prada post, alleging JW Anderson’s appropriation of a Bonnie Cashin design was not the impetus for her proactive approach but a coincidence. Lake said Monday, ”My husband and I are constantly considering what our roles are and how we can best serve Bonnie’s legacy. It’s a constant theme in our lives. With JW Anderson, it did pop up just as we were getting very focused on the film. It just happened to be a coincidence as we were talking about needing to focus our energies on the next big project. It amplified what we were thinking about the timing being right.”
A JW Anderson spokesman said, “Jonathan has always been inspired by postmodernist fashion and mentioned Bonnie as an inspiration backstage after the show in London.”
Having been approached by a major documentary filmmaker last year about the prospect of a Cashin-themed film, Lake is mulling over that offer. She is also open to the prospect of working with others and has lined up a few in-the-know industry executives to advise her. Executive producer and film financier Stephanie Dillon, filmmaker Liz Goldwyn whose “Pretty Things” appeared on HBO, and Christine Walker, chief executive officer of the John Waters-founded Provincetown International Film Festival have agreed to help guide her. Lake and Goldwyn worked together at Sotheby’s earlier in their careers.
Cashin’s niece Serena Fix, who saw the designer at work during summer stays, is willing to appear in the film, as are fashion types like Ruben and Isabel Toledo, Jonathan Adler, Simon Doonan, Cameron Silver, Beverly Johnson and former Saks Fifth Avenue fashion director Nena Ivon. Gloria Vanderbilt doesn’t plan to step in front of the camera but she has given Lake her blessing to use her image and her quotes about Cashin’s work. And author John Tiffany will shed some light on the relationship between Eleanor Lambert and Cashin, the start of fashion week and American fashion promotion.
Lake said, “Telling Bonnie’s story, as a cinematic companion piece to the book and future exhibitions, is not limited to historical reflection. It means enlisting her most devoted fans to illustrate just how many disparate creative icons are devotees today. The aim is celebration and constructive consideration of the ‘Cult of Cashin’ and the ‘Cashin Effect,’ as it has been variously described in the last 50 years, as well as the contemporary phenomenon of the ‘Cashin copies.’”
Cashin, who died in 2000, never trained as a designer but became one of the leading forces in American fashion. Starting out as a ballet costume designer, Cashin struck out on her own in 1952 collaborating with Bergdorf Goodman, Liberty of London and winning four Coty awards along the way. After being hired by Coach in 1964, she revolutionized handbags. Hardware, layering and Japanese kimonos were among her signatures. Cashin never licensed her name or hired design assistants.
Lake said, “She provides this framework that redirects a lot of conversations and gives people something to grasp and build upon in a really positive way. She is something that is emblematic of the best of American history, American design and American fashion. She is that prism to reengage with all that is good in American fashion. It seems like there is so much heading down this different path. I would like to disrupt it.”
On another front, the portrait photographer Tony Duran is filming a cinematic portrait of Lake and her family, which will include their roles as stewards of Cashin’s archives.
Cashin’s designs will be featured in “Functional Fashions,” which will bow at the Milwaukee Art Museum next month. The designer’s finery is also part of the “Passer-by” exhibition at Lafayette Anticipations in Paris through April 28. The show’s curators and Atelier E.B. cofounders Beca Lipscombe and Lucy McKenzie have also visited the Cashin trove in the U.S. to research her work. Her designs are featured in “Sports and Fashion,” which is on view at Ohio State University through April 26. Lake said she is also in the early stages of talks with museums about a touring Cashin show with possible stops in Boston, Washington, D.C., Phoenix and Minneapolis.
Lake, who authored Cashin’s biography, “Bonnie Cashin: Chic Is Where You Find It,” is working on another book about the ABC’s of Cashin. She is also interested in setting up a cultural partnership with a company that would allow for a multiplatform venture. Lake said, “The partnership is about having a storytelling platform, a cultural platform and really having the flexibility to develop film projects and support publications, which are far beyond the monograph and the ABC book that’s next. It’s about having a partner that constantly sees potential and who can use the archive in different ways that are mutually beneficial.”
Lake said she is keen to “talk about copies in a way that is redirecting that conversation and not just calling out someone and finger-pointing. What’s the bigger issue here and what’s the bigger possibility with what can happen? That’s what I try to do with CashinCopy [via Instagram]. It’s about people that, yes, are creating line-for-line copies. But I chose the word copy also because it’s about writing, doing something in the same manner of, and celebrating Bonnie’s unique and continued role as fashion’s national resource and treasure.”