Today we are featuring the designer credited as the inventor of ready-to-wear for women, Claire McCardell. My interest was piqued when I discovered through various information on the internet that Ms. McCardell was a native of Frederick, Maryland, the town where my mother grew up and where my grandmother, uncle and aunt still reside.
For a visual appreciation of Ms. McCardell's designs we recommend that our readers check out the
The Metropolitan Museum Of Art as well as the
Fashion Institute of Technology
There is a variety of information available on the internet about Ms. McCardell, some of which conflicts with other information available. In searching for clarification of this information I wrote to Claire McCardell's brother, Mr. Robert McCardell, age 94, who resides in Frederick, Maryland in the family home. Mr. McCardell graciously agreed to answer a few questions to help clarify things for us.
Marge: "How young was your sister, Claire, when she showed an interest in clothing design?"
Mr. McCardell: "Claire was interested in clothes from the time she was a little girl. Several times each year our mother had a seamstress spend a week at our house making clothing for the family. Claire spent a great deal of time sitting by the Singer Sewing machine watching "Miss Annie" make the pieces."
Marge: "What in particular do you believe led your sister, Claire, to choose a career in fashion design?"
Mr. McCardell: "The only reason I can think of is that she always loved clothes and fabric."
Marge: Claire attended Hood College in Frederick, Maryland and then the Parsons School of Design. What led to her decision to transfer to Parsons
rather than staying at Hood College?"
Mr. McCardell: "Claire wanted to go to New York at age 16 when she graduated from high school but our parents thought she was too young to go to the big city so she decided to go to Hood. She made terrible grades at Hood and finally after her sophomore year our mother and father decided to let her go to New York where she matriculated at the Parsons School of Design."
Marge: "Were there any designers that you know of that apprenticed with Claire that later went out on their own?"
Mr. McCardell: "There were several friends of Claire at Parsons who went out on their own but they did not seem to make the impression on the fashion world that Claire did. Robert Turk was the head designer at Townley and Claire was his assistant. He tragically died in a diving accident while swimming on vacation and the owner of Townley decided to give Claire a chance at head designer. This was her big break but she had the ability to make it pay off. Her clothes were labeled "Townley Frocks" until she won awards and her name came to be known in the fashion world, at which time her clothes were labeled "Claire McCardell". In the 2007 August issue of Vogue there is an article about Hollywood Hostess Connie Wald who, according to the article, was one of Claire's models."
Marge: Claire had a love of sports. What role did sports play for her?
Mr. McCardell: "Claire needed diversion from her grueling labor in fashions which she loved but on weekends and on vacations she would go skiing in foreign countries and spend time at her summer home on Fisher Island, NY and her farm in New Jersey. She was not athletically inclined."
Marge: "Are you surprised that all these years later your sister's clothes are coveted very much by vintage clothing aficionados?"
Mr. McCardell: "No, I am not surprised that her clothes are coveted very much by vintage clothes aficionados because she seemed to know what women wanted and she was noted for always being ahead of the current fashion. There is no telling how much farther she would have gone in the "rag trade" as they called the fashion world if she had not died at age 52 at the height of her career."
Mr. McCardell also commented: "Did you know there is a memorial to her in the sidewalk on Seventh Avenue in New York's fashion district? In Frederick on the east wall of the former Francis Scott Key Hotel, there is in process a memorial to internationally known Fredericktonions such as Francis Scott Key, Roger Brooke Taney, Patrick Dulaney, and Claire. It should be completed in the next month."
One important bit of information that Mr. McCardell imparted is this: "Several years ago (author's note: 1996) an outfit in New York produced some clothes with Claire McCardell's label. As soon as we found out about it they stopped production.. Hence, the trade mark on the use of her name. If you should purchase any of her originals make sure they are authentic and not poor "copies". "
Our research (thank you Elaine Schuster!) indicated that, if such a line was produced, it was in the spring and summer of 1996, after which the company went out of business. The family did challenge the label and the case was closed after the company went out of business.
We would like to thank Mr. Robert McCardell for taking the time to help us learn more about his sister, Claire McCardell.
A great way to verify whether you are buying a true Claire McCardell item is to check the Vintage Fashion Guild Label Resource. The reference has many labels from many designers available for comparison and to assist in the dating process and to help assist in authenticating items as well.
Postscript: It is with great sadness that we learned today, that Mr. Robert McCardell passed away on January 26, 2009 after a brief illness. We truly appreciate that he took the time to speak to us about his sister. He will be greatly missed.
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