The hostess at the right and the hostess at the left pose a question: Which one has the mostest? Is it better to go way out in 1930-ish hostess pajamas (right), cut with dramatic simplicity by California's Rudi Gernreich, or should one be decorously cool in the ladylike separates (left) tailored in an elegant linen print by New York's Ellen Brooke?
This pleasant dilemma was reflected in the voting for the 1963 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Design Awards. The 500 fashion authorities who cast ballots gave Ellen Brooke and Rudi Gernreich an equal number of votes, making them joint winners of the Sporting Look Award ("more than 10 years' continuous, outstanding contribution to the American sporting look").
There was less uncertainty among the voters when they turned to selection of the Designer of the Year. They chose Bonnie Cashin, well-known for her country clothes of leather and tweed. Miss Cashin is the first winner of the senior Sporting Look Award (1958) to be honored in the other category. (Rudi Gernreich also is a repeater—he won the Designer of the Year award in 1956, the first year of the competition.) The winners will receive their awards on June 10 at an outdoor sports festival in New York that will benefit the United States Olympic Fund.
As individual as they are, all three designers share a point of view about American clothes: they must be simple, and they must move. Each of the three has been a dancer, or has wanted to be, and each has developed clothes that move freely, contributing to an overall concept of design that is uniquely American and is now influencing even the haute couture in Europe.
May 5, 1963
Each designer also has an intense interest in the woman who will complete his design idea by wearing his clothes—an ideal customer who travels a great deal and leads an active life.
Ellen Brooke has spent many years in other countries with her husband, Julian Licht, an industrial engineer. Her working world is now Seventh Avenue, but her leisure is spent at concerts, at the theater and with a small collection of favorite books, many of which remind her of the parts of the world she loves best: Ireland, London, Florence, Greece and Burma. Miss Brooke's firm, Sportswear Couture, is known for "collector's" jackets, skirts, dresses, blouses and coats in top-quality fabrics and styles so classic they have no identifiable year or nationality. To make clothes that are comfortable, that "settle themselves," she gives great attention to the fit of a pattern—a Burmese jacket, a perfectly balanced pleated skirt or her highly successful fisherman's shirt dress. She made 11 versions of the latter before arriving at a design that satisfied her.
Bonnie Cashin is a modern architect of clothes. She works from color and texture and builds layers of simple shapes in jerseys, tweeds, leathers and canvas, which are manufactured by Philip Sills, as are her hats—many of which are shaped like paper bags or shower caps. Her leather shopping bags, which she calls "Cashin-Carrys," are made by Coach Leatherware, and her Rainy-Day clothes, such as the cape at left, by Modelia. Of all American designers, Miss Cashin's work is probably best known abroad, particularly in London. She spends half her year in travel and has become the master equipper of all travelers. Her inventions include lap robes in tweeds or furs to match her coats and suits and, as fittings for her catchall handbags, different-colored cases for various currencies, notebooks, eyeglasses, passports and tickets. A fully organized Cashin traveler looks as efficiently engineered as a jet airplane.
This year Miss Cashin added a collection of winter sports furs: a monkey fur skirt, a raccoon poncho and coats of jaguar, Norwegian seal and baby calf. The Brooklyn Museum presented a retrospective showing of Cashin clothes recently, pointing out that her work seems undated mainly because, after 15 years, the public is just now catching up with it.
Rudi Gernreich's work was way out before Out became In. Since he lives in California, Gernreich quite naturally was attracted to swimsuit design. His daring cutouts won a Coty Award in 1960, and last year he predicted that U.S. women eventually would go for increasingly audacious swimsuits (SI, Dec. 24). This year he made a suit of a boy's jacket turned around and buttoned down the back—a fair sample of the shock techniques he uses to keep fashion moving. He also cuts coats and suits out of Spanish rugs, and bathing suits out of a shiny vinyl, which look spectacular but are, as Gernreich warns, not intended "to get caught in the sun in."
Harmon Knitwear, Inc. in Marinette, Wis. makes most of Gernreich's swim-suits and all of his knitted dresses. His own firm, GR Designs, is headquarters for everything else.