Leigh Wishner, Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Museum
Louella Ballerino, Midriff Top, 1946. FIDM Museum Collection
California Stylist, March 1946 Advertisement for Louella Ballerino
California Stylist, 1944, Swoon Suit advertisement
Elza Sunderland (Elza of Hollywood) Untitled Textile Design, 1940s. Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Mix one palm tree with one glamour girl...add a dash of sunshine….and what do you have? Californian fashion! In the 1940s and 50s, American fashion brimmed with exuberance, smarts, and optimism—qualities that were uniquely abundant in Californian sportswear. California-based designers were trailblazers, conveying a distinctive sense of place through the textiles used for their creations. Hollywood romance, ranch hand ruggedness, sun-drenched sea shores, patio leisure, and an evocative jumble of multicultural influences: this vibrant, invigorating mix inspired practical yet fanciful fashions.
Pushing designers in experimental directions, the active Californian lifestyle informed just how the textiles chosen for garments—swimsuits, playclothes, and casual “togs” in particular—should perform. In 1946, the California Fabric Company heralded the age of “imagineering,” combining imagination, scientific engineering, and art in developing new fabrics. This exciting premise—that technology and artistry could be seamlessly integrated—was embraced across the country, but fulfilled its true potential in Californian sportswear. This presentation highlights the impact of wartime deprivations and post-war prosperity on the American textile industry, the talent of fabric designers who helped create that “California look,” the diversity of playful, alluring styles crafted by top-tier names like Catalina and Adrian, and the power of California’s $500 million-dollar export product: fashion.
Leigh Wishner is Museum Coordinator at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) Museum, Los Angeles. From 2012–2017, she served as Curatorial Assistant in the Costume and Textiles department at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Before returning to California, Ms. Wishner was an associate for over ten years at Cora Ginsburg LLC, a New York gallery specializing in antique textiles and clothing. Her background includes a B.A. in Art History and Archaeology from Barnard College, NY, and a M.A. in Decorative Arts/Fashion and Textile History from Bard Graduate Center, NY. She presented “The Artist Paints in Print”: Textile Design in Mid-Century America to the Forum in September 2018.