Style Icon Bonnie Cashin

Most of the designers we can name owe much to Bonnie Cashin, her originality and inventiveness. Some fashion scholars credit her with creating the genre American sportswear. In May 2016, Rizzoli published a book called Bonnie Cashin: Chic is where you find it by Stephanie Lake, a protégé of Cashin’s who now owns her vast design archive. While I wouldn’t want to see her reinvented as a brand with re-editions, it is totally fascinating to study her archive of work. Her design aesthetic was so modern and ahead of its time – look at the double-faced wools, the simple swirling coats. The way dressing detail was eliminated and replaced with poppers, zips and of course the turn-lock and leash fitting that was introduced when she designed for Coach. Norman Norell, who dressed ladies who lunch, said in a telegram to her “You are the most original and creative talent we have”. More recently, Isaac Mizrahi said “Oh my God, yes she influenced me profoundly”. She worked for many other clients, including Hermes and Aquascutum.

The clasp at the end of a dog leash found its way even onto Baguettes (the bag not the bread), D-rings appeared on blanket skirts and the hardware she invented were details that sold a million handbags for Coach. Bonnie Cashin was a brilliant, free-thinking woman; a talented artist who happened to become a fashion designer. She designed chic, functional clothing for the modern woman “on the go”.

She was the most successful independent fashion designer of her day. Cashin is also credited with introducing the concept of layering to fashion and to championing timeless shapes like ponchos, tunics and kimonos that allowed an ease of movement that we now take for granted but in her time was sadly lacking. So we really do owe a debt of gratitude to this wonderful, forward-looking creative.

By Vanessa de Lisle -