1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.

A Fashionable Summer ~ TINA LESER

Discussion in 'A Fashionable Summer 2005 (Asst. Designers)' started by fuzzylizzie, Jun 28, 2005.

  1. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    <img src=http://www.vintagefashionguild.org/images/tinaleser/leserworkshop1.jpg>

    Hello, and welcome to VFG's first Designer Workshop. I'm Lizzie Bramlett, and one of my major collecting interests is sportswear. This naturally leads to an interest in the career and influences of Tina Leser, one of the great sportswear innovators of the 1940 and 50s.

    My comments will be posted in segments throughout the morning. I encourage your thoughts and comments, and pictures you may have of additional Leser garments. Remember, our workshops are intended to be interactive, and I'd love for all to join in on the fun!

    <h3>Tina Leser</h3>

    Sportswear as we know it, was pretty much a 20th century phenonemon. As people began to have more leisure and affluence, sports became an important part of the lives of the middle and upper classes. And where sports were, the proper clothing followed. The bathing suit developed from a dress with long bloomers and wool stockings in 1900, to a skimpy wool tank with shorts in 1930. Women were expected to play golf and tennis in long dresses at the turn of the century, but these dresses slowly inched up the leg to more practical lengths. The stage was being set for casual clothing for people's leisure hours.

    As we became more sports and leisure minded, some clothing designers turned their talents to this new, more casual mode of dressing. Among these designers was Tina Leser.

    Tina was born Christina Wetherill Shillard-Smith, in 1910. She was the daughter of an affulent Philadelphia stockbroker and his artist wife. The family traveled widely, and as a young child, Tina visited Asia, Europe and Africa, and for a time, actually lived in India. When it came time to choose a career, she settled on art school, and attended first the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and then the Sorbonne, in Paris.

    In 1931, at the age of 21, Tina married Curtin Leser, and the two of them moved to Honolulu, Hawaii. It was here that Tina Leser began her career in fashion. She opened a shop in 1935, in which she sold clothing that she designed. Leser used native Hawaiian, and imported filipino fabrics to construct sportswear, day wear and gowns. She then worked with a process to hand-block designs onto sailcloth. As an artist, she often handpainted a fabric to order. A customer might order a special skirt with the family pet handpainted on it.

    In 1940, Tina Leser went to New York on a buying trip and to try and sell her designs. Partly through the influence of <I>Harper's Bazaar</i> editor, Carmel Snow, she placed an order with Saks for 500 garments. She continued to live and work in Honolulu, but in 1941, decided to open a business in New York. She closed her Honolulu store in 1942 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and moved to New York. There she ran her company until the next year, when she became the designer at Edwin H. Foreman. It was at Foreman, that Tina Leser developed the international style for which she became famous.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wsleser5.jpg>
    1940 Leser Design that was featured in the 11/15/40 issue of <I>Vogue</i>
  2. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Sorry about the lack of pictures in this first segment, but items from this early part of Leser's career are pretty hard to find. I've never seen a label for the Hawaii line, nor for her early NY line. I have seen some of these hand painted items. They were signed by her on the fabric.
  3. Patentleathershoes

    Patentleathershoes VFG Veteran VFG Past President

    Do you think Lizzie, they were just well loved and didn't survive as ladies wore them every day? or 2) they are around but so scarce they command zillions of dollars 3) or they are usually mistaken for something else. 4) all the labels fell out.

    I am finding some folks didn't document their early work not knowing they would "stick with it" maybe or if it was going to be what it turned into

  4. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Good question, Chris. I'm sure it's a combination of several things. First, her production in Hawaii was pretty limited. She was making things just for her shop. What's the chance that someone from Asheville, NC visited Hawaii between 1935 and 1942, went into her shop, bought a piece, brought it home and kept it for 70 years? Not very good, I'm afraid.

    I'd imagine the chances of finding a NY piece is a little better, but again, her operation was very small. As many of the pieces were actually made for a particular person, it's likely that many of these pieces were saved. But I bet they were also worn a lot, especially because it was wartime and clothes became harder to come by.
  5. Patentleathershoes

    Patentleathershoes VFG Veteran VFG Past President

    So it is possible that if one (like you or me) were travelling to Hawaii, or went to a town that a lot of people relocated from Hawaii years ago becak to the mainland, then it might be be a distant possibility of unearthing something. If there is something to be found that is...
  6. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Sure, and lots of people were taking cruises to Hawaii during the late 30s. I suspect that you would be much more likely to find one if you were on the West Coast.

    As for value, I really can't say whether or not that these pieces would be super valuable. They would be super interesting, and anyone or any institution that is trying to build a collection of American sportswear would definitely want an example.
  7. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    <h3>The Foreman Years</h3>
    <img src=http://www.vintagefashionguild.org/images/tinaleser/leserworkshop2.jpg>

    It was wartime, and travel around the world was quite limited for the private citizen. But Leser looked for, and found interesting cultural influences close to home - Mexico, Guatemala, Hawaii, and the USA countryside. From Mexico she took the traditional appliqued flannel jackets and added sequins. From Guatemala she took their handwoven cloth and made skirts and playsuits. Their blanket fabric was turned into strapless dresses. She utilized Hawaiian shapes - the sarong and the wrap skirt, and also used Hawaiian fabrics to make an innovative bathing suit that had just one strap. And she referenced the United States by taking the coveralls adopted by so many American women factory workers, and making attractive versions in flannel and plaid.

    <img src=http://www.vintagefashionguild.org/images/tinaleser/leserworkshop3.jpg>

    Here is a great example of a 40s Leser skirt. The fabric is a Guatemala woven design. This skirt has the Leser for Foreman label.

    <img src=http://www.vintagefashionguild.org/images/tinaleser/leserworkshop4.jpg>
    <h5><i>Thanks to Chris at listitcafe.com</h5></i>

    After the war, Tina continued to design clothing for the active woman. This ad from the November 1, 1946 <i>Vogue </i> shows a complete travel wardrobe made from jersey, including an evening gown:

    <img src=http://www.vintagefashionguild.org/images/tinaleser/leserworkshop5.jpg>
    ...it's action easy
    ...it's Heller Jersey
    ...it's fashion news
    ...it's a perfect traveler
    ...it's dramatic
    ...it's a complete week-end wardrobe by Tina Leser

    But she also made more traditional evening wear, such as this gold lame' dress from 1946, illustrated in the November 1, 1946 issue of <i>Vogue</i>:

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wsleser2.jpg>

    In the postwar era, India was very much in the news, and in Tina Leser's mind. She began the first of many designs based on the fabrics, colors and shapes of Indian traditional clothing. In 1947 she did a line of beachwear and sundresses made of traditional Indian madras plaid, as seen in this ad from the <i>Ladies Home Journal</i>

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wstinaleserFKad.jpg>

    'In the lines and colors of my beachwear,' she says 'I try to capture the spirit of leisure and play in which it is worn. Successful design always reflects purpose. To me, the design, styling and colors of the new KAISER and FRAZER cars appeal as the most successful effort to make distinguished beauty reflect luxurious transportation.'
  8. ellenm

    ellenm Registered Guest

    Hi Lizzie,

    Great information. I haven't ever seen a Tina Leser in my travels. Is her stuff generally hard to find?
  9. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Ellen, I've bought more Leser items over the internet than I've actually found in my own shopping. But there are rarely more than 3 or 4 items on eBay at any given time.

    Her lines were advertised and marketed nationally, and they were mid-priced. But she made mainly sportswear and bathing suits, which take a real beating when people are out having fun!
  10. Patentleathershoes

    Patentleathershoes VFG Veteran VFG Past President

    Despite the scarceness, in the ad, it appears she is "putting her stamp of approval" on the autos. Was Tina Leser such a well known name that just like the movie stars who were in ad and "preferred" whatever was in the ad, was she one that women at the time really paid attention to, and was something of a "Celebrity designer" like how people think of Diane Von Furstenberg or to a much great extent Coco Chanel where people really thought about them "the woman" versus just "the woman's name used as the clothing moniker".

    And is that a model or is that Ms. Leser herself?
  11. alonesolo

    alonesolo Guest

    Heres a Leser I have up for sale in my lot auction right now. Its a floral gown that is very sparkly metallic. Ruffled around the edges. Nice full skirt!

    <img src=http://www.vc-mall.com/thumbnailbig.php?u=52&f=/mall/52/leser.JPG>

    The label
    <img src=http://www.vc-mall.com/thumbnailbig.php?u=52&f=/mall/52/leser9.JPG>
  12. ellenm

    ellenm Registered Guest

    I see what you mean about sportswear and bathing suits taking a beating. That explains why they are not easy to find in the thrift stores.
  13. bartondoll

    bartondoll Guest

    Another one here that has never been lucky in finding anything with the
    Tina Leser label. Lizzie, I have seen some of the items you have in your
    collection and they are wonderful. This is also a label that I don't know much about so am interested in all the info you are supplying!

    No questions at this point, just reading along and learning!

    Thank you!

  14. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Chris, this was one of a series of 12 ads KAISER and FRAZER did using fashion designers. Some of the others were Pauline Trigere and Monte Sano. This seemed to be an advertising trend of the 40s and 50s. I've seen ads for all kinds of products from playtex girdles to cars to Modess to Coca~Cola that featured fashion endorsements.

    And I'm pretty sure that is a model.
  15. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Lovely dress, Pauline! Does this date to the 70s?

    Thanks, Sue!

    Ellen, Yes, I believe that is the case. It seems to be a lot easier to find a 50s prom dress or ball gown - both of which would have been worn only a time or 2, than it is everyday clothing. And add in the chlorine and salt water to bathing suits, and we can see why they didn't always survive!
  16. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    <h3>A Honeymoon to Remember"</h3>

    One of most remarkable events in Tina Leser's career was her honeymoon! She was remarried in 1948 to James Howley (she and Leser had divorced in 1935), and for their honeymoon the pair took a trip around the world. Actually, it was an inspiration-finding expedition, and it led to her Fall 1949 multi-cultural collection. The event as covered by the New York Times:

    "'Tina Leser turns global trip into series of adaptations based on world's dress'

    Tina Leser's recent round-the-world trip, planned as a honeymoon-vacation, turned out to be the basic inspiration for her entire fall collection of sportswear and at-home costumes designed for Edwin H Foreman, Inc.

    In Japan, the designer and her hustband were told they were the first real vacationers to visit that country since the war. Despite the limitations of their eight-day pass, Miss Leser discovered a rich source of inspiration in the Ueno Museum of Tokyo with its beautiful kimonos and fabrics. Reflecting their influence are many of her chic fall wools with their kimono sleeves and bodices and obi sashes.

    In China, the fleece-lined coats worn by the peasants suggested a handsome evening wrap, with the designer's version fashioned of satin with a reverse side of snowy fleece. A dashing tweed coat received its interesting lines from the robes of a Bangkok priest.

    The skirts of the dancing girls in Indian bazaars and the gold-embroidered saris influenced a group of exotic at-home costumes.

    Many of the motifs and patterns of the fabrics in the fall presentation had their origin in the scenic country around Damascus and in the jewelry and fabrics of Istanbul.

    The designer found fresh design sources in Italy. A peasant woman's frock with its low-yoked bodice and skirt caught up in folds suggested a charming young jumper. A shepherd boy's knee pants were adapted into chic pedal pushers with a perky jacket.

    From Paris, which to her meant the romantic period of the Louis, she borrowed the high-collared jackets of the courtiers and their striped silks.

    The wide-collared shirts of Scott and Byron have their modern counterparts in her fall blouses and a sports suit echoes a Staffordshire figurine she saw in England. "

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wsleserfull.jpg>

    This beautiful Leser dress shows some of the ethnic influences she was famous for - the paisley fabric, the rich Oriental colors, and the sarong shape.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wsleserwaist.jpg>
    <i><h5>Thanks to Lin at NoirBoudoir.com</i></h5>
  17. listitcafe

    listitcafe Registered Guest

    I sort of see leser as being like Betsey Johnson. Trendy innovative - midquality (which is probally why much of it does not turn - either it got worn out or thrown out.

  18. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Yes, and like Betsey, clothes with a sense of fun!
  19. listitcafe

    listitcafe Registered Guest

    Even early Betsey is hard to find. It got worn out or thrown out.

    When I found the 40's Leser skirt I thought she was a very brave adventurous soul and had to learn about her. The pattern of the skirt was hard edged and masculine. Something not very commercial.

  20. Cats Sass

    Cats Sass Registered Guest

    Lizzie -

    Thanks for this great info! This is my first experience learning about Leser - I'm soaking it up! The dress above is fantastic - a timely piece to learn about now also, due to the hot current trend of ethnic print fabrics in dresses. Sportswear of this era interests me but my knowledge is limited other than a bit about McCardell as I had one of her dresses last year. Leser's history, especially about cultural influences, is fabulous!

    Also, Leser's automobile endorsment ad above is captivating as the ad makes a connection between what she does and the produt. In contrast to today's celebrity product endorsments, this is so much more in-depth and convincing. I think it goes to show how much more thought was put into things (fashion AND advertising) in this era. I am not sure what any of today's actor have to do with which credit card I use.... Did Leser endorse any other products in her career?

    Thanks again, this info is teriffic! I am staying tuned!:D

Share This Page