library finds – The American Way of Designing

For Library Finds, I take a few books out of the library and share with you photo of a page or two or perhaps a random excerpt with brief comments of my own.

Having perused through many of the shinier books already I have taken to opening up the older books, with their dull covers and plain spines, to see what I can find.  Often the insides are just as dull as the outside, but The American Way of Designing by Gertrude Cain (1950) delighted me.

Not only does each chapter start with a little cartoon (and the humour is pure garmento) and the writing is wonderfully candid as Gertrude Cain tries to set wannabe fashion designers straight so they’ll be prepared to design for mass-manufacturing – “the American Way”.

It seems to me that the number of potential designers must be reaching astronomical figures. Yet I know a manufacturer of a nationally advertised popular-priced dress line who would hire a designer tomorrow if he could find one who could fit the bill.  He would pay her more than $100 a week, give her a bonus at Christmas, and she would take two or three trips to New York each year.

By the way, you can right-click on these spreads to see a bigger image.

Interspersed between insights on the fashion business as it used to be is a lot of timeless advice for anyone who wants to design clothing, no matter what the whims of fashion are at the time.

Mme. Helene Lyolene, who has been my friend for many years has often said, “Listen to the fabric; it will tell you how to make it.” Satin asks to go dancing; taffeta wishes to dine out; gabardine would go to school or to work.  … Some materials combine and some do not.  Mme Lyolene said “Do not marry materials that fight.  No one will like them.”  The ability to determine whether two materials will marry is instinctive.

The author also takes us on a tour of the now-uncommon American factory, tells tales of her own early career successes and mistakes.  Though it is a short book it contains a great overview of the post-war fashion industry and makes me marvel at how  so much has changed in sixty years – and how some things never seem to change.

I leave you with the somewhat unencouraging ending to the book:

As Norman Douglas said in South Wind: “Has any man ever attained inner harmony by pondering the experience of others? Not since the world began!  He must pass through the fire.” Although I am rather inclined to agree with this cynical philosophy – human nature being what it is – I hope this book may temper the fire at leas a few degrees for those who must become designers.

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2 thoughts on “library finds – The American Way of Designing”

  1. It is indeed the Rye High library. It is fun. Its been ages Ellen – thanks for commenting and reminding me to come visit you at school soon.

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