What makes an American? In honor of International Women's Day, we wanted to pay tribute to some 1st generation female immigrants who played a prominent role in defining 20th century American style.
1. Nettie Rosenstein
"It's what you leave off a dress that makes it smart."
1955 Chrysler Advertisement with prominent American Fashion Designers Nettie Rosenstein is the 5th from the left.
Coty award winning Nettie Rosenstein was born Nettie Rosenscransin in Salzburg, Austria in 1890. Her family migrated to the United states when she was an infant and settled in Harlem, New York.Ms. Rosenstein was known for designing by draping and pinning, a technique she used instead of sketching her designs. Though she never had any formal training in fashion design, her clothing was carried by I. Magnin, Nan Duskin, Bonwit Teller, and Neiman Marcus. At the time, her dresses were considered to be the most expensive off-the-rack designs in the country. She designed the dress that first lady Mamie Eisenhower wore to the inauguration.
1953 First Lady Mamie Eisenhower in an original Nettie Rosenstein design
"Fit the century, forget the year."
The legendary beauty, Valentina Nicholaevna Sanina Schlee was born in Kiev, Ukraine on May 1, 1899. She has a fascinating, sometimes controversial biography. Valentina was an actress who met her soon to be Russian financier husband, George Schlee at the Sevastopol railway station as she was fleeing the country with her family jewels. Schlee is best known for his 20-year relationship with Greta Garbo, who became obsessed with everything Russian after meeting the couple. Some speculate that Mr. Schlee was in love with Garbo. Valentina won the Coty award and was known for the elegant, long flowing dresses she designed for famous actresses including, Katharine Hepburn, Helen Hayes, Lily Pons, Lynn Fontanne, and Greta Garbo.
Valentina in a dress of her own design
3. Lilly Daché
"A hat is an expression of a woman’s soul. It is something that she wears on her head, but it belongs to her heart."
Milliner Lilly Daché
If you are at all familiar with hats, you probably have heard of the Coty award winning milliner Lilly Daché! Lilly Daché was reportedly born in Bègles, France. Oddly though, both her birthplace and birth year have been questioned. Some say that she was actually not from France, but from Poland or Romania. Some say that she was born in 1893, and some say 1904. Regardless of when or where she was born, she migrated to the United States in 1919. From a salesperson at Macy's, she went to being co-owner of a hat shop on the upper West Side of New York. She then bought out her coworker and continued to make major contributions to the millinery world with her draped turbans, molded brimmed hats, half hats, visored caps, colored snoods, and other styles.
"Glamour is what makes a man ask for your telephone number. But it also is what makes a woman ask for the name of your dressmaker." Lilly Daché
Lilly Dache Vintage Hat
"Fashion is what people tell you to wear, style is what comes from your own inner thing."
Some of our most timeless pieces were designed by Pauline Trigère. Pauline Trigère was born in Paris to Russian Jewish parents in 1908. Opinionated, and unafraid of making waves, in 1961, she became the first name designer to use an African- American model. She was known for her ultra sophisticated designs. In her obituary, The New York Times remarked, "...not only her own best model but also an elegant and chic symbol of the American fashion industry for more than half a century."
Pauline Trigere Rare Signed Vintage Silk Dress
5. Carolina Herrera
"Everyone knew me as a social person, that was the most difficult thing to prove, that I was not a dilettante."
Carolina Herrera was born María Carolina Josefina Pacanins y Niño on January 8, 1939, in Caracas, Venezuela. As a young girl, Carolina went to shows by Balenciaga with her grandmother who bought her outfits at Lanvin and Dior. By marriage to Reinaldo Herrera Guevara, the 5th Marquis of Torre Casa, Carolina held the title The Marquise of Torre Casa until it was retracted in 1992, as Reinaldo did not have a son. Herrera has been the recipient of the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Womenswear Designer of the Year, the Award of Excellence from The International Center in New York, and the 2014 Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion. She has been called "Our Lady of the Sleeves," a reference to her exaggerated shoulder and statement sleeve designs.
6. Diane Von Fürstenberg
"I design for the woman who loves being a woman."
Diane von Furstenberg - Photographs by Horst P. Horst, Vogue, July 1976
Diane Von Fürstenberg was born in Belgium, Diane Simone Michelle Halfin on December 31, 1946. Both of her parents were Jewish, and her mother, Liliane Nahmias, was a survivor of the Holocaust. Fürstenberg's mother was a prisoner at Auschwitz concentration camp just 18 months before her daughter was born. She is perhaps most known for the jersey wrap dress she designed in 1974 but has influenced women's fashion for decades.
Diane Von Furstenberg Vintage Wrap Dress
As we ponder what makes an American an American, we are reminded that the definition changes and morphs into something new every year. This beautiful, rich tapestry of human beings would only be a flat, lifeless canvas without the variety of colors and textures that made it the remarkable wonder it is. Thank you to all of the immigrants and descendants of immigrants who have made their mark on this world and for sharing your talents and life force with the rest of us.
"Immigrants..we get the job done."