RADICAL BY DESIGN: The Life and Style of Elizabeth Hawes by Bettina Berch

RADICAL BY DESIGN: The Life and Style of Elizabeth Hawes

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The satisfying biography of an iconoclastic American couturiÉre/author/political radical who in the 1930's and 40's was one of America's most controversial figures in the fields of fashion and labor relations. The daughter of a Vassar-educated suffragette, Hawes was raised in a well-to-do family in Ridgewood, N.J.; began designing clothes at an early age; and sold her creations to a shop in Pennsylvania when she was 12. After college, she set off for Paris during the mid-1920's and learned the fashion business by working as a copier for a ""pirate"" couture house. She also wrote fashion reports for The New Yorker under the name ""Parisite."" Back in New York, she opened her own business and was the first to apply the modernist credo, ""form follows function,"" to women's fashions. She found the arbitrary dicta of the fashion industry concerning what women must and must not wear ridiculous and wrote a best-selling exposÉ, Fashion is Spinach. It was the working conditions in Manhattan's garment district, however, that first propelled her into labor organization. With the outbreak of WW II, she went to work in a war plant and began organizing minority workers, especially women and blacks; her column in the Detroit Free Press managed to rankle radicals and reactionaries alike, and she was soon under the surveillance of the FBI. Disillusioned with postwar American society, she moved to St. Croix, where she ran afoul of the ""Continental"" expatriates, then returned to the US but was unable to reassemble her life. In 1971, in New York, Hawes, always a heavy drinker, died alone and neglected in her Chelsea Hotel room of cirrhosis of the liver. A lively, well-researched story. Sixteen pages of halftones (not seen).

Pub Date: Nov. 17th, 1988
Publisher: Dutton