Episode 9: Fall Fashion: Exploring Designer Bonnie Cashin’s Archive

As a graduate student in the ‘90s, Stephanie Lake became friends with the legendary fashion designer Bonnie Cashin, who is known as “the mother of American sportswear.” Stephanie wrote her dissertation on Cashin’s legacy, and, along the way, they formed a close friendship. When Cashin died in 2000, Stephanie ended up with her entire fashion archive, as well as many of her personal belongings. Stephanie is the author of the monograph “Bonnie Cashin: Chic is Where You Find It” and has her own jewelry company, Stephanie Lake Design. We talked to her about Cashin’s impact, what it’s like to own a historic fashion archive, and how Cashin has influenced her jewelry designs.

All images courtesy of Stephanie Lake.

A Sills & Co. layered look, 1961, by Cashin. She brought the concept of layering into American fashion. She thought women should have attractive clothes that allowed them to move freely and dress for the weather. “Bonnie Cashin is to layering what Thomas Edison is to electricity,” fashion-industry insider Eleanor Lambert said in 1976.
Cashin’s 1950s “toga coat,” designed for Adler & Adler. She designed this coat when she was working in Hollywood and then brought it to ready-to-wear.
Bonnie Cashin in her home studio, wearing a one-of-a-kind tunic made with ikat fabrics that she found during her travels around the world
A late ’50s skirt and shawl that Cashin designed from custom weaves of wool and metallic ribbons. We’re crazy about these colors!
The Bonnie Cashin fashion archive, in Stephanie Lake’s home
Cashin’s “dog leash” skirt, which could be adjusted from long to short. It was actually made with the same clasps that were used on dog leashes. Cashin came up with the concept after she struggled to walk up stairs with a plate of canapes during a party at her house.
Cashin made it fashionable for women to wear a knee-high boot with a skirt or dress
A raccoon-lined leather coat for Sills & Co., 1968. Cashin was famed for her stylish fur-lined coats, which, in addition to looking chic, were incredibly warm and therefore very practical.
Cashin designed the “shopping bag tote,” which is still ubiquitous in fashion today
The Cashin archive. Lake says of wearing the pieces, “I have a coat for every drop of rain or snow that will ever fall on my shoulders.”
This cardboard box that Cashin decorated and hung in her studio is Stephanie Lake’s favorite object from the archive
Cashin started out designing costumes for musicals and Hollywood movies
Bonnie Cashin collected hats from all over the world
One of Stephanie Lake’s jewelry designs, the Guardian Lion Necklace