Category Archives: Fashion

Stumbling on Bonnie Cashin

As I frantically searched for tips to remove the musty smell of my 1990s Coach bag, a recent score on ebay I was determined to keep, I stumbled upon photographs of 1960s handbags designed by Bonnie Cashin, a pioneer of American women’s and designer for Coach. I was blown away by the tan mod sling bag, a collector’s item that fetches princely sums from those lucky enough to find and afford it. The bag is stunning because it is functional and understated and timeless in its design.

I knew nothing about Cashin when I came across her clothes and handbags, but knew enough to know she was an important figure in American fashion history. As I often do when I want to learn more about a deceased icon, I immediately searched for her obituary in The New York Times.

The more I learned about the awesome contributions this woman made to modern fashion, the more appreciation I had for the design of the Coach handbags I own. Her influence permeates the brands whose lead creatives, unlike her, have nothing to do with the accessory that may be peddled as the next “It” bag.

A design prodigy from an early age, Cashin was a keen observer of the ways we use everyday items and the way we move; for Cashin, freedom of mobility and function were as important as modern design and her creations reflect all of that.


For instance, a Times’ appreciation in the wake of her death noted that she incorporated a bag into clothes as a result of her experiences hiking in the Hollywood Hills: she wanted her hands free when carrying her art supplies. The brass turn lock that has sold millions of handbags for Coach — and captivated my teenage self enough to resolve to own the brand’s iconic briefcase — was reportedly inspired by fasteners on her convertible’s rag top. (I grew out of the briefcase, but own the Willis bag.)

After nearly 10 days, several baking soda-filled bags, hours of sun exposure and a 24-hour treatment with dryer sheets, the musty smell in my brown Legacy bag is gone. I can’t wait to use it again; I had once but the musty smell was too pungent. It may become my new favorite handbag.

I bought the Legacy because most of of my handbags are black, and I needed to break up the single-color palette. Among my inventory is a black Marc Jacobs with an industrial-style gold-toned zipper around the bottom. Now that I know, however, that Cashin introduced industrial zippers into her designs in the mid 1950s, I’ll never look at that bag the same again.

It’s another piece in my closet that reminds me that her legacy — a passion for modern design and innovative creations, motivated in part by giving women the freedom to move and express their empowerment — endures.

Reflections on “McQueen”

Yesterday afternoon,  my husband and I gathered with friends to see “McQueen,” the documentary on the late designer Alexander McQueen. As we learned about his innate creative genius and craftsmanship, about the childhood trauma that he drew upon for his collections; his respect for women; the intensity and passion he brought to his designs and tailoring, the tragedy of his loss hurts deeply. McQueen died by suicide in 2010. He was 40.

The film includes interviews with friends and collaborators who loved him, whose creative limits were pushed and nurtured by McQueen, and who miss him greatly. Through their stories and the archival footage, we can feel the energy he brought to his work and environment — and we are left thinking we should all be so lucky to work around a creative visionary, someone whom we don’t want to disappoint, who inspires us to do better for ourselves and for a greater purpose. In this case, it was fashion as art and political commentary.

McQueen was an artist with a lot to say about the demeaning ways women have been treated throughout history. But with his designs, he also highlighted their strength and celebrated their beauty and empowerment. In reading a Vogue profile on his successor, Sarah Burton, I learned she has strived to maintain his admiration and respect for women with a softer, more peaceful spirit.

Several of McQueen’s friends and his mother have said he was a sweet and sensitive man; we do not, however, see that in his designs. But in pulling his vision out of the darkness out of the darkness that tormented him and was a signature of his designs, it appears Burton has kept his legacy alive.