Some know Stephanie Lake as a designer of one-of-a-kind jewelry and one of Minnesota’s best-dressed. But a visit to the lower level of her west-suburban home reveals two climate-controlled rooms that house a comprehensive archive of influential mid-century American fashion designer Bonnie Cashin. Lake met the designer in 1997 when she was working as a research consultant at Sotheby’s, and Cashin quickly became a friend and mentor. Upon Cashin’s death in 2000, she gifted her archive to Lake, who is now working on a book with Rizzoli, the world’s leading fashion publisher, about the designer’s life and career, followed by a series of major exhibitions. We highlight favorite pieces from Lake’s collection.
Cool & Collected
A glimpse into Stephanie Lake’s archive of fashion designer Bonnie Cashin—including designs, fabric samples, photographs, sketches, and journals—reveals a woman who Lake describes as having an eye for smart details and an uncanny ability to make fashion functional.
“Carefully selecting materials that did not require infrastructure to maintain their shape, Cashin favored luxurious weaves such as tweed and mohair that she could ‘carve’ into shape,” Lake says. “This suede-bound tweed tunic never loses its strict geometry of form, while yards of weightless mohair form the most modern of ball-gown skirts, made all the more innovative with the use of an industrial dog-leash clasp inspired by Cashin’s own frustration at tripping over her skirts when hosting a party and trying to navigate stairs with a martini in hand.”
“Cashin considered herself first and foremost an artist, and her aesthetic centered on silhouettes pared down to the simple forms exaggerated by a theatrical sense of scale, pattern, and color,” Lake says. “She designed her own fabrics or partnered on exclusive patterns with some of the most noted textile designers of the day. …She called her coordinating knit and jersey garments ‘accessory dresses,’ though they were so novel and popular on their own that other firms and designers, including a young Liz Claiborne, developed a brisk business in copying them line for line.”
“A consummate modernist, Cashin believed that clothing design should provide visual splendor while making life easier,” says Lake. “A central concern throughout her career was mobility and ease, not least of which was how to most efficiently and gracefully carry everything one needed in the course of a day. Together with her handbag designs, most notably for Coach, she frequently encircled her designs with pockets large enough to carry books and even attached entire purses to her outerwear. Of her many ‘purse pockets’ developed over the years, she asked, ‘Why not have your coat carry your bag?’”