Claire McCardell (1905-1958) was a designer who also took the Occam’s Razor approach to creating clothes in large part because of the WWII imposed parsimony. Using limitation as a source of inspiration, Claire created designs meant to make the most out of a little. She used “alternative” fabrics such as denim and wool jersey and surplus government weather balloon cotton for her creations. And the shortage of leather led to Claire’s making ballerina flats popular.
With the war, women had to assume a chores generally done by men as the men were busy being soldiers. No longer objects but, instead, sheer animation, women needed clothing that was practical and easy to move in. Claire may have been influenced, when studying in Paris, by Coco Channel’s desire to liberate women shackled by fashion.
Claire, often referred to as the High Priestess of the Understatement, said she designed things that she needed for herself but, it seemed, others needed, too. She strove for simplicity and created mix ‘n match garments that could extend a wardrobe with the leitmotif of functional and affordable.
Claire revolutionized American fashion via some of the following designs:
Diaper Bathing Suit (1942)
Popover Dress (1942) which was a wrap-around dress including an attached pot holder for those women who had guests for dinner and thus had to run back and forth from the kitchen.
A wrap dress was versatile in that it could be used as a house dress, party dress, dressing gown and even as a bathing suit cover up.
For the Mayans, a huipil created a sacred enclosure for a woman’s body. And, when she entered her garment by pulling it over her head, the woman became the axis of her universe. Popover dresses also permit the woman to be the axis.
The Future Dress made from triangular pieces of fabric.
Shoulder Shrugs are easy to fold and easy to wear (1947).
Georgia O’Keefe owned a number of McCardell dresses.
Claire collaborated with artists such as Picasso, Chagall, Milo, Leger using fabrics designed by them for her creations. For her “Fish Dress”, she used Picasso’s ‘Fish Print’ fabric (1955). Thus something designed by Picasso could be bought by the yard. The artist didn’t mind commercializing his art. However, Picasso refused to have his designs used for upholstery fabric. It was one thing to be worn but something totally unacceptable to have his art used for sofas thus be sat upon.
Huipil dresses to make inspired by Claire include the halter top dress and the Grecian tunic dress.
Bibliography: McCardell, Claire. What Shall I Wear? . The Overlook Press.New York. 2012