This bag (featured below) drew the loudest oohs and aahs at our spring fashion shoot. It’s a stunner, and so simple: clean lines, minimal detail, black and white. But to really appreciate this very “now” bag is to know its history, which can be traced all the way back to the early 1900s, according to fashion historians (there are only so many shapes to make a bag, after all). In modern times, pioneering designer Bonnie Cashin is credited with introducing the bucket bag at Coach, where she became founding designer in 1962, and, really, birthed the concept of the “it” bag.
It’s so fitting that the definitive book on Cashin’s acclaimed career as a pioneer of American sportswear comes out this month, in the midst of a season loaded with references to her design influence. Cashin stood for the modern woman on the go—dressing smart and looking chic. That sensibility really resonates this season with clothes that are preppy, but professional, with the confidence to look polished, yet feminine. As we were trying to sum up that mood, that style for our spring fashion shoot, the name that kept coming to mind was Mary Tyler Moore—particularly in her Mary Richards period, when her look was noted for pattern, color, and tailoring. Fashion designer Zac Posen pointed to Moore as an inspiration for his spring 2016 collection for Brooks Brothers, which includes shirt dresses, palazzo pants, and tunic tops in floral prints, as well as boxy jackets and flared trousers in bright reds and blues.
And again, so much of it—Mary’s look in the early ’70s, our modern twist on preppy today—can be traced back to the late Cashin, whose archive, you may not realize, actually lives in the Twin Cities, in the care of jewelry designer Stephanie Lake, who wrote her doctoral dissertation on Cashin and went on to serve as archivist of her estate and curator of the Bonnie Cashin Collection at UCLA. Now, more than a decade later, she’s written a book on the designer’s life and work—Bonnie Cashin: Chic is Where You Find It, published by Rizzoli with a forward by Jonathan Adler. Lake says Cashin literally groomed her for the project, pointing out biographies she liked and passing along not only her entire clothing collection, but notebooks, photos, and personal objects.
As a result, Lake’s book is more than a compilation of greatest hits. It’s a lively biography and scholarly look at 20th century design, which very much informs what we wear today.
“Her influence is unavoidable,” Lake says. “Layering, leather trim, use of hardware—she’s so hugely influential in the fashion world today, it’s almost generic.”
Lake, who resides in Minnetonka, has given talks and curated exhibits on Cashin around the world. It’s always been important to her to talk not just about what Cashin made, but why. “She marveled at things that functioned, but also looked fabulous in terms of their aesthetic power,” Lake says. “It was always purpose and practicality, and how do you create it. Having that sense of wonder leads to great design.”
Let that be your inspiration to buy what endures, and wear what feels good.