Modern Fashion’s secret weapon: dorothy liebes’s textiles for fashion
Join modern textile and fashion historian Leigh Wishner for this illustrated talk on the extensive and extraordinary contributions Dorothy Liebes made to midcentury fashion design. Wishner will provide an overview of Liebes’s work and pervasive influence on fashion, how her research on Liebes contributes to the history of American fashion design, and explore some ways in which Liebes’s influence is still felt in the fashion industry today.
Though her work for fashion is largely unknown, Liebes created hand woven and powerloomed textiles for fashion designers and sportswear manufacturers from the 1930s through the 1960s. Designers who used her fabrics included her close friend Bonnie Cashin, Hollywood designer Adrian, Pauline Trigère, and Clare Potter. Liebes was known for her personal style, and her own looks reflected what many American women wanted to wear: modern, high quality, and practical clothes that privileged function and elegance over fashion trends. With her broad knowledge of materials, manufacturing, and marketing, Liebes understood the textures and colors that designers wanted for their customers. Liebes’s textiles were also put to use by Hollywood costume designers, including Edith Head and Travis Banton, who created dramatic garments made from handwoven Liebes fabrics for the movies.
Susan Brown, Acting Head of Textiles, co-curator of A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes and co-editor of the book of the same title, will introduce the speaker.
About the Program
- Program Length: 75 minutes
- Interactivity Level: Low to medium
- Intended Audience: People curious about design, fashion history, interior design, costume design, midcentury modernism.
- Museum admission is not included in ticket price.
Leigh Wishner is a modern textile and fashion historian. She has worked in the fashion museum field for over 20 years, holding positions at the FIDM Museum at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and at Cora Ginsburg LLC. She received her B.A. in art history and archaeology from Barnard College, and her M.A. in decorative arts and material culture from Bard Graduate Center. Wishner has an unabashed passion for 20th-century textiles, fashions, and interiors, lecturing extensively on these intertwined subjects. Most recently, she contributed to “A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes” (2023, Yale University Press/Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum), the first major publication devoted to this pioneering, 20th-century American weaver.
Alexa Griffith Winton (Moderator) is Manager of Content and Interpretation at Cooper Hewitt, and is co-curator of A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes with Susan Brown, Acting Head of Textiles at Cooper Hewitt.
- Location: This program will take place in person in the Process Lab at Cooper Hewitt (2 East 91st Street, New York, NY). The Process Lab is on the first floor of the museum and fully wheelchair accessible. There is an accessible restroom on the ground floor, accessible via elevator. Theater-style seating will be available. Read more about accessibility at Cooper Hewitt.
- What to Expect: This program will include an illustrated presentation with slides by the speaker followed by a moderated conversation and an audience Q&A. The program will be recorded and available on Cooper Hewitt’s YouTube channel.
- Accommodations: The program includes live CART captioning.
- For general questions, please email us at CHEducation@si.edu. If we can provide additional accessibility services or accommodations to support your participation in this program, email us or let us know when registering. Please make your accommodation request as far in advance as possible—preferably at least one week before the program date when possible.
Health & Safety Measures
Please visit Cooper Hewitt’s Plan Your Visit page for up-to-date information on health and safety guidelines.
A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes is made possible by The Coby Foundation; The Decorative Arts Trust; the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, a program of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum; and the Terra Foundation for American Art.
The project received Federal support from the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund, administered by the National Collections Program and the Smithsonian Collections Advisory Committee.
Generous support is provided by the Lily Auchincloss Foundation; the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation; Mergentime Family Archive; and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, administered by the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation.
Support is also provided by Elizabeth Whelan, The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, and Patsy Orlofsky.