Lilli Ann & West Coast Sophistication

Lilli Ann Ad, 1954

Lilli Ann established her ready-to-wear business in San Francisco in 1942. Despite her West Coast location, her exquisitely detailed coat and suit designs were versatile and sophisticated. Many of her suit styles were elegant enough to wear to the theater or cocktail parties. Lilli Ann ads of the period reflected this elegance through the dramatic fashion images created by the great Hollywood photographer George Hurrell. Writing in her book, Ready-Made Miracle, former Vogue editor Jessica Daves noted that in 1967, Lilli Ann was the largest American manufacturer of coats and suits in the price bracket of $69.50 to $250.”

As Seen in Vogue: A Century of American Fashion in Advertising By Daniel Delis Hill (Texas Tech University Press, 2004)

I have a couple of problems with this description of Lilli Ann’s West Coast-based business and its seeming East Coast bias. When I first read this brief description, I thought it was suggesting that Lilli Ann was able to overcome the apparent narrow-minded and unsophisticated location of her operations (San Francisco), and that she somehow managed to create designs that were “versatile and sophisticated” anyway. It seemed to be downright insulting to the city that W Magazine heralded as the last bastion of sophisticated society (in 2007).

Upon further reflection, however, I realized that the author was perhaps meaning to convey the perception at the time (1942) that New York, Paris and London were stronger fashion cities – rather than the contemporary opinion at the time this book was published (2004).

So I put it to you, fellow fashion scholars – what is your take and how could the author have made his point more clear?

Additional Resources on Lilli Ann:

Fairchild’s textile & apparel financial directory, 1983

Adolph Schuman for Lilli Ann: celebrating fifty years, 1933-1983 (1983)

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1 Comment

  1. It might be important to remember during the implied ‘dark ages’ on the west coast, that Gilbert Adrian was re-inventing women’s silhouettes at MGM and had begun his own business at that time as well. In fact, during the war, the west coast contributed a significant design input as we can see in Vogue issues during that era (can I add Irene’s suits to this argument as well?).

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