Monday, March 18, 2019

THE TRAPHAGEN SCHOOL Fostering American Fashion: Review By Polly Guerin

Ethel Traphagen photographer unknown
To the world at large the name Traphagen may have very little significance, but to fashion insiders, historians and some fashionistas they remember that Ethel Traphagen, illustrator and fashion designer was founder with her husband, the artist William R. Leigh of the TRAPHAGEN SCHOOL OF DESIGN  where they both taught at the school and she served as director. The first fashion school of its kind, it opened in 1923 at 1680 Broadway. It is interesting to note that the school's founding predates The Fashion Institute of Technology which opened in 1944.  
      However, this story is not just about a fashion school it is about the meteoric rise of American fashion that would rival Paris couture that had held the title of Empress of Fashion since its founding by Charles Frederick Worth in 1800s. 
     The School of Graduate Studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology presents an engaging and well documented tribute to THE TRAPHAGEN SCHOOL, Fostering American Fashion in an exhibit which runs through to March 31, 2019.. The exhibit in the Museum at FIT is open Tuesday through Friday noon to 8 p.m., Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. free admission
      1912, A PIVOTAL YEAR: When the New York Times announced the first ever American Fashion contest in collaboration with Ladies Home Journal editor, Edward Bok who had been promoting"AMERICAN FASHION FOR AMERICAN WOMEN "since 1910.  You must remember that at this time American designers were incognito so to speak. They labored under the influence of Parisian styles and merely adapted the silhouettes at various price points.  
The Winner, Dress Design inspired by ART
THE WINNER:Thirty-year-old Ethel Traphagen of Brooklyn, New York was was one such designer, unremarkable and obscure until she won the coveted first place evening dress award in the New York Times contest. At six feet tall the red-haired, blue-eyed Ethel would become a dynamic pioneer in American fashion
ORIGINAL AMERICAN DESIGN: Ethel believed that American design could be achieved by the study of art and fashion history as a source of inspiration and that would become the mantra of instruction when the school was established. Ethel's winning dress design was based on the painting Nocturne Blue and Gold, Old Battersea Bridge by Abbott McNeil Whistler. 
      When Ethel established Traphagen School it was built on the fundamental American design movement: Design by Adaptation was its core philosophy. The Traphagen School was known for its study collections. artifacts that included books and historic fashion plates made available to students to use hands-on for inspiration. Such a tenet was also adapted by the Hewitt Sisters, particularly Eleanor, who made their artifacts and collections available to students for research and interpretation. As far as designer recognition goes, very few rose to the heights of our present day superstars. However, in the 1940's Lord and Taylor was the firsr department store to
elevate American Designers to stardom, featuring them in window displays and bring to the fore
such luminaries as Bonnie Cashin and later Anne Klein. THE BATTLE OF VERSAILLES: Worth mentioning here this event's intent was to raise money for the restoration of the French palace. It pitted American ready-to-wear designers and the Parisian haute couturiers. 
Traphagen Archive Illustration
Bravo! The American 
designers presented modern, cutting-edge fashions, which made the French couture seem outdated and in consequential. THE TRAPHAGEN SCHOOL MAY HAVE BEEN THE STANDARD BEARER OF ILLUSTRATION AND DESIGN, BUT THE FASHION BEAT GOES ON EVER TO HEIGHTS OF UNPRECEDENTED ACCLAIM AT THE FASHION INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY. Traphagen closed is doors in 1991 and FIT opened in 1945 beating the path to
international fashion history.
    Ta Ta Darlings!!!! Polly was a professor in the fashion merchandising department at FIT for over 25 years and conducted  a summer study tour in Europe for 20 young women students through the fashion capitals of London, Paris, Milan and St. Tropez visiting haute couture and not so haute designers as well as factories and retail stores. Visit Polly's Blogs at
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The Traphagen School: Fostering American Fashion at FIT;

Friday, March 15, 2019


William Wade, Panorama, 1847
The lore and legends of the mighty Hudson River served as inspiration for legions of artists including Thomas Cole, and writers who captured the river in paintings, drawings, literature and photographs, and surveyors and scientists have mapped and measured its every parcel, forever romancing its legendary history.
       But the Hudson River is much more than a body of
water. It has been home, not only for people, but hundreds of species of fish, birds, and plants, a landscape so rich when first discovered they came to plunder and then came enlightenment and conservation. Today, the movement to protect nature is called "environmentalism." Image: William Wade, Panorama of the Hudson Rive from New York to Waterford, ca. 1847. New York Historical Society Library.
      This spring, The New York Historical Society presents HUDSON RISING, a unique exhibition that explores 200 years of ecological change and environmental activism along "the most interesting river in America" through artifacts and the celebrated Hudson River School of paintings.  
       On view through August 4, 2019, HUDSON RISING  we learn that the Hudson River flows from the Adirondack Mountains 315 miles south to the bay between New York City and New Jersey, where it meets the Atlantic ocean. Five paintings by Thomas Cole at the entrance to the exhibit, tell a story about the rise and fall of the mighty Hudson empire.       
JOURNEYS UP RIVER: The river was lush, it was brimming with oysters and in its heyday oysters were shipped worldwide and in abundance in New York's Fulton Fish Market. With the  explosion of New York's population at the turn of the century and its commercial activities, including severe overfishing, the areas in and around New York were now highly polluted. Yields from the oyster beds atrophied, and questions arose about the safety of shellfish.    
Robert Havell, Jr.'s 'View from Hudson River
In the 1800's mighty Hudson was like a magnet luring steamboat and armchair travelers from New York City pointing out the landscape's natural wonders, Hudson Valley industries, notable individuals, and Revolutionary War sites along the way. Hudson River School art on display include Image: Robert Havell Jr.'s 'View from Hudson River from near Sing, Sing, New York, ca. 1850, oil on canvas. Purchase: Watson Fund. 1971.

THE ADIRONDACKS: 1870s-1890s examines the creation ofAdirondack Park, established to save the source of the river and combat deforestation in order to protect the viability of the entire Hudson watershed. Then, too, Seneca Ray Stoddard'a photograph images of deforestation made a strong case for forest conversation and protection of the Adirondack wilderness. THE PALISADES: 1890s-1950s In the late 1800s, the Palisades cliffs were being blasted to bit by road builders, Citizen activists, such as the New Jersey chapter of the General Federation of Women's Clubs and the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, fought back and helped create Palisades park in 1909. The throngs arrived and outdid themselves in 1920 when over two million people visited the park. This is a breathtaking exhibition and includes THE HUDSON HIGHLANDS and the final section A RISING TIDE: TODAY discusses the process of reimagining and reclaiming the Hudson River in the 21st century with conservation and environmentalism at its core.  Image: George Henry Boughton (1883-1905) Hudson Valley from Fort Putnam, West Point 1855. Oil on Canvas. New York Historical Society. Gift of John V. Irwin and William F Irwin.   
Boughton's Hudson Valley 1855
PROGRAMMING;  Several events include May 22, Douglas Brinkley, New York Historical's presidential historian, explores how presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt championed the protection of the nation's natural treasures.  For program details an family activities visit 
                 Ta Ta Darlings!!!  I'm overwhelmed by the lore and legends of the majestic Hudson River and count the many times I have traveled on Metro North cruising along as the train passes the sights at a speed of historical significance.  Fan mail welcome Visit Polly's other Blogs at