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Bonnie Cashin (September 28, 1907 – February 3, 2000) is considered one of the most significant pioneers of designer ready-to-wear, more commonly called sportswear, in America. Among the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful designers of the 20th century, Cashin was revered for her intellectual, artistic, and independent approach to fashion. Treating clothing as collage or kinetic art, she sculpted designs from luxurious organic materials including leather and mohair, both of which she first championed as appropriate for high-end fashion, as well as tweed, cashmere, and wool jersey. She initiated the use of industrial hardware on clothing and accessories, most famously with the brass toggle that she incorporated into her handbag designs for Coach, the company for which she launched a women accessories division in 1962. Favoring timeless shapes from the history of world clothing, her staple silhouettes included ponchos, tunics, Noh coats and kimonos, all of which allowed for ease of movement and manufacture. Cashin is also credited with introducing the concept of layering to fashion.
Cashin was born on September 28, 1907, in Oakland, California to Eunice, a dressmaker and Carl, a photographer. She attended Hollywood High School, the Chouinard School of Art in Pasadena and later the Art Students' League in Manhattan but had no formal training in clothing design.
From L.A. to Broadway
After designing costumes for chorus girls in Los Angeles, in 1933 Cashin moved to Manhattan to design for the Roxyettes, the in-house dance line at the Roxy Theater. Variety is reported to have described her as, at 19, "the youngest designer to ever hit Broadway". From 1937 until 1942, she designed for coat and suit manufacturer Adler & Adler.
In 1943, she returned to California to design costumes for over sixty films at Twentieth Century-Fox, including Laura (1944), Anna and the King of Siam (1946), and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1946). She used Fox’s libraries and leading ladies to develop ideas for “real” clothing and returned to ready-to-wear and New York in 1949.
In 1950, Cashin received the Neiman Marcus Fashion Award and Coty Fashion Critic’s Award for her first "return collection". Displeased, however, with her manufacturer’s control over her creativity and frustrated with designing only coats and suits, she began working with multiple manufacturers to design a range of clothing at different price points. This enabled her to create complete wardrobes for modern living. In the 1950s, her prices ranged from $14.95 for a plastic raincoat to $2,000 for a fur kimono. At the time, it was unheard of for any designer to work for a variety of firms in so many different sectors of the business. 
In 1953, Cashin teamed with leather importer Philip Sills and pioneered the use of leather for high fashion. Designing for her globetrotting lifestyle, she developed “layered” outfits, inspired by traditional Chinese dress, with the objective of creating a flexible wardrobe for modern nomads, whether a day’s travel was from country to country or city to suburb.
In 1962, with Miles and Lillian Cahn, wholesale manufacturers of men’s wallets, she launched Coach as a women’s handbag and accessory firm. Her designer cachet and her inimitable aesthetic kept her in constant demand. She designed for companies ranging including American Airlines, Samsonite, Bergdorf Goodman, White Stag, and Hermès; she was the first American designer to have a boutique in Liberty's of London.
Without licensing her name, Cashin also designed knitwear, gloves, totes, at-home gowns and robes, raincoats, umbrellas, hats and furs. Among many other honors she received the Coty award five times, entering their Hall of Fame in 1972.
In 1985 Cashin retired to focus on painting and philanthropy. She died in New York on February 3, 2000 from complications during heart surgery. Her designs are housed in many major museum collections, .org Bonnie Cashin Foundation], established by the executors of her estate.
- Bonnie Cashin at the Fashion Model Directory
- Bonnie Cashin designs, circa 1933 - circa 1960, held by the Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- Bonnie Cashin Collection of Fashion, Theater and Film Costume Design, 1913-2000, held by UCLA Library Special Collections
- American Ingenuity: Sportswear 1930s-1970s, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on Bonnie Cashin (see index)