Joan Calabrese

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Joan Frances Calabrese (October 29, 1939 – July 16, 2017) was an American fashion designer specialising in children's high end clothing.

Early life[edit]

Joan Calabrese, born on October 29, 1939,[1] was raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[2] Joan displayed a love for fashion from a very early age when she began designing and sewing clothes for her dolls. Joan once noted, "my mother said as soon as I could hold a pencil I was drawing costumes and people."[3] She studied fashion illustration at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts,[3] and was offered a full scholarship which she declined in order to work with family.[2]


Calabrese started her business in 1975, when she began making clothes for her two daughters.[4] These dresses were noticed by Tom Marotta, who was at that time Vice President of Saks Fifth Avenue's couture department, after which Calabrese's upscale childrenswear designs began appearing in many speciality shops and department stores.[3]

Her early designs were very expensive, costing up to $400 in 1982,[4] mainly due to her focus on the best fabrics from Europe.[4][3] She described how she tried to individualize her materials and make her pieces unique and special.[5] In an interview with Drexel University, Joan said many of her customers considered the gowns a family heirloom to be passed from generation to generation.[5]

The Metropolitan Museum of Art accepted two of Joan's dresses for the Permanent Collection of their Costume Institute.[6] She is also featured in the Costume Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.[7]

Calabrese clients included Natalie Wood, members of the Kennedy family, Nancy Sinatra and Betsy Bloomingdale.[4] When Dakota Fanning attended the 2003 Emmys, aged 9, she wore a Calabrese design on the red carpet.[8]

Mon Cheri[edit]

After her designs were copied and widely sold for much lower prices, Calabrese paired up with the bridalwear line Mon Cheri to offer a more affordable range of flower girl and First Communion dresses.[3]


Calabrese died of uterine cancer on July 16, 2017 in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, aged 77.[9]


  1. ^ "Joan Frances Calabrese - United States Public Records". Retrieved July 20, 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Joan Calabrese",, 2014
  3. ^ a b c d e Crawford, Caletha (June 2010). "Fancy That". Earnshaws. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d Klinger, Cynthia (20 March 1982). "Joan Calabrese: Designer for a Very Special Group". Palm Beach Daily. Daily News. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  5. ^ a b Marantz, Paula. Interview with Joan Calabrese, DUTV's The Drexel InterView, Drexel University, 27 June 2006. Retrieved on 20 June 2006.
  6. ^ Skinner, Andrea (5 March 1989). "Children's Fashion: Sizzling Summertime Wear". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  7. ^ "Girl's Party Dress. Designed by Joan Calabrese, American". Philadelphia Museum of Art. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  8. ^ Harris, Beth (25 September 2003). "Pretty in Pastels: Lighter shades ruled on Emmy's red carpet". Toledo Blade. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  9. ^ Feitelberg, Rosemary (July 20, 2017). "Children's Wear Designer Joan Calabrese Dies at 77". Women's Wear Daily. Retrieved July 20, 2017.