Tina Leser

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Tina Leser (December 12, 1910 – January 23, 1986) was an American fashion designer. Part of a generation of pioneering sportswear designers, Leser was particularly known for her global influences.

Personal life[edit]

Tina Leser was born Christine Wetherill Shillard-Smith in Philadelphia.[1] She studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the School of Industrial Arts in Philadelphia, and the Sorbonne in Paris.[2] Leser made her debut in Philadelphia in 1929.[3]

Tina married Curtis Leser in November 1931 and the couple moved to Honolulu.[4] In 1936, the Lesers divorced.[2]

In 1948, Tina Leser married James J. Howley (1920-2012).[5] The couple had one daughter.[1] In 1949, Leser and Howley took a round the world honeymoon that helped to develop Leser's international aesthetic.[1][3] In 1982, the Long Island home of Leser and Howey was burglarized. Two million dollars worth of art and silver were stolen, including a Picasso and a Monet.[6] The thieves were caught.[7]

Leser's mother, Georgine Shillard-Smith, founded the Gulf Coast Art Center. Leser was president of the organization from 1952 to 1954.[6] The Gulf Coast Art Center closed in 2009.[8]


Leser opened a store in Honolulu in 1935. Until it closed in 1942, the store sold resort wear, primarily playsuits and coverups, designed by Leser. Fabrics used included sailcloth, Hawaiian and Filipino fabrics.[2]

Encouraged by Edna Woolman Chase and Carmel Snow, Leser met with buyers at Saks Fifth Avenue who purchased 500 playsuits from Leser.[2] Leser briefly ran her own company in New York from 1941 to 1943.[2] Her 1941 collections included Hawaiian palanka fabric, hand painted fabric, and menswear.[9] At that time, her business was headquartered at 1 West 47th Street in Manhattan.[3] A 1941 article describes her salon as having "hand-painted satin drapes and sea-shell chairs."[9]

From 1942 to 1952, Leser designed for the Edwin H. Foreman sportswear company.[1] While working with Edwin H. Foreman, Leser introduced harem pants, dhoti pants, and toreador pants as "at home" clothing for American women.[3]

In 1952, Lesser again founded her own company, Tina Leser Inc., which she headed until her retirement in 1964.[1] The headquarters were at 550 7th Avenue in Manhattan.[3] During this phase in her career, Leser promoted hand painted Hawaiian print, sarong-type play clothes, and cashmere dresses.[3]

From 1949 to 1953, Leser organized the Tina Leser prize for Japanese designers.[10]

Leser's celebrity clients included Joan Crawford, Joan Fontaine, Paulette Goddard, Audrey Hepburn, and Kim Novak.[3] Leser designed costumes for the 1950 film Born to be Bad. Star Joan Fontaine said "the only acceptable art of the film was my wardrobe designed by Tina Leser."[11] Leser also designed the costumes for the 1946 Broadway musical Park Avenue.[12]

Tina Leser died on January 23, 1986.[1]


Liz Claiborne's began her career as a model and sketch artist for Tina Leser.[13][14][15] From Leser, Clairborne learned "that being a designer meant hard, long, interminably long hours of work..."[13]

Tina Leser's work is held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art,[16] Museum of Fine Arts in Boston,[17] Philadelphia Museum of Art,[18] Phoenix Art Museum,[19] and Kent State University Museum,[20]



  1. ^ a b c d e f "TINA LESER, A DESIGNER, DIES; HEADED SPORTSWEAR CONCERN". The New York Times. 1986-01-27. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-07-07.
  2. ^ a b c d e F, José Blanco; Hunt-Hurst, Patricia Kay; Lee, Heather Vaughan; Doering, Mary (2015-11-23). Clothing and Fashion: American Fashion from Head to Toe. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781610693103.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Cosdon, Christina K. (October 30, 1973). "Tina Leser Fashions To Be Shown". Pinellas Times. Retrieved July 7, 2016 – via https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=888&dat=19731030&id=6vdRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=IXMDAAAAIBAJ&pg=7104,5730008&hl=en.
  4. ^ a b Onofrio, Jan (1999-01-01). Pennsylvania Biographical Dictionary. Somerset Publishers, Inc. ISBN 9780403099504.
  5. ^ "James Howley's Obituary on Tampa Bay Times". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 2016-07-07.
  6. ^ a b Times, James Barron, Special To The New York (1982-04-15). "GUNMEN ROB NASSAU HOME OF ART VALUED AT $2 MILLION". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-07-07.
  7. ^ Upi (1982-07-16). "THE REGION; Stolen Art Seized; 4 Men Arrested". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-07-07.
  8. ^ "Largo's Gulf Coast Museum of Art falls to lack of visibility, economy". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 2016-07-07.
  9. ^ a b Gardner, Joan (June 25, 1941). "Young Designer Weaves Hawaii Into New Styles". Spokane Daily Chronicle. Retrieved July 7, 2016 – via https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1338&dat=19410625&id=iNdXAAAAIBAJ&sjid=XfUDAAAAIBAJ&pg=7094,5622349&hl=en.
  10. ^ Caroli, Rosa; Basosi, Duccio (2015-01-01). Legacies of the U. S. Occupation of Japan: Appraisals After Sixty Years. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN 9781443876896.
  11. ^ Silvester, Christopher (2002-02-01). The Grove Book of Hollywood. Grove Press. ISBN 9780802138781.
  12. ^ League, The Broadway. "Park Avenue | IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information". www.ibdb.com. Retrieved 2016-07-07.
  13. ^ a b Ortenberg, Art (2010-04-16). Liz Claiborne: The Legend, the Woman. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781589794948.
  14. ^ Snodgrass, Mary Ellen (2015-03-17). World Clothing and Fashion: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Social Influence. Routledge. ISBN 9781317451679.
  15. ^ Jackson, Kenneth T.; Keller, Lisa; Flood, Nancy (2010-12-01). The Encyclopedia of New York City: Second Edition. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300182570.
  16. ^ "Collection". The Metropolitan Museum of Art, i.e. The Met Museum. Retrieved 2016-07-07.
  17. ^ "Collections Search". Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Retrieved 2016-07-07.
  18. ^ Art, Philadelphia Museum of. "Philadelphia Museum of Art - Collections : Search Collections". www.philamuseum.org. Retrieved 2016-07-07.
  19. ^ "Phoenix Art Museum". egallery.phxart.org. Retrieved 2016-07-07.
  20. ^ "KSU Museum | Kent State University". www.kent.edu. Retrieved 2016-07-07.

External links[edit]