Meet a designer: Lee Herman
Yes, it’s another California designer. What can I say? I live here. And California designers played such a huge role in fashion, especially sportswear, during and in the decades following World War II, and I love learning about how they helped shape global trends.
Lee Herman is a pretty good example of that, actually. Though she did show the occasional silk dress, silk stole or jersey suit, her primary medium as an artist was knit. In the 1950s she excelled at, and was best known for, her extravagant wraps and cardigan sweaters. We’re not talking your basic beads and sequins.
Her shop, then located at 9010 Melrose, sold what I can only imagine to be the most exquisitely adorned sweaters possible. Reportedly, Grace Kelly wore one of her white jeweled evening sweaters on her honeymoon, possibly this one–
–which helped propel her collections into the big leagues. In the 1950s, she showed her collections with other sportswear designers like Koret of California and Alex Colman. But by the 1960s, Lee Herman was one of a handful of Los Angeles designers to have couture salons in addition to their ready-to-wear lines. As a member of the Los Angeles Fashion Guild, by 1964 she was showing at the organization’s press week alongside other local couturiers like William Travilla. A couple similar examples on eBay right now, one is couture and one is off the rack. Click through images to view the auctions.
And then there’s this shocking pink mohair sweater coat that’s new to my Etsy shop:
In good condition, save for some small holes in the lining and a cigarette burn near the back lower hem. I can imagine the woman who would be bold enough to wear such a color, out having a fabulous time at a party. Anyway, it’s adorable. and Lee Herman continued to build her knitted empire into the 1960s, innovating knits for evening and day wear, not just sweaters and coats but dresses, skirt suits, pant suits (her bell bottoms get kind of crazy later on). In 1964, fashion editors declared that “the look in Paris is knit head to toe,” and Lee Herman was already in step. LA Times fashion writer Fay Hammond must have loved her, because she wrote about her often and always glowing.
That’s roughly $250 today. Now, you can find her sweaters online mostly in the $20-80 range, partly because they just didn’t have a lot of staying power. They’re relatively rare, but they’re often silly enough to read more wacky than wonderful. My guess is that the sillier ones didn’t get a lot of wear even back then, so they were more likely to survive. The intricate hand-beading and ribbon detailing would be less likely to make it 60 years. But it’s also true that, despite her apparent popularity in the early 1960s, she’s somewhat faded from fashion notoriety, so you might not recognize the name unless you’re a incessant researcher like me. But now you have one more label to look out for.