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Bendel, Henri (22 January 1868–22 March 1936), fashion designer and entrepreneur, was born Henri Willis Bendel in Vermillionville (renamed Lafayette in 1884 after the Marquis de Lafayette), in southwest Louisiana to William Louis Bendel, purported to have been a former British Naval officer, and Marie Plonsky, born in the German states. They arrived in Louisiana before the Civil War and opened a dry goods store. His father died in 1874; four years later his mother married Benjamin Falk, a Russian-born dry goods merchant, when Henri was ten years old. His mother, a successful businesswoman, ran a furniture store, a dry goods store, a drugstore and a funeral parlor. His stepfather was one of the most successful businessmen in late 19...

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Blass, Bill (22 June 1922–12 June 2002), fashion designer, branding innovator, and philanthropist, was born William Ralph Blass in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His father, Ralph Aldrich Blass, was a traveling hardware salesman, and his mother, Ethyl Keyser, was a dressmaker who worked from their home. Although his sister, Virginia (Gina), was just two years older than he, they were never close. When Blass was barely five years old, his father committed suicide at home, which Blass later assumed to be from manic-depression, although his mother never discussed the family trauma with her children. His mother did not remarry, and the family struggled during the Depression years on her income from a small annuity, rent from a lakeside cabin, and dressmaking....

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Ellis, Perry (03 March 1940–30 May 1986), fashion designer, was born Perry Edwin Ellis in Portsmouth, Virginia, the son of Edwin L. Ellis, the owner of a fuel company, and Winifred Alene Roundtree. Ellis grew up in neighboring Churchland. By his own account, he was interested in fabric and color as a child and often peeked into his mother’s copies of ...

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Gernreich, Rudi (8 Aug. 1922–21 Apr. 1985), fashion designer, dancer, and theater costumer was born in Vienna, Austria. His father, Siegmund Gernreich, was a manager in a hosiery manufacturing company, and his mother, Elisabeth (Lisl) Müller, was an intellectual and cofounder of the Vienna Ethics Society. In ...

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Halston (23 April 1932–26 March 1990), milliner and fashion designer, was born Roy Halston Frowick in Des Moines, Iowa, the son of an accountant and a homemaker (names unknown). (The name Halston came from his maternal grandfather, Halston Holmes.) Halston spent his boyhood in Iowa. His first design was a red hat and veil he created for his mother to wear on Easter Sunday 1945 to the Central Presbyterian Church in Des Moines. After World War II the family moved to Evansville, Indiana, where as a teenager, Halston was known as the best dresser at Bosse High School. Following high school Halston attended Indiana University but left two years later for the Art Institute of Chicago. Halston attended the Art Institute for only two semesters and did not graduate....

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Mainbocher (24 Oct. 1890–27 Dec. 1976), couturier, theater costumer, and magazine editor, was born Main Rousseau Bocher in Chicago, Illinois. His father, George Bocher, was a dry goods salesman, and his mother, Luella Main Bocher, was a homemaker who occasionally taught china decoration from home. In grade school Bocher pursued dual interests in the arts. His mother encouraged his artwork and his father supported the boy’s music training....

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Norell, Norman (20 Apr. 1900–25 Oct. 1972), fashion designer and theater and movie costumer, was born Norman David Levinson in Noblesville, Indiana. His father, Harry Levinson, owned a men’s hat shop in Indianapolis, and his mother, Nettie, was a homemaker. After high school, Norman moved to New York where he first studied illustration at Parsons School of Design, but then changed to fashion design at Pratt Institute. At this time, he changed his last name to Norell—“Nor for Norman, L for Levinson, and another L for the look,” he later said in an interview....

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Rosenstein, Nettie (26 September 1893–15 March 1980), fashion designer, was born in Vienna, Austria, the daughter of Joseph Rosencrans, a dry-goods merchant, and Sarah Hoffman. The family emigrated to the United States in 1899 and established a dry-goods shop in New York City at Lenox Avenue and 117th Street. Playing in the shop, Nettie began to sew her own doll clothes and fell in love with fabric while still very young. By the time she was eleven she was ambitiously making garments for people. To use her mother’s sewing machine, however, she had to stand, being unable as yet to reach the foot pedal while sitting down....

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Scaasi, Arnold (8 May 1930–3 Aug. 2015), fashion designer, theater and movie costumer, was born Arnold Isaacs in Montreal, Canada. His father, Samuel Isaacs, was a furrier, and his mother, Bessie, was a homemaker. His sister Isobel was fifteen years older than Arnold, and his brother Monty was fourteen years older. Arnold did not finish high school, but instead, in ...