Many of the boxes at the Costumes and Textiles Department of the Museum of the City of New York contain clothes that are not to be hung on hangers. Other boxes contain accessories, costume jewelry, and fashion sketches with swatches. The other day while conducting inventory for some of the small boxes, we located sketches, look books, and swatch books of Balenciaga and Bonnie Cashin from 1966 among others.
In the Bonnie Cashin box we opened, there were sketches and catalogs, as well as a half-inch-deep box that was the size of a postcard. Inside that box, there was an invitation card for a preview party dated January 2001 for the Bonnie Cashin exhibition “Practical Dreamer” held at FIT Museum, sponsored by Coach. The card was the size of a regular postcard in the shape of a Coach belt hang tag. It even had a ball chain attached to the card. For me, the design of this invitation card brought back memories of urban street fashion trends of New York in the early 2000s.
In those days in the early 2000s, wearing jeans without a belt was like having bread without butter or having Pacific saury without grated radish. Among all the belts sold in stores, Coach belts were one of the most popular along with Gucci belts. It was the must-have item in women's street wear. Women wore Coach belts with their jeans, the color of the belt often matching their shoes, sneakers, or trimmings of their clothes while men wore belts with elaborate belt buckle designs. (On a side note, monogram belts such as Gucci belts were unisex.)
At one point, Coach stores did not even sell solid color belts that many wished to have. Had they had hot pink, baby pink, or blue belts with hang tags available in their stores, I would have bought them. However, I admit that I had to buy my belts from a bootlegger who carried over 20 different colors of $5 belts with Coach hang tag to match any color outfit. I am not sure if solid color Coach belts were even available from the official Coach stores, at which Reed Krakoff was the creative director at the time.
In any case, a Coach belt wasn't complete without the metal Coach hang tag with a ball chain attached to the belt, the same way that Timberland boots weren't as cool if they were missing their ball chain square leather hang tag. The design of this invitation card really signified the importance of the Coach belt for New York street fashion culture during the early 2000s.
But who is Bonnie Cashin? According to Caroline Rennolds Milbank, Bonnie Cashin (1915 – 2000) was one of the most important designers in America. In the 1930s, Cashin designed showgirl costumes for Roxy Theatre in New York before moving to Hollywood to design costumes for 20th Century Fox. One of the films she worked on was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in 1944. She returned to New York in 1949, and designed for several sportswear firms before founding her own company Knittery. She designed the iconic matte-finish heavy leather pocket book with brass turn lock clasp for Coach, which was made in many different versions after her original prototype was made.†
The Coach signature hang tag not only came with belts but was also on most Coach bags. In an interview with the New York Times from May 2016, Krakoff said, he "looked at Cashin's work from day one, and recreated her designs." * Bonnie Cashin’s legacy had lived on through Krakoff, the accessory designer who understood her aesthetics; the graphic designer who had designed the invitation card; and probably many other individuals who were involved in the designing of Coach accessories.
† Milbank, C.R. (1989). New York Fashion: The evolution of American style. New York: Abrams. p. 185-186, 251.
* Petkanas, C. (2016, May 10). The forgotten designer behind some of fashion's biggest trends.
The New York Times on the web. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/12/fashion/coach-bonnie-cashin-designer.html