The Historic Clothing and Textiles Collection here at Ohio State is currently sorting through our own collection of Bonnie Cashin outfits as part of a 2018 National Endowment of Humanities funded Preservation Assistance Grant. Cashin was a well known fashion designer with a creating span of over 40 years. She became known as one of the “Mothers of American Sportswear,” and was known for frequently saying, “chic is where you find it.” Unimpressed with many of the day’s fashions, she created her own line called “Bonnie Cashin Designs”. Cashin’s designs were new and original for the time she created them. However, many of her designs have been reinvented by “copycats” without any credit or acknowledgment for Cashin. She was once quoted as saying, “The moment you think of an idea, it is no longer yours exclusively.” Perhaps she knew that her designs would be copied one day because of how unique and original they were. Today, it is hard to know what was her idea because the designs have become ever-so mainstream in modern day.
Cashin was born on September 15, 1908 to an inventor and a photographer. From a young age, she was brought into a world of original thinking and creativity. Her mother had opened a custom dress shop in California where she learned to sew before she could write. She made her way from California to New York and became “the youngest designer to ever hit Broadway.” Later, she would go on to create clothing for women in armed forces, Hollywood, sportswear, and more. Cashin wanted to make clothing for women that played a certain role, not just what was the latest trend. This may have been what set her apart in her designs, or how she cultivated such unique ideas.
To combat against copycats, Stephanie Lake, Cashin’s heir and owner to her personal design archive, created an Instagram account called “Cashincopy” in order to showcase the true work of Cashin and display side by side images of today’s knockoffs. One of the more controversial copycats was made by Calvin Klein. Raf Simons, designer for Calvin Klein’s 2018 Spring Collection, designed an orange poncho extremely similar to one of Cashin’s designs. From the color to the diagonal zipper front pockets and drawstring, Calvin Klein copied it almost exactly. More big name copycats include Miu Miu, Lisa Perry, Rachel Zoe, and Coach.
Bonnie Cashin was perhaps one of the most original fashion designers to date. From the start to the end of her career, she never had any investors or assistant designers to help her. Her style was unique, one of a kind, and the first of its kind. The remakes began in the sixties and still continue today. Stephanie Lake was quoted, “She wished that people copying her would do a better job. And in the sixties she went to D.C. to campaign for designers’ rights, acknowledging that people were going to copy but the originator of the idea should by law receive credit and compensation.”