Recession-Dressing Tips From A Depression-Era Designer
Muriel King’s admitted inability to drape, cut, or sew didn’t preclude her from a successful career in fashion. A classically trained painter, King employed tailors and sewers to construct bespoke silk gowns and wool and cotton separates according to her watercolor sketches, an arrangement that kept King in business over the course of her 30-year-plus reign in the industry. Opening today through April 4 at the Museum at FIT, Muriel King: Artist of Fashion chronicles the designer’s course from fashion illustrator for Vogue and Women’s Wear Daily to Hollywood costumer and couturiere. Beyond a fan base that included Katharine Hepburn and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, King also found customers in average, cash-strapped Americans. Hence, in part, her choice to close shop at the beginning of World War II. “She wanted to reach out to more people. She was aware of this idea of elitism,” exhibit curator April Calahan explained of King’s decision. “From that point on, she focused on department stores, ready-to-wear, and patterns.” Pattern-making, along with the seven-piece, interchangeable wardrobe she created for Boeing employees, endeared King to the legion of working women still wanting a fashionable look without the astronomical price tag. The ethos behind her elegant yet sensible designs remains particularly relevant today. “Beauty, economy, and usefulness are the best rules for the well-dressed woman,” King declared, circa the Great Depression. Amen, sister.