Elizabeth Hawes (American, Ridgewood, New Jersey 1903–1971 New York)
Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. George B. Wells, 1957
Not on view
Elizabeth Hawes created simple, witty, distinctive, elegant and practical garments for women of means. Her designs were so smart and timeless that they were as contemporary in the early 1930s as they were in the late 1940s due to her commitment to quality of materials and simplicity of line. She was committed to the notion that form follows function and paramount in her design sensibilities was the desire to make clothes that were stylish, easy to move in, and by incorporating breathable fabrics, easy to wear. Hawes focused on construction and comfort, rather than embellishment, and incorporated a variety of interesting fabric combinations and construction techniques, successfully using somewhat complex textural juxtapositions to create visual interest. Aspiring to follow in similar design techniques as Madeleine Vionnet, Hawes draped fabrics on the body and creatively pieced together wearable garments that were also beautiful works of art. Hawes’ philosophy toward fashion also shaped her aesthetic. She firmly believed there was a difference between fashion and style. Style, she declared, “is dressing to fit your own self – it lasts.” Hawes Inc. scrapbooks and designer sketchbooks, complete with style documentation and swatches, are part of the Brooklyn Museum Library’s collection. The latter are cross-referenced with many of Hawes’ garments. Taken as a whole, this material provides a remarkably comprehensive look at the work of an exceptional designer.
This coat and dress ensemble, entitled "Pandora," employs Hawes' characteristic methods of piecing using contrasting colors and interesting fabric. She has constructed the coat in such a way that the scarlet faille piecing that is flush at the hem, tapers as it rises to the waist, eventually jutting out from the garment and creating a three-dimensional fin-like effect. The upper portion of the coat is reminiscent of a box-pleated doublet. The pleats extend from the waist over the shoulders to the back, appearing like slashing in the cream faille, giving a slight peek of the scarlet faille. The dress incorporates the scarlet faille in a more subtle manner, referencing a mythological subject - hence the name of the garment. The myth of Pandora's Box has been interpreted by some in a way that the box or jar represents the female womb. The triangular shaped scarlet faille accent, hidden in the top of the CF pleat on the skirt below the waist, is Hawes' nod to this interpretation. Interestingly, the dress also appears in a collection five years previous to the accession dating of this dress. A photograph of the dress, located in the library scrapbooks, is from Hawes' fashion show in Paris at Les Embassadeurs in July 1931.