Winters Past

20th Century Fashion from Deco to Disco

Designer Spotlight: Lilli Ann

Picture the classic Film Noir dame, as played by a mysterious and gorgeous move star like Lana Turner, Veronica Lake or Barbara Stanwyck. What’s she wearing? Maybe something like this:

Or this:

All of these crisply tailored garments with fantastic details were made by Lilli Ann, a California-based maker whose suits and coats are considered the holy grail of forties fashion.

Founded by businessman Adolph Schuman in the 30’s, Lilli Ann relied on several female designers including Jean Wright in the 40s and Billie Jean Dugan in the 50s to create its spectacular looks. Dugan, in particular, created the label’s iconic sharp-waisted, sculptural pieces.

Their advertising copy refers to “round the clock” clothing for fashionable ladies, perfect for “matinees, cocktails and evenings about town”.

Lilli Ann definitely delivered the drama. They made statement suits that used creative draping, asymmetry, and wild sleeve detail to great effect.

Just imagine my excitement when I first came across this suit:

I purchased it from a charming and funny retired university professor who, as the only woman in her department, wore it to stand out and be seen by her colleagues. Her strategy was apparently successful; she had a long, successful academic career in a male dominated field.

I researched it and–woo hoo!– found this advertisement for my suit:

I love to see how it looks on the model. The jacket’s flare against the slim lines of the pencil skirt is just spectacular. And that collar!

The outfit was a high-end piece in it’s day; it cost $100.00 when it was new, which is about $1,000 in todays dollars. As befitting a piece with this price tag, it was made with the highest level of quality in both materials and workmanship.

The ad is from 1956, which surprised me because the suit has such classic 1940s design elements. I learned that Lilli Ann used the strong shoulders, narrow hips and peplum waists we associate with the WW2 years well into the 1950s to great effect.

A contemporaneous review of a Lilli Ann fashion show lets us know how it was perceived in its time:

By combining the practical points of the tailleur with the feminine appeal of a beautiful dress she [Wright] has given a distinctive new look to her suit costumes. 

Fay Hammond, LA Times, November 3, 1944

Author: Winters Past

I am a vintage clothing shop owner living and working in rural north Florida. I believe in adding a little vinegar and molasses to my greens, having my coffee outside whenever possible, and mixing something vintage into every room and every outfit.

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