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Lecture: Dorothy Liebes, Coast to Coast

Presented by Susan Brown and Alexa Griffith

Saturday, March 19, 2022, 10am PT Online Presentation via Zoom

Admission: Free to TAC Members, $5 Students and members of FAMSF, $10 General Admission.

Zoom link will be emailed to all TAC members

Few people wielded as much influence over the texture and color of modern interiors in America as California designer and weaver Dorothy Liebes. The distinctive style of her woven designs – which combined vivid color, lush texture, and often a glint of metallic – became known as "The Liebes Look," and was inextricably linked with the American modern aesthetic.

Join Susan Brown and Alexa Griffith for a discussion of Liebes’ impact, from her roots in San Francisco to her New York "idea factory," where she developed handwoven prototypes for industry.

Liebes’ studio on Sutter Street in San Francisco produced luxurious handwoven fabrics that graced interiors from Doris Duke’s Shangri-la and the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West to the Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel in New York. Her reach also extended to the new luxury interiors – those of cruise liners, automobiles, and airplanes. The Liebes Look was further disseminated through fashion and film. Her fabrics were used for the sets of the Hepburn/Tracy romantic comedy Adam’s Rib (1949) and the Barbara Stanwyck nightclub noir Eastside, Westside (1947), and for costumes created by Hollywood designers Adrian, Edith Head, and Travis Banton. Her collaborations with another California designer, Bonnie Cashin, resulted in some of the most distinctively American fashions of the mid-twentieth century.

Liebes was deeply committed to making good design accessible to all, and in the 1950s gave up her lucrative custom fabrics business to prototype weaves for the textiles industry. Her New York studio created hand-woven samples to be translated into power-loomed fabrics at affordable prices, providing a means for Americans with modest budgets to participate in the modern design movement. Her reputation as a material innovator earned her consulting positions with several major fiber producers, including DuPont, Dobeckmun, and Dow Chemical, who sought her expertise and leveraged her reputation as a tastemaker to help them build markets for new materials.

At the time of her death in 1972, Dorothy Liebes was called "the greatest modern weaver, and the mother of the twentieth-century palette." She was an internationally recognized design authority and highly successful businesswoman who had earned the respect of her peers and the public over her forty-year career. Her story provides an essential – and new – narrative to the history of modernism in America.

Susan Brown is Associate Curator and Acting Head of Textiles at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, where she oversees a collection of over 27,000 textiles produced over 2,000 years. Her exhibitions include Extreme Textiles: Designing for High Performance (2005), Fashioning Felt (2009), Quicktakes: Rodarte (2010), Color Moves: Art and Fashion by Sonia Delaunay (2011), David Adjaye Selects (2015), Scraps: Fashion, Textiles and Creative Reuse (2016), Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color (2018), Contemporary Muslim Fashions (2020) and Suzie Zuzek for Lilly Pulitzer: The Prints that Made the Fashion Brand (2021). She has also contributed to the publications Alexander Girard: A Designer’s Universe, Ruth Adler Schnee: Modern Designs for Living, and Ripples: mïna perhonen. She lectures regularly for the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University.

Alexa Griffith-Winton is a design historian and educator. She is currently Manager, Content + Curriculum at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She has researched and published on the work of Dorothy Liebes for over ten years. Griffith’s work has been published in numerous scholarly and popular publications, including the Journal of Design History, Dwell, Journal of the Archives of American Art, and the Journal of Modern Craft. She edited Textile Technology and Design: From Interior Space to Outer Space with Deborah Schneiderman. (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016) and Interior Provocations: History, Theory and Practice of the Autonomous Interior (Routledge, 2020). She has received research grants from the Graham Foundation, the New York State Council for the Arts, Center for Craft, Creativity and Research, Nordic Culture Point, and the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation.

Image Credit: All image courtesy of Susan Brown


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