Meet the Artists
Sarah Hempel Irani
Kirilloff Design has created interpretive wayside exhibits for many of our country’s national parks and other prominent historical and cultural sites. Under the artistic lead of Irene Kirilloff, the studio will design and fabricate a wayside exhibit to accompany the sculpture that will tell the story of Claire McCardell’s extraordinary career.
Sharon Poole, of Poole Landscaping, LLC, based in Frederick, will apply her talent to the design of a park-like setting for the Claire statue in the Carroll Creek Linear Park. www.PoolesStoneandGarden.com
About Claire McCardell
Frederick Born and Raised
Born in Frederick, Maryland, in 1905, Claire McCardell grew up on Rockwell Terrace. There, she learned sewing and garment construction from the family seamstress and began developing her unique fashion sense at a young age. Although she dreamed of a career as a designer, at her father's insistence she attended Hood College just a few blocks from her home for two years. Then in 1926, her father acquiesced and she enrolled in what is today the Parsons School of Design in New York to study costume illustration and construction.
Following a year of study in Paris, Claire returned to New York, graduating from Parsons in 1928. After working at jobs on the fringes of New York fashion, she found a home with Townley Frocks. There, she rose to prominence in the industry, becoming head designer at age 27, achieving creative control and the right to have her name on the label. In 1958, at perhaps the high point of her career and with a new collection just completed, she died of colon cancer. She was 52.
The American Look
Unlike most designers of her time, Claire cast off the formality of French fashion, focusing instead on creating stylish wearable clothing for the active, independent modern American woman. In time, her approach to fashion became known as “the American Look,” marked by comfort, practicality, and understated style.
Claire used easy-care, everyday fabrics such as denim, calico, corduroy, men’s suit and shirt fabrics, and stretch jerseys. Her signature looks included her famous unstructured monastic dress that could be self-styled with a belt or sash, backless halter sundresses, coordinated separates, wrap dresses, pedal pushers, colorful plaid shirtwaists, trousers and jackets, "playclothes," and revealing bathing suits. She seldom missed a chance to add "McCardellisms" such as pockets and grommets, and she moved zippers from the back to the side so women could dress themselves without help.
Fashion historian Julie Eilber notes that though Claire’s designs were simple in concept, her draping skills and keen eye turned common-place fabrics into “alluring, body-conscious, and feminine fashions." As Claire herself put it, “I think real fashion is always a design that lets the natural figure show to best advantage.”
Claire’s collections also included jewelry, sunglasses, and footwear. Never a fan of high heels, she partnered with Capezio, the manufacturer of ballet shoes, to introduce American women to an early take on the still-popular “ballet flat."
Claire won the prestigious Coty American Fashion Critics Award in 1943, was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1955, and was named one of the most influential Americans of the 20th century by Life magazine in 1999. She has influenced countless contemporary designers, among them Donna Karan, Isaac Mizrahi, and Calvin Klein.
Examples of Claire’s garments can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Smithsonian Institution. Retrospective exhibitions of her work have taken place at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (1998) and the Museum of Modern Art (2017). Closer to home are collections at Heritage Frederick and the Maryland Historical Society.
Watch this 8-minute film about Claire and the project to honor her.