The Chamber of Commerce of New York

The Science of Industry > Style Arbiter

The flight from Marseilles to Long Island took the Pan American Airways flying boat nearly nineteen hours to complete. Speed was essential for the precious cargo: “models, dresses, hats and furs,” designed that very week in Paris. For centuries, New York women had waited anxiously for the latest French fashions to arrive. Formerly, the lag had stretched to months or weeks. But, no more. It was 1939 and American women finally could be au courant tout de suite.

And not a moment too soon. Chanel’s Russian blouses, Marjorie Dunton’s sport suits, Alix’s furs, the jeune filles line by Lyolene – the whole demi-monde agreed that the year’s designs were splendid, offering “luxury and brilliance completely stripped of the bizarre.”

A year later, the fall line in Paris featured the gray wool uniforms of German soldiers.

The previous war had made New York the world’s undisputed financial capital. This time around, the City’s leading businessmen saw a new opportunity. Why should their wives and daughters wait even a single moment to learn the latest designs? Couldn’t Manhattan become the locus of high style? With Nazis in the Faubourg Saint-Honoré, the chance had come. In August 1940, the Chamber of Commerce unanimously resolved to urge the City and its government to coordinate in making New York “the world’s fashion center.”

“No city in the world is better qualified than New York to assume the heirship to the position of style arbiter which Paris held almost without interruption for 400 years,” the merchants argued. “New York has everything which is necessary to enable it to take advantage of the opportunity which has com to it as a result of the German occupation of France.”

To lose this chance would be a detriment to industry and commerce. But, it would also be a setback for the City’s wives and daughters. “Making New York the world’s fashion center will not mean an increase in the cost of women’s apparel,” the resolution explained. “On the contrary, it will mean more style for the average woman for less money.”

Haute couture followed the rules of any industry. And if the members were perhaps not conversant with the latest trends in fringes and hems, no one could claim they did not understand the workings of a marketplace. “If the creators of fashion can be encouraged to invest time and money in research in order that new and inspiring designs can be introduced in the exclusive field,” the businessmen said, “mass reproductions of the most approved styles eventually will follow in the medium and lower-priced fields. American manufacturing genius has demonstrated this fact over and over again.”

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