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WW2: Fashion Designers Live On – Part 6

Concluding my visit to how WW2 affected fashion…enjoy information about the designers of the time.  Everything set in italics is quoted from the thesis by Meghann Madison that you can read HERE in its entirety.

Designers that Made an Impact during the War – continued

Before WWII began most of the famous designers had design houses in Paris, France. Paris was the fashion capital of the world and created couture, or custom-made, clothing for the most prominent figures in society.

Coca Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli were covered in Part 5 of this Series found HERE. 

These designers had a huge impact on fashion leading up to WW2 and after Paris was occupied by the Nazis. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (1883- 1971) Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973), Adrian (1903-1959), Mainbocher (1890-1976), Arnold Lever, and Edith Head (1897-1981). Their importance lie in the fact that they contributed to women’s wear during the war by influencing the looks of the “working class” woman by the textiles they wore and the imagination that adorned their heads in the work of millinery- one of the few places extravagances could live. They not only dressed the masses but created some of the most beautiful garments for the stars of Hollywood. These designers helped bridge the gap between the ever disseminating classes and reflected in clothing the rise of the middle class during WWII.


Adrian, born Adrian Adolph Greenburg (1903-1959), was a combination of an influential Hollywood designer before WWII and a custom dress designer during WWII. In his early career he designed for Broadway and then worked for Cecile B. DeMille’s private film production company.

In his early career, he designed for Broadway and then worked for Cecile B. DeMille’s private film production company.He moved to Los Angeles with DeMille’s company and joined MGM as Chief Costume Designer in 1928. There he influenced fashion around the world by creating and popularizing some of the most memorable costume designs in history.

New Corsetry

In fashion, the 1930’s brought the invention of a women’s corset that was made of rubber and silk, with little or no boning. (see fig. 31) This allowed women to complete the look of the time by having soft curves and flattened breasts without being as uncomfortable as they were in previous years with stiff boning.


These corsets also allowed women to wear the new bias cut dresses created by Madeleine Vionnet (1876-1975), which gently wrapped around the figure showing off its curves.


Backless dresses were also introduced in the 1930’s, being attributed to Hollywood designer Adrian who designed the dresses for Greta Garbo, which required the aforementioned rubber and silk corset because it tended to have the deep back to accommodate such dresses.


Perhaps his most popular look created in the 1930’s was the Letty Lynton dress designed for Joan Crawford in 1932.  The design, which emphasized Crawford’s naturally broad shoulders, has been widely credited with setting the vogue for the shoulder pad…”

He is most well-known for his designs in The Wizard of Oz (1939), including the ruby slippers. In 1941 Adrian left MGM and began his own line of custom made dresses. “In January, 1942, his first collection was shown at the May Company department store in Los Angeles. Unsuccessful at first, Adrian held another show the following month and was soon selling his designs in department stores across the USA. His ready to wear line carried the “Adrian Original” label and his couture clothing was labeled “Adrian Custom”. To remain exclusive, he allowed only one store in each city to sell his collections” (Zappitelli). His contribution during the war was important because it lent a sense of glamour to the rationed streamlined look of WWII women’s clothing.

His women’s suits were well tailored, with eye-catching fabric inserts which made it more appealing to the mass number of women who were entering the professional workforce due to the war; they could look feminine and business-like at the same time. Adrian’s popularity during the 1930’s was extremely helpful to his sales in the 1940’s. He died unexpectedly in 1959 of a heart attack.



Mainbocher (pronounced MAIN-BAWKER, as opposed to a French pronunciation), originally named Main Rousseau Bocher, made a name for himself in Paris before the war even though he is American. Born in Connecticut, he stayed in France after serving in WWI and worked for Harper’s Bazaar, afterward becoming the editor of French VOGUE magazine.

Mainbocher’s contribution to fashion during WWII was significant. His line consisted only of haute couture fashion, or completely custom made clothing, whereas other designers had a ready-to-wear line as well. His line catered to the social elite both in Paris and New York.

However, he did design the uniforms for the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) in 1942, which was tailored