West Coast Mod

New York's Seventh Avenue may be America's fashion capital, but California has always been the heart of the American sportswear industry. "The California pace is easy, outdoorsy, sunny," Vogue declared in 1954. "California clothes . . . suit it perfectly."Phil Rose of California was one of the many  garment companies based in the Golden State producing inexpensive, easy-to-wear clothes appropriate for active, informal lifestyles. The label became known for melding Italianate style–the "mod" look of the 1960s–with the casual California aesthetic.

Phil Rose of California
Gift of Stephanie Kline Morehouse

This shift dress of multicolored wool exemplifies the company's brand of cheap chic. A similar dress was illustrated in Women's Wear Daily in April 1967, described as a "shift in paintbox colors framed in black … an abstract art arrangement in wool," designed for Phil Rose by Irene Saltern (1911-2005).2 Born in Germany, Saltern attended fashion school in Berlin, where she lived next door to Albert Einstein. In the late 1930s, Saltern moved to Hollywood to pursue a career in costume design, working on more than 35 films for Republic Pictures and United Artists before turning her talents to fashion design. In 1950, she became head designer for Tabak, one of the early Los Angeles sportswear companies.


As early as 1944, the Los Angeles Times noted: "Stressing the importance of line and silhouette rather than intricate detail, Miss Saltern uses a technique which she calls 'optical illusion,' a play of bright colors against dark shades that trim the figure down to slim, graceful proportions"–the same technique used in this dress. 

1 Vogue, April 15, 1954.

2 Women's Wear Daily, April 19, 1967.

3 Los Angeles Times, October 11, 1944.b

One response to “West Coast Mod

  1. Lynn Mally says:

    Irene Saltern’s archive is at UC Irvine. On my blog, americanagefashion.com, I wrote about the contents. See them here: http://americanagefashion.com/?p=3385

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