“Desperately Seeking Fashion”

Sandy Schreier’s Desperately Seeking Fashion
Cover illustration by Theadora Van Runkle

Sandy Schreier is on a mission to promote American fashion. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition, IN PURSUIT OF FASHION: The Sandy Schreier Collection (November 2019 – September 2020), was primarily of European Haute Couture. Only 4 American designers were included in the exhibition: Adrian, Rudi Gernreich, Christian Francis Roth, and Andy Warhol (the Campbell’s Soup Dress).

Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Dress
Photo by Randy Brooke for Lookonline

Yet, Sandy always felt that her American collection, which comprises half of the total (there are over 10,000 pieces of couture, ready-to-wear, and accessories) is more important than her European Haute Couture collection.

” I have thousands of Instagram followers, and every day, someone emails to thank me for allowing a new generation to fall in love with American design”- Sandy Schreier.

Catherine Malandrino Flag Dress
Photo: pinterest.com

Three months before the April 12th announcement, the Met’s Costume Institute will have a two-part examination of American fashion, “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” September 18th, 2021 – September 5th, 2022, Sandy began posting the A-Z of American fashion on Instagram; @sandy.schreier. She is about halfway through the alphabet.

Sandy selected Catherine Malandrino’s iconic American Flag dress to kick off her campaign. It was first shown in the summer before 9/11 back in 2001, but soon after, the dress became an iconic — not to mention, timeless — piece, and of course, it found its way into Sandy’s collection.

Irving Penn’s 12 Most Photographed Models,
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Irving Penn

“My ‘Big Five’ are Rudi Gernreich, Halston, Norman Norell, Charles James, and Claire McCardell,” says Sandy, who has already posted about Adrian, Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass, Donald Brooks, James Galanos, and Norma Kamali, among others. But Sandy is not just focusing on the obvious. She intends to bring name recognition to lesser-known American designers like Adri, Tom Brigance, Lilli Ann, Tina Leser, Ann Fogarty, Philip Hulitar, Omar Kiam, and Ceil Chapman.

In her post about Chapman, Sandy recounts that one of the most famous fashion photos in the world is Irving Penn’s “The 12 Most Photographed Models, NYC”, 1947. Each model is wearing a Ceil Chapman dress. Sandy owns most of them.

Harper’s Bazaar February 1972

One post that really caught my attention was the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, February 1972, honoring the 12 prominent American designers: Oscar de la Renta, Chester Weinberg, Betsey Johnson, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, Halston, Pauline Trigere, Calvin Klein, Geoffrey Beene, Donald Brooks, John Anthony, and Seymour Fox who headed up one of the great New York suit and coat of the mid 20th century.

I worked on that issue and remember it well. Sandy explains the white wool pantsuit by John Anthony, which appeared inside the issue, was made for her by John, and that Frank Olive gifted Sandy with the hat it was photographed with.

Calvin Klein
Photo: Instagram

Sandy typically uses between 7 – 10 pictures. She shows at least two of the designer’s pieces from her collection and tells little-known facts and personal stories about her involvement with the designer. For example, Sandy recounts that many years ago, as she was making chicken soup for that evening’s Passover Seder, she got a call from a friend who worked at Bonwit’s in Troy, Michigan. She asked if Sandy ever heard of a new young designer named Calvin Klein and said that he was making his very first public appearance and no one was there.

Sandy rushed over, and when she got to the store, she notices a “young nervous guy” who was frantic because the store was empty and the airport was about to close because of a snowstorm. So, after sharing some great fashion stories, Sandy invited him to join her family for Passover dinner.

Designer Rudi Gernreich Time Magazine 1967

And then there’s the one about Sandy’s good friend, the late Rudi Gernreich. Rudi was born in Vienna, Austria. When the Nazis annexed Austria in ’38, Rudi and his mother, who were Jewish, escaped to Los Angeles, where he went to City College until 1941. He began designing for JAX, an LA boutique, and by ’64, his own label. Sandy met Rudi when she won a Peggy Moffitt lookalike contest. Moffitt was his muse/model, and they were so close, they finished each other’s sentences notes Sandy. “The dress in pink that Peggy wears on the cover of Time Magazine was same as one owned by Natalie Wood, which became mine after her death in ’81,” she says.

This Halston dress with Liza Minnelli’s face

In her post about Halston, Sandy recalls that the last time she saw the designer was when he accompanied Liza Minnelli to Andy Warhol’s funeral. “As they walked in, you could hear a pin drop…Halston took my breath away. He was wearing a white cashmere suit with a long, flowing lipstick red scarf”. Liza Minnelli wore Halston’s designs in both her professional and her personal lives. Many of these pieces are now part of Sandy’s collection, including a dress emblazoned with Liza’s face, hand-painted by Joe Eula.

Signed Eisenberg Ice Jewelry Set
Photo: etsy.com

Sandy observes that the American milliners (like Halston and Lily Dache) were incredible and very prolific and that costume jewelry was born in America. Almost all of it (Trifari, Monet, Eisenberg) was made on the East Coast; Providence, Rhode Island, to be exact. One of Sandy’s favorite stories is about the Eisenbergs. In the ’60s, their dresses were decorated with jewelry. People started stealing the brooches and necklaces right off the dresses. This convinced them to stop making dresses and only make costume jewelry. Sandy proudly says that she still has the dresses with the original jewels.

Michael Katz’s colorful West 17th Street Studio
Photo: Instagram

Sandy’s most recent post is about Michael Katz, who passed away at 66 in 2019. She never met the artist and fashion designer but was a fan of his clothes with their “great bursts of technicolor.” Schreier explains that Michael’s West 17th Street loft, a former millinery factory, is where Michael sold his clothes to clients like Cybill Shepherd, Joan Collins, and Ivanka Trump, and his textiles to designers including Stephen Burrows and Halston

Sandy Schreier The Service Club of Chicago Spring Hat Luncheon. Hat by Philip Treacy

Sandy is not only a renowned collector; she is an author and sought-after guest lecturer. Sandy has been on the speaker circuit since the ’70s, and in fact, she told me that she is booked through 2028. On Friday, May 21st, Sandy will be the keynote speaker at The Service Club of Chicago’s annual hat luncheon, held at the Woman’s Athletic Club (it has sold out). Sandy will talk about her remarkable life and career and will show some pieces from her incredible collection. She has entitled it “Desperately Seeking Fashion,” which happens to be the title of her upcoming memoir.

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

  1. Wish we could bundle up Sandy Schreier in an Oriental rug and fly her on a private chartered jet to San Miguel de Allende! Halstonette Nancy North and me, Carol Troy (Rags Magazine, Cheap Chic book with Caterine Milinaire) would LOVE to talk with her. Maybe we can get on the blower….

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