Queens of Design

“Scandal Suit” by Margit Fellegi

Dishes. Planters. Jewelry. Doll clothes. Textiles. Chairs. Bathing suits. California in the 20th century enjoyed a multi-decade boom economy. Someone had to fill the millions of new homes with furniture and household goods; it makes sense that women designed many of the objects they were charged with using. Yet the role of creative women in the Arts & Crafts, Art Deco, and Mid-Century Modern movements has frequently been overlooked. “California’s Designing Women: 1896-1986” aims to correct this imbalance, with an impressive exhibition of to-die-for handmade and manufactured goods by more than 40 Golden State women.

Ray Eames and Beatrice Wood are the big names in this Autry Museum show. But there are lesser-known figures, such as Margit Fellegi, designer of a super-sexy swimsuit, and Arline Fisch, whose 1968 silver halter would be a red-carpet showstopper. I was lucky to have curator Bill Stern give me a guided tour of “Designing Women” — well, lucky that we have a mutual friend in Jeff Weinstein.

Reading about how California fostered a supportive environment for these creators, I couldn’t help but think about the Runaways. Some East Coasters scoffed plenty at the Queens of Noise’s jailbait shtick, but the California girls broke trail, no question. In their immortal words, “California — it’s so nice.”

Thanks Bill and Jeff for the inspiring morning.

Bill Stern outside the Autry exhibition that he curated.

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