In 1928, when Elizabeth Hawes opened her salon in New York City, American women looked to Paris for couture garments, and American designers were copying the designs of the French couturiers. Hawes, however, constructed her designs to fit her clients' American lifestyle. Although she has been largely forgotten, she was the first true American couturier.
Hawes’s designs were unlike any other. The cut of her clothes was complex, and the garments were unrestrained and elegant. She created soft dresses that molded to the body, following its natural proportions. Her genius lay not in eye-catching surface embellishment but in the cut of the clothes.
Hawes created this evening dress of soft blue silk chiffon for Cincinnati socialite Dorette Kruse Fleischmann. Its innovative cowl neckline is pulled up in the center by separate straps, creating a soft fullness around the bust. The back neckline is a deep V, a characteristic Hawes device, and the dress is cut in a princess line to fit the body. Multiple triangular pieces or godets, set into the skirt from the waist to the hem, allow the skirt to fall straight when still but reveal a hidden fullness when in movement.
Elizabeth Hawes conceived of garments in the 1930s that did not become a reality until the 1960s, for example unisex garments, skirts for men, and trousers for women. She influenced Rudi Gernreich, one of the most innovative and avant-garde designers of the 1960s.