China Machado in gorgeous white crêpe gown by Gustave Tassell , photo by Louis Faurer, Harper's Bazaar, Feb. 1960.
Philadelphian Gustave Tassell (1926 - 2014) launched his first collection at the age of 30 in Los Angeles in 1957. Though he was based in California, his designs were more in keeping with the high echelons of Paris and New York fashion than his location and climate would assume. Known for clean lines and sculptural shapes, Tassell was heavily inspired by Balenciaga's silhouettes which he combined with his Norman Norrell-like skill in creating very high-end Ready-to-Wear. His first season of RTW received $25,000 in orders, all attracted by the collection's "subtle form of chic." By 1961, Tassell had won the Coty "Winnie" Award and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was a client. He was part of a new group of Los Angeles designers (Galanos, Bud Kilpatrick, Paul Whitney and later Rudi Gernreich) who rejected the supremacy of Paris and New York. While Galanos's demi-couture designs are still highly prized and certain garments by Gernreich have become iconic, this whole group of West Coast creatives has been under-represented in discussions of 1950s and 1960s American fashion. At the time, it was thought that their distance from Paris provided them with a greater freedom than other American designers, allowing them to design clothes that were fashionable yet not stiff copies of Dior, YSL or Balenciaga. Following Norman Norell's death in 1972, Tassell moved to New York to become head designer at the House of Norell for four years before returning to Los Angeles and his own collection. As The New York Times wrote, "His is a pure, often magnificent, architectural line"-making clear why Tassell's designs continue to have longevity and look fresh today.
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