In an era of mass produced and overly hyped fashion comes news of the revitalization of the designs of a great American designer, Irene Lentz. Fashion designer Irene Lentz was an original. British Vogue called her designs ”Californian elegance.” There was a reason Irene’s designs were so beautiful. The materials she used were the finest available for fabric, buttons and linings. When Irene was head of Costume Design at MGM Studios it was rumored that studio head Louis B. Mayer was none too pleased with Irene’s spending on quality materials. Mr. Mayer’s primary concern was that the costumes looked good on the screen. Irene Lentz wanted the costumes to not only photograph well on the screen, but be beautiful in person. To achieve that, she didn’t skimp on the details or use cheap materials.
I own several Irene garments, and I can attest to their amazing construction and tailoring. Movie stars like Ginger Rogers, Vivien Leigh, Carole Lombard, Doris Day and Lana Turner wore Irene. They knew that the cut of an Irene garment would show off their figure to best advantage and turn heads. Among vintage fashion collectors, the Irene label is well known, and prized.
Sadly, Irene Lentz died in 1962 feeling forgotten by Hollywood and perhaps unappreciated. Her old friend Doris Day bought her back to film as the costume designer in “Midnight Lace” after a long absence. Based on research, I believe Irene found the business of fashion extremely stressful. Her fashion line folded shortly after her untimely death at age 60. Fortunately for the fashion world, her legacy will live on and her designs are being brought back to market in 2013 by Hollywood costume designer Greg LaVoi. Mr. LaVoi has been a long time admirer of Irene fashions and a collector of her designs. He has also used her amazing suits to costume Kyra Sedgewick on TNT’s TV show, The Closer. So why after fifty years, would Mr. LaVoi want to relaunch the classic designs of Irene Lentz?
“Irene’s designs are timeless, says Mr. LaVoi. “Dressing Kyra Sedgwick in 60 year old Irene suits, updated for the modern woman, proved to me that the market was lacking well made, beautifully designed suits and dresses.” In an era of disposable fashions that are cheaply made and heavily marketed, quality is many times the missing ingredient. Witness the recent Neiman Marcus/ Target holiday collaboration with its overly hyped fashions that failed to incite consumers to buy.
Mr. LaVoi is dedicated to maintaining the exacting standards of the House of Irene. When Irene was designing collections for Bullocks Wilshire and Bergdorf Goodman, her collections were known for their quality. Buyers considered the well made garments investment pieces, which justified their high price tags. If you bought an Irene, you knew the armholes would fit, the zipper would go up easily and the buttons would be well reinforced and tacked. The lining would typically be hand sewn into the garment with meticulous, small stitches. Mr. LaVoi is banking on the fact that consumers would like to once again see quality for price in their fashion purchases. ”I think the world is tiring of fast fashion, and yearning for collector clothes that are timeless, well made in America and true investment dressing, ” notes Mr. LaVoi.
Irene by Greg LaVoi is scheduled to premiere during Los Angeles Fashion Week with a show at Raleigh Movie Studios in Los Angeles slated for March 2013. Mr. LaVoi, with his background in Hollywood Costume Design, is a fitting successor to Ms. Lentz. The FIDM trained LaVoi has costumed Hollywood stars Ellen DeGeneres, Felicity Huffman, Andie McDowell, Kristen Bell, and Zoe Saldana. Mr. LaVoi began his career by creating made to order costumes for Reba McEntire and The Judds.
I think Irene Lentz would be pleased to know that her designs will reach a new generation of fashionistas. Fifty years after her untimely death, her legacy will continue and her fashions will return. Irene joins the list of a few elite designers who have made posthumus comebacks including Vionnet and Elsa Schiaparelli.
To learn more about Irene Lentz, and her couture designs, check previous articles here on The Recessionista.