Many of you know I teach fashion design. But you may not know my past. I completed my M.A. in Fashion & Textile Studies: History, Theory, Museum Practice at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). This program prepares students to curate museum exhibitions on fashion and textiles. In other words: lots of fashion history, lots of research, lots of writing, lots of time at museums. My focus was on twentieth century fashion designers My thesis is entitled The Career of Antonio Canovas del Castillo. (The link takes you to the worldcat listing of my publication!) What I’ve been working on these past few months is a book proposal, based on my thesis. I’ve sent out a few proposals, but figured I should give my information to the masses. Here is the introduction to my thesis. If you want more, please help me find a publisher! Post your comments so I have your support!
Fashion is an area of material culture that documents change throughout society. Paris has always been an epicenter of artistic, intellectual, and social interaction. Paris fashion became renowned under the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715).
Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud
One of the richest and most important times in the history of Paris fashion occurs just before and after World War II. Before the war, the world looked to Paris for new fashions, accessories, and textiles. America was only a consumer in the fashion world, sending buyers to fashion shows to place orders.
During World War II, fashion production was extremely limited due to the rationing of textiles and trim and, in France, the German occupation. The Germans tried to re-establish haute couture in Berlin in 1940, but Lucien Lelong, the president of the couturiers association, ensured that the institution remained in Paris. America had little contact with Paris fashion during the war; so many American ready-to-wear manufacturers and the heads of American couture houses took to hiring American designers. These designers like Gilbert Adrian, gained considerable fame through their creations and helped to establish America as a new fashion leader. It is at this point that the fashion world becomes fragmented, and Paris was no longer the fashion capital of the world. It is against this background that the career of Antonio Canovas del Castillo (1908-1984) unfolded.
Castillo at work. Taken from Milbank: The Great Designers.
Antonio Castillo was a well-known couturier from the 1930s through the 1970s in Paris and New York. There is significant coverage of his work in the international fashion press, and during the World War II era he was regarded as one of the most promising members of the new generation to emerge in Paris fashion. He even publicly dueled over the fashion press with Chanel: As usual, Chanel and Castillo presented their collections at the same time, forcing the press to choose between them. At a quick counting of heads, it would seem that Castillo got more of the press.
Born in Madrid in 1908, Castillo left Spain in 1936 at the onset of the Spanish Civil War. He fled to Paris, where he soon started working for various couture houses. By 1937, Castillo was employed by Paquin and was designing haute couture collections with head designer Ana de Pombo. De Pombo left Paquin in 1942, making Castillo her successor, a position he held until 1945. During his time at Paquin, Castillo successfully designed collections and executed costumes for the film La Belle et La Bete (1946) by Jean Cocteau. 
Castillo’s costume for Belle. Taken from Beauty and the Beast: Diary of a Film.
In October of 1945, Castillo left Paris for New York. Here, he was the designer for the Elizabeth Arden Fashion Floor, the couture branch of the cosmetics and fragrance house. At Elizabeth Arden, he created made-to-order designs for five years. Then, in 1950, Castillo received an invitation from Jeanne Lanvin’s daughter, the Comtesse Jean de Polignac, to revitalize the house of Lanvin.
Jeanne Lanvin had died in 1946 and it was the Comtesse de Polignac’s wish to revive the couture house. Castillo was appointed chief couturier of the house, which then became known as Lanvin-Castillo. Castillo continued to design for Lanvin until circa 1962, when he opened his own couture house in Paris. Through this period he trained assistant designers, who included Oscar de la Renta and Dominic Toubeix. In addition to this impressive body of work, Castillo received an Academy Award for costume design for the film Nicholas and Alexandra in 1971. Sources conflict on the exact dates of Castillo’s retirement. He died circa 1984.
Clearly, Antonio Canovas del Castillo was a respected and influential presence in the fashion world. His creations are present and documented in the fashion press in both Europe and America. Yet no fashion historian has studied his career. Castillo’s career is valuable to examine because he was a key couturier in both Paris, the fashion capital par excellence, and he was also present in New York at the birth of American design in the 1940s.
While Castillo is casually mentioned in works and indices of twentieth-century fashion, no author has attempted to critically evaluate and document his career in full. It was my intention to fully chronicle Castillo’s career as a couturier in both Paris and America and his role as a fashion arbiter and to investigate the style and techniques that were unique to Castillo. This is significant as there is no scholarly research on Antonio Canovas del Castillo or his contribution to fashion history.
 “Lelong Speaks for the Paris Couture”, Vogue, November 15, 1944, 74.
 Francine du Plessix Gray. Them: A Memoir of Parents. (New York: Penguin Press, 2005), 321.
Carrie Donovan. Spring Fashion Trends Abroad, Paris: Glittering Audience Attends
Chanel Showing. New York Times. (Jan 30, 1960), 24.
 Dominique Sirop. Paquin: Une Retrospective de 60 Ans de Haute Couture. (Lyon,
France: Le Musee Historic des Tissus de Lyon, 1989), 89.
 New York Times (Oct. 18, 1945) 16.
 Jerome Picon. Jeanne Lanvin. (Paris: Flammarion, 2002), 331-2.
Sarah Mower. Oscar: The Style, Inspiration and Life of Oscar de la Renta. New York:
Assouline, 2002, 44.
 Remaury, Bruno. Dictionnaire de la Mode au XXe Siecle. (Paris: Editions de Regard, 1994), 106.