Today’s post is extra special! It’s from Lizzie Bramlett of The Vintage Traveler. Back in May, we did a vintage shopping tour of Atlanta. She took me to some amazing places. However, I was deliriously tired for most of the adventure. In 36 hours, I had been in 3 different states and slept for about 1 hour. The sleep deprivation didn’t affect my ability to shop, but it did impair my memory.
Vintage shopping extravaganza in Atlanta. Image courtesy of Lizzie Bramlett.
I came across a beautiful three-piece dress. The fabric and construction were immaculate. Unfortunately, it didn’t fit me. It was created for someone petite. I showed it to Lizzie, because I had never heard of the maker before: Shannon Rodgers for Jerry Silverman. I couldn’t remember the name for life of me. I must have asked Lizzie a million times about the label. So thankfully, she offered to write a guest post to tell us all about it. (Thanks, Lizzie!)
One of the benefits of looking at so much vintage clothing over the past thirty years is that I’ve learned a lot about labels from the past, and can recognize many that have faded into obscurity. While shopping with Monica in Atlanta in May, we ran across a wonderful dress set with what I knew to be a very nice label: Shannon Rodgers for Jerry Silverman.
Shannon Rodgers for Jerry Silverman label. Image courtesy of Lizzie Bramlett.
Neither man is exactly a household name today, but in the 1960s and 1970s their dresses were sought out by fashionable women who wanted a stylish but not over-designed dress. They made what was known as “better dresses,” which were made with a combination of machine and hand sewing. Today Rodgers and Silverman are remembered by any vintage clothing dealer or collector who is lucky enough to come across an example of their work. Interestingly, they are probably best remembered not for the dresses they made, but for the ones they collected.
Shannon Rodgers for Jerry Silverman dress. Image courtesy of Lou Lou Vintage.
Shannon Rodgers trained as an architect, and after college he left his native Ohio for New York City. There he found work on Broadway, designing and making sets for theater productions and working as a costume assistant. In 1932 Cecil B. DeMille saw his work and took Shannon to Hollywood to work on costumes for his movies. During the 1930s Shannon divided his time between California and New York, where he worked as a sketcher for several fashion houses.
Shannon Rodgers for Jerry Silverman sheath dress. Image courtesy of Dorothea’s Closet.
Shannon spent WWII in the Army Transport Service. When the war ended he returned to New York where he learned of a design job at a cocktail dress maker called Martini. He applied for the job and was hired by a manager there, Jerry Silverman.
Jerry was a native New Yorker who graduated from Harvard at age 16, and then studied law. He soon left the law behind to work in the garment industry. He was first sales manager at Martini, and eventually he became a vice president in the company. Martini was known for their Paris couture inspired cocktail dresses.
In 1959 Shannon and Jerry formed their own company, Shannon Rodgers for Jerry Silverman. Their product was day and afternoon dresses, though they often made cocktail dresses as well. The pair continued to attend the Paris couture shows, but they did not buy styles to copy outright. Instead Shannon focused on the details of interesting dresses, adapting a silhouette or sleeve or hem to fit their American customers’ tastes.
Shannon Rodgers (left) and Jerry Silverman (right). Image courtesy of Kent State Library.
Along with designing dresses, Shannon was a collector of antique clothing and textiles He and Jerry also collected antiques and decorative objects. As their design and manufacturing careers began to wind down, their thoughts turned to preserving the collection and making it available to the public.
Starting in 1979, Shannon and Jerry worked with Kent State University in Ohio, producing fashion shows as fund raisers. In 1983 the arrangement became permanent with the formation of the Shannon Rodgers and Jerry Silverman School of Design and Merchandising and the Kent State University Museum. The Rodgers/Silverman collection was the neucleus of the new museum.
Advertisement from Vogue: . “…a supple sheath with a luxurious slubbed texture, etched with exquisite Madeira motifs and lined all the way with China silk. Shannon Rodgers designs it for Jerry Silverman. Beige, white or blue.” Image courtesy of Here & There.
Unfortunately, Jerry did not live to see the museum’s opening. He died in October 1984, and the museum was officially opened in September 1985. Shannon continued to work for the museum until his death in 1996. Today their legacy lives on at Kent State in the museum and the fashion school that bears their names.
The Museum at Kent State is well worth a visit. There are always several fashion exhibits running concurrently. If a trip to Ohio is not in your near future, check out their website, which as a new online gallery. http://www.kent.edu/museum/index.cfm
Thanks, Lizzie! And if you love the dresses above, most of them are for sale! Simply click on the links I’ve provided in the caption. Happy shopping!