Brief History of Brooke Cadwallader and One Special Dress

Isn’t she wonderful? She is an orange and white mod dress from Brooke Cadwallader. Given the print and the cut, I am assuming this material was printed in the 1960s. I wanted to give y’all a little background on why designer vintage is so special.

Brooke Cadwallader Orange Dress

Who is Brooke Cadwallader?

Brooke Cadwallader wasa headliner in the high fashion of textiles and scarves. His scarves and fabrics were silk screened by hand and his designs were priced for prestigious clientele. Although expensive, his design inspired the world. The BBC shows a brief example of his scarves in 1947 in this clip.

Well traveled, Brooke was born in Manilla and educated in New England. Mrs. Cadwallader, born in Florence, was studying art in Paris when she met Brooke in 1937. She had a business background in the fashion industry. Together with his wife, Brooke Cadwallader designed and created highly collectable scarves;  Mrs. Cadwallader coming up with ideas and running the business and Mr. Cadwallader turning those ideas into original designs. Often designs were inspired by everyday life – the zoo, jigsaw puzzles, toy soldiers, and even pages of a dictionary. (The Vintage Traveler did an amazing post on Brooke Cadwallader and has several images of his scarves).

His first print was scattered white doves on prints of pink satin. The great Schiaparelli purchased this print and turned it into a scarf -and a new couture designer was born.

Unfortunately, World War II came crashing down on his storefront in Paris, causing him to close up shop and flee Europe. Before going, he emptied all of the money from the business and handed it over to his employees as no one could leave the country with more than 50 francs. As a parting gift, a former employee in France gave him a package containing a sample of the acid used to make the dyes fast, adhesive wax, metal black used for stenciling, and a dye brush – all so he could start his business again whenever he landed.

The dynamic couple came to the USA in 1940 to escape the war in France. At first they struggled to make ends meet, living and working out of a small New York apartment. In time, they created a thriving business supplying materials to top designers such as Hattie Carnegie and selling his scarves in their showroom on Fifth Avenue in New York.

Postwar, the Cadwalladers stayed in New York but showed their new designs first in Paris, thus adding to the demand for haute couture from France. They moved to their their dream house in Stanford, Connecticut sometime in the mid-40′s, as it was showcased in Vogue in 1947,  where they designed and retreated from New York but often made the trip back to the city for work.

In 1950, the Cadwallader’s moved to Mexico, where production continued until his retirement in 1957. Production was resumed in the mid 1960s. Information after the move to Mexico is hard to find.

Why are his designs so special?

Cadwallader’s designs are a combination of art, skill and fashion. All of his materials were handmade with Mr Cadwallader creating all the designs and even mixing the dyes himself. In the beginning, in France, all of his designs came from hand cut stencils. After moving the business stateside, he used a photographic screen printing process. Additionally, he personally trained all of his staff himself.


Back to the dress:

In all of my research about Brooke Cadwallader, I havent found any information about dressmaking. He was best known for his scaves, although he did make hankies, ties, and fabric for other designers. The tag on this dress reads in Spanish “Diseno original de Brooke Cadwallader Cuernavaca Mexico” and the printing on the fabric of the dress also reads “DISENO ORIGINAL DE BROOKE CADWALLADER EXCLUSIVA DE LA CASALOS GALLOS, S.A. CUERNAVACA, MOR. MEXICO “Zig-Zag”" I believe this dress is authentic and is a shining example of one of the worlds little known but highly respected designers. The great news is that she is available now in the shop!