Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Marilyn Lewis: Designer of Cardinali

Marilyn Lewis, seated in 1966

Marilyn Lewis was born in Cleveland, Ohio and was raised by her grandmother Mrs. Wolfgang Pons.  The Pons family fortune came from the steel industry, but that fortune was wiped out during the stock market crash in 1929.  Marilyn grew up surrounded by the trappings of luxury with no money to speak of.  She had always dreamt of a career in fashion, so when her grandmother died, Marilyn picked herself up and moved to Los Angeles.  She hoped to find a career designing costumes for movies.

Marilyn Lewis (seated at center) in 1971
Things didn't work out that way.  Marilyn met actor Harry Lewis in 1950 after attending a play he was acting in.  On their first date, Lewis shared his dream of opening a hamburger restaurant and the pair ended up looking for locations for it.  They went into partnership and opened the first Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset Strip.  The restaurant was a roaring success and by 1971 there were 19 Hamburger Hamlets scattered all over the Los Angeles area.


In 1966, Marilyn was bored at home with two children and a husband who was running a restaurant empire.  She reignited her dream of becoming a fashion designer.  With no formal training and no sewing skills, she took a leap of faith and started her company Cardinali.  Harry bought her a factory and Marilyn  designed a line of 35 pieces, including suits, dresses and gowns.  Saks Fifth Avenue was her first customer and her clothes retailed for $300 - $2400 in that first year (about $2000 - $16,000 in today's dollar.)

Lewis only used the finest fabrics, most imported from Italy. Cardinali clothes were worn by top celebrities and socialites including Nancy Reagan, Betsy Bloomingdale, Edie Gorme, Dionne Warwick and Dyan Cannon, but what really put the company on the map was a phone call from Marlo Thomas.  She wondered whether Lewis would design her wardrobe for Marlo's TV show "That Girl". 

Cardinali at Bergdorf Goodman, 1973

Marilyn Lewis closed Cardinali after only 9 years in 1977.  Although she loved the business, she became tired of the extensive travel required and found it was affecting her marriage.  Cardinali garments today are rare and highly coveted by collectors and lovers of vintage couture.

Couture Allure is privileged to have had this 1970s silk halter top from the 1970s by Marilyn Lewis for Cardinali.  The top is just as wearable today as it was 40 years ago during the height of Marilyn Lewis' reign in the fashion world.  It's not surprising that it sold right away.

Please note: This biography about Marilyn Lewis is copyright of Couture Allure and may not be copied without permission.


Anonymous said...

The show That Girl started playing re-runs on the local Broadcast system Dec 2012. I was born in 1963 and I just barely remember watching That Girl when I was a kid (Tom Boy. I've been watching the show now and to be honest, I never remembered any of the shows but they're very cute and I love them them all. I immediately noticed Marlo's clothes and related to them as the same style I would love to dress in. I just love each and every outfit Marlo wears on the show, down to the enameled brooch flower pins. I started to take note the last few times I saw the show whom the clothes designer was. And tonight after about watching my 4th or 5th show being broadcast I was able to type in the designer on the internet and came to this web site. The clothes Marlo wears on the shows are timeless. I understand the designer's need to leave the rat race but gee! we lost a tremendous talent. It's depressing for me to discover, I am, if the designer retired in 77, 34 years late to enjoy wearing her designs. I'm 48, and until the local broadcast started playing That Girl again did I realize Marlo, with her Cardinali designs had it going on! I do donate to St Jude, but not because of rhe That Girl show or Marlo but because of the worthy cause.

KonaRose said...

I was born in the 50s and wanted to grow up and 'be' That Girl! How I still love her makeup and hair (back in style!) but those clothes, OMG, still to die for! Sure wish there were ways to purchase affordable pieces similar to Cardinali's exquisite tastes! Am so glad to be able to watch the re-runs now.

Anonymous said...

Born in the 50s and grew up in the 60s. My mother made all clothing for me and my sister. Love the styles. Love the way they looked on "That Girl" Marla Thomas. Mary Tyler Moore looked good too. Also loved Doris Day, Audry Hepburn, and styles of the late 20s thru 30s. Also noticed some really nice dresses and hats from the westerns...Big Valley, Gunsmoke, Lawman, Gunsmoke, etc. Though the saloon girl dresses were racey for their day, they could work now!

Anonymous said...

I have been watching that girl lately and remember it well from the original years. Marlo , in that day, was as cute as could be. And I always loved her makeup especially her eyes......... But the clothes were over the top fantastic. The style....the block colors and the way she wore it all. Just classic

Style icon in iconic stylish designs!

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate this website. I, like others, have been watching 'That Girl' in recent 2012 re-runs. As a 50something baby boomer, I watched this show when I was a young girl. I simply HAD to Google 'Cardinali' tonight, because Ms. Thomas's costumes are so stunning and she wears them beautifully.
It was very helpful to learn about the very gifted Ms. Marilyn Lewis and how wonderful to have this historic line preserved to enjoy via Ms. Thomas's show.

Anonymous said...

Me Tv is showing the episodes of That Girl. Thus was my favorite show as a young girl. Ii absolutely love the 60's hair, make-up, and especially the clothes. I looked up Cardinali. What I would give to be able to own a piece of Ms. Lewis creations. I wish this style would make a come-back.
I couldn't help noticing the similarities with The Nanny played by Fran Drescher. She has black hair, make-up that enhances the eyes, beautiful clothes, and even her voice and style of talking and acting. I knew that The Nanny reminded me of a show from the 60's. Nice try

Anonymous said...

I look forward to watching That Girl each morning, not just for the story line but for the fabulous clothing by Cardinali and Suzanne Smith. How I wished (and still do) to acquire one of her outfits. I did the next best thing, I sewed myself a copies. I would so enjoy talking face to face with Ms. Thomas.
It would be grand to view those outfits up close!
That Girl, what a show!

Post a Comment