Monday, November 28, 2011

Forgotten Designer Mary Black


When perusing Vogue or Harper's Bazaar magazines from the 1950s, in the first few pages you are most likely to see ads from Bergdorf Goodman, Lilli Ann, Bonwit Teller, Saks Fifth Avenue, Emba Mink and Vanity Fair.  Amongst those ads from well-known names, you will quite often see a full page ad for a dress from Mary Black.  I know......who?  I've never found a dress with the Mary Black label and I've often wondered about this forgotten designer.  This week I was determined to dig up more information about her.  There is not much to go on, but with the help of fellow VFG member Lynne, here is what we found.

Mary Black was a London designer who started her business sometime in the 1930s.  She emigrated to the U.S. in 1940-41, probably because of the war.  In July of 1941, Mary Black of London leased showroom and salon space on W. 47th St. in New York. In addition to welcoming exclusive clients at her salon, Mary Black dresses were also sold at fine specialty shops and high end department stores like Bergdorf Goodman and I. Magnin.  In 1947, her dresses sold for $80 - $400 (about $812 - $4,060 in today's dollar.)

In late 1951, Mary Black of London moved her business to the 10th floor of 18 East 50th St. in New York City.  She maintained a personal apartment there as well.  On July 29, 1954, Mary was wed to Nichlas Baciu in a civil ceremony.  She continued in business until at least the early 1960s.


As a designer, Black preferred simple lines without an excess of decoration.  She felt that women preferred to adorn their dresses with their own jewelry and so would avoid the use of buttons, rhinestones etc.  She would often use simple bows or flowers, but always made them removable.  She did not like belts and would only offer a belt if a store or customer insisted.  She felt a belt ruined the lines of a dress.

Black often traveled to Europe to buy the expensive fabrics used in her dresses. As we can see in the ads shown here, she liked to use lace for evening wear.

In 1960, Mary Black made a cocktail dress for Bergdorf Goodman that was offered in sizes 10-40 (yes, that's size 40.)  It was a simple tiered sheath with a draped capelet caught at the back with a single rose and came in black or navy.  The dress sold for about $245 in 1960 (that's $1,874 in today's dollar.)  Bergdorf's offered the dress to appeal to the larger sized woman who wanted the more stylish designs usually only available to the size 10 figure.

Sometime between 1958 and 1962, Black moved her business again, this time to the more high end neighborhood of W. 57th St. off of 5th Avenue.  She continued to serve private clients as well as selling to department stores and high end boutiques across the US.

Thank you to The Spectrum Vintage for allowing me to show you a Mary Black dress that they sold years ago.  Isn't it a beauty?

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


Victoria said...

I love the cut of these dresses. Thanks for sharing.

verobirdie said...

Size 40? difficult to imagine from those pictures, but that was a good idea.
Those dresses are wonderful, espeially the full skirts ones

CarmenDahling said...

Jody, I dream one of Mary Black's dresses or more will find it's way to you.Thank you for these inspiring photos of her creations.

skippysays said...

She sounds like a pretty fabulous lady :) And I love her designs!

Metro Retro Vintage said...

Thank you for introducing us to Mary Black. May her elegant fashions and timeless style continue to live on.

Anonymous said...

I just bought a Mary Black dress today in a charity shop. I had never heard of her before but just loved the dress and I was delighted to find your biography. It's black lace over a full skirt with black silk chiffon draped over the shoulders and bodice. It's in perfect condition and better still its a perfect fit:)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article. This was my grandmother on the maternal side. It was a family business and my mom worked for her in London and then in NYC. My mom did not keep anything and I had not been able to find any info on her work. Mary Black spent much of her life in Athens, Greece as well as New York. She died in White Plains, New York in 1992 at the age of 92

I would love to see more of her work or one of her dresses in person

-jenny rie Vanderlinden

Anonymous said...

Hello, you'll find two sewing patterns by Mary Black here:

and thank you for telling us about this designer.

Petite Main

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