Friday, January 21, 2011

Louise Barnes Gallagher

Louise Barnes Gallagher, photo provided by her granddaughter, Mary-Louise.


Louise Barnes Gallagher (1892 - 1972) was born and raised in New York City. As a child, she sewed clothing both for her dolls and for herself. She became a young widow when her husband was killed in WWI. Needing to earn a living, she began her career as a model for a wholesale dress house in New York. At night, she continued to hone her dressmaking skills at home and took classes in draping and sculpture. Modeling soon bored Louise and she spent more and more time in the workrooms of the dress house learning about construction techniques.


In 1916, Gallagher went to Paris. There she worked as a stylist, sending design ideas and fabrics from her own atelier back to the dress house in New York. Upon her return to New York in 1919, Gallagher was hired by one of the big New York suit and coat manufacturers. She was put in charge of 5 workrooms and she became the first female designer of suits in the wholesale industry. The job was a formidable one, as all of her direct employees were men who did not take kindly to a woman as their boss.


In 1924, Louise Barnes Gallagher opened her own fashion house, where she specialized strictly in suits, coats, and dresses for day and afternoon. In 1938, she was named one of the top designers in America by Stanley Marcus in the first year of the Neiman Marcus Fashion Awards. Gallagher was considered one of the leading designers in the world during the years of WWII when the Parisian couture houses closed.


The designer was best known for her use of a sheer knitted wool mesh fabric which came to be known as "Gallagher mesh". She often used many, many buttons in her designs. Her clothing was very expensive and was carried by the most exclusive stores in America. The dress shown above sold for $98.95 in 1945 (about $1203.00 in today's dollar).

Louise Barnes Gallagher wearing one of her Gallagher mesh suits with many buttons down the front.  Photo provided by Louise's granddaughter, Mary-Louise.

1951 tweed coat over chiffon dress by Gallagher Mesh.

In 1949, Louise decided to retire and turned her company over to Jerry Gibbs, one of her employees. The company's name was changed to Gallagher Mesh. She continued to oversee the company's collections for a short while. Mentions of the company Gallagher Mesh disappear after 1952. Louise continued to design patterns for American Designer Patterns and she wrote books about the fashion industry for young girls considering a career. She died in 1972.

Please note: Biographical information about Louise Barnes Gallagher is copyright of Couture Allure and may not be copied without permission.