History’s Headlines: Hess’s fashion maven | History’s Headlines

It would be difficult to say what was the culmination of the career of Hess fashion director Gerard “Gerry” Golden. There were a lot of them. But on March 3, 1967 it must have been close.

That morning the New York Times readers had a lot of news to choose from that day. The Vietnam War was at its peak and it looked like former Attorney General, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, was bracing himself as a tough contender for the White House with incumbent President Lyndon Johnson. On page 29, the entertainment section, Hello Dolly was going strong with Martha Raye in the lead and there was a box with oversized letters saying “WHAT! HAVE YOU NOT EVEN ONCE SEEN THE MANCHA MAN? “






Gerard “Gerry” Golden


But Golden’s attention must surely have been focused on the article on page 30. “Hess of Allentown Shows Its Imports,” read the headline. Under the signature of the Times fashion writer Bernadine Morris was an account of the latest fashions that Golden had brought back from Europe.

“Prices have dropped in Europe’s most recent high fashion import from Hess Department Store in Allentown, Pennsylvania,” the article began. “An Antonio del Castillo crystal beaded evening dress is priced at $ 7,500 – $ 1,500 less than last season’s more expensive style, even a Castillo. But the reduction isn’t significant according to Gerard (Gerry) Golden, the store’s fashion director. ‘Summer clothes are always a little cheaper,’ she noted yesterday before presenting the first presentation of the latest European import fashion in New York at the Americana Hotel, “which hosted many celebrities of the time in that decade. , including the Beatles.

Morris went on to note that this was Golden’s 48th fashion trip to Europe. The night before, the dresses had premiered in Pennsauken, New Jersey, at a dinner for 2,500 women. Over the next four months, Golden would hold an additional 250 performances for women’s groups in civic organizations in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In addition, they would be showcased every day in Hess’s Patio restaurant and in the large shop windows, artistically set up by Hess’ vice president of design, Wolfgang Otto. “The average housewife was influenced by TV. She’s not interested in day dresses or if a dress has welt stitching or seams, she wants the excitement, “added Golden. About 75 percent of the collection was Italian and much of the rest French. But according to Morris, Golden it also included fashions from African and Near Eastern designers.

Bringing fashions from other often overlooked countries had been a hallmark of Golden. He had been doing this from his earliest days as a fashion director for Hess’s. They were cheaper than European couture and therefore introduced it to Americans who would otherwise never see it. This Times article was just the kind of thing Max Hess liked to see his shop promote. Glamor and elegance and a touch of the world outside the Lehigh Valley made her shop unique. This is what Golden managed to bring to his 24 years from Hess. Having a fashion director playing a significant role in the emerging European fashion world of the day has polished the store’s image both in the Lehigh Valley and internationally. According to a source, Hess insisted that the shop be listed as an outpost in London, Paris and Rome. Maybe they were nothing more than a telephone on a desk, but they were there.






Announcement in the newspaper of the Hess fashion show

Announcement in the newspaper of the Hess fashion show


Looking at Gerard “Gerry” Golden’s early life, he wouldn’t have guessed that he would have had an interest in fashion. Born in Pittston, Luzerne County, he was the son of Martin A. Golden III and Florence Golden. He had a brother, Martin. After attending Bucknell University, where he trained as an engineer, he was employed as treasurer and sales director of the Lenox Manufacturing Company of Catasauqua. During World War II he served with Army engineers in the Pacific as first lieutenant, receiving several citations for his service.

In 1947 Golden went to work for Hess’s as a millinery buyer. According to the memory of a longtime former employee of Hess, the story was that Max Hess saw Golden buying women’s hats for the store. Something about his technique impressed Hess, or so the story goes, and he instantly decided to give Golden a chance by sending him on a shopping trip to Japan. Hess had a reputation for making decisions on the spot, and the trip to Japan was apparently Golden’s big break. Although that country was just starting to emerge from World War II, it was a success. “He became the first American buyer to introduce a haute couture collection of designer originals to the Orient,” noted The New York Times. This was followed by trips to Greece and Turkey, according to the Times, “with the first collection of designers in those countries to be shown in the United States”.






The Hess trailer

The Hess trailer


Both Golden and Hess were lucky to have come during that time in postwar America. According to art and culture writer Louis Menand in his recent book “The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War”, the years between 1945 and 1973 were a unique period in which culture spanned the transatlantic world. From the existentialism of the philosophers in Paris to the abstract expressionism of the artists in New York, ideas flourished. Not everyone was comfortable. Time magazine at that time referred to abstract expressionist artist Jackson Pollack as “Jack the Dripper” for his famous teardrop paintings. High fashion was also influenced by the new style of the “free world”. Hollywood also entered the scene with films set in the fashion world such as 1955’s “Fancy Free” with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire and 1957’s “Designing Woman” with Lauren Bacall and Gregory Peck. Hess and Golden in their own way took advantage of bringing that sense of international fashion to the Lehigh Valley.

It was in 1952 that Golden made her first major foray into the world of European fashion by bringing Elsa Schiaparelli to Hess to show off her newly created lingerie pieces. In truth Schiaparelli had passed his apex as a stylist. Originally from Rome she had lived in America after running away from her aristocratic family. He returned to Paris and made a reputation for himself in the 1920s and 1930s with perhaps his most famous client Wallace Warfield Simpson, aka the Duchess of Windsor. Others included movie stars Greta Garbo, Katherine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, Vivien Leigh, and Ginger Rogers, among others. At the same time, Schiaparelli also keeps pace with American department stores, offering clothes to the upper-class market.

If American women from Lehigh Valley and Allentown knew anything about European fashion, Schiaparelli was the name they knew. When she arrived in Allentown, she attracted many to Hess, bringing with her the romance of Parisian fashion. But Golden was not only keeping an eye on the past, but also looking at the present. In 1947 Parisian designer Christian Dior had come out with longer “New Look” dresses that raised the eyebrows if not the hems. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some returning WWII soldiers preferred their wives and their girlfriend’s shorter skirt length right where she had been. But Paris had spoken. Dresses reflecting this “New Look” style were quickly available from Hess.






The Hess department store in Allentown

The Hess department store in Allentown


Apparently the most important thing for Golden in the 1950s was encouraging up-and-coming Italian designers. Since the 19th century, fashion had meant Paris. But there were many talents in Italy whose work he wanted to encourage. Among those he first contacted – although not Italian, but based in Rome – was Irene Galitzine. Born to the Galitzine, a noble Russian family at the time of the Revolution, they fled to Rome. After studying fashion with the Italian designer Sorelle Fontana in 1946, he opened his studio in Rome.

Golden met Galitzine in 1955 and suggested she come to Allentown, which he did that year to show his signed originals. Her most popular garment was her so-called “palace pajamas”, a type of pantaloon silk evening dress that took its name from the Pitti Palace in Florence where they were first introduced. Later, in the words of the New York Times, “his salon on Via Venato was the place where DuPonts and Ford competed to give his designs the first shot.” Galitzine did not forget Hess’s and returned several times, most notably in 1963. At that point she counted Jacqueline Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor among her clients.

In the 1960s, Golden appeared on local seasonal television specials. Of course, expensive designer fashion items weren’t in the range of most of Hess’s customers. But apparently this was Golden’s point and by extension Hess’s. They let shoppers into the store and once there they would buy something.

The sale of the store in 1968 and the death of 57-year-old Max Hess that same year ended the goals he and Golden shared.

On February 16, 1971, the Morning Call announced the death of Gerry Golden at his brother Catasauqua’s home, after an illness of several months. He was 55 years old.

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