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Guide to the Stefan fashion design papers, circa 1945-1976

Collection Overview

Repository

Kellen Design Archives

Collection Identifier

KA.0137.01

Creator

Mason, Stephen Walton Biddle, Jr., 1917-2006

Title

Stefan fashion design papers, circa 1945-1976, (Bulk, 1945-1964)

Extent

1 linear ft : 1 box, 7 oversized folders

Language of Materials note

All materials comprising the collection are in English.

Summary

Collection mainly consists of publicity photographs, press clippings, fashion show programs, and other materials related to the fashion design career of Stephen Walton Biddle Mason, Jr., known professionally as Stefan, between the mid-1940s and early 1960s.

Preferred Citation note

[Identification of item], [date (if known)], Stefan fashion design papers, KA.0137.01, box __, folder __, New School Archives and Special Collections, The New School, New York, New York.

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Biographical note

Stephen Walton Biddle Mason, Jr. (born approximately 1917-2006), known professionally as Stefan or Mr. Stefan, was the son of Stephen and Tacy Mason of Hatboro, Pennsylvania, and the great-grandson of Pierre LeGaux, former governor of Martinique. Stefan attended the University of Pennsylvania and Parsons School of Design, where he would later serve as a critic starting as early as 1946. Although he was often identified as a Philadelphian, records in the collection indicate that he also lived in New York City in the 1950s and 1960s before moving to Ford Lauderdale, Florida in 1981.

Alumni records indicate that Stefan graduated from the Parsons School of Design Department of Costume Design and Construction (now Fashion Design) in 1938, although other records list his graduation year as 1935. After leaving Parsons, Stefan reportedly continued his studies in Paris and London. His career began with opening his own custom design shop at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia as early as 1939. He soon earned a reputation for designing for a number of opera singers and actresses, including Carole Landis, Kay Francis, Claire Trevor, and Lynn Fontanne. In 1945, Stefan was appointed fashion director of John Walther, Inc., a woolen fabric house, where he produced two collections annually to promote the firm’s fabrics. Stefan began designing for Jonval Couture in 1946, which was also affiliated with John Walther. Newspaper articles indicate that Stefan started his own ready-to-wear line in 1948 and began designing for Linker & Herbert in 1949.

In 1953, Stefan joined Leslie Fay Fashions to design their Briarbrook suit line. He also designed for Birchbrook, a line of juniors and misses apparel that was part of Leslie Fay Fashions. After designing for Briarbrook for twelve years, Stefan was appointed vice president of the brand in 1965. The last mention of Stefan's designs in Women’s Wear Daily was published in May 1967.

Stefan was known throughout his career for creating adaptations of European designs that were inspired by his regular trips abroad. His designs were praised by the press for their functionality and innovative use of fabrics. An obituary for Stefan in the New York Times indicates that he spent his later years engaging in charity work in Fort Lauderdale, and that numerous celebrities were among his friends. The obituary also states that he designed dresses for Jackie Onassis, Lauren Bacall, and Marlene Dietrich. On June 24, 1961, Stefan married Beryl M. Leli, a graduate of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School.

__

“Mason – Leli.” New York Times. June 25, 1961: 74.

“Paid Notice: Deaths: Mason, Stephen W., Jr.” New York Times. June 4, 2006. Accessed August 3, 2015. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D06EFD9103AF937A35755C0A9609C8B63.

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Scope and Contents note

The collection documents Stefan’s career designing for John Walther and two divisions of Leslie Fay, Briarbrook and Birchbrook. The bulk of the collection is comprised of press clippings and materials related to fashion shows in the 1940s and 1950s. Aside from correspondence related to Stefan’s charitable work, the collection solely consists of professional materials without mention of his personal life. Also absent are records pertaining to his education or professional career before 1945 and after 1964. Overall, the collection provides documentation of American fashion during and after World War Two, including the ways in which American designers adapted or copied European fashion. These materials also provide a look at how some American designers partnered with fabric houses and manufacturing firms instead of designing under their own name.

Fashion show materials includes invitations, programs, and press releases related to Stefan’s designs for John Walther, Briarbrook, and Jonval Couture, as well as a program with notations for the Autumn/Winter 1952 Christian Dior show and fabric labels made for Balenciaga and Dior garments.

Folders titled "Scrapbook pages" consist of pages removed from a bound scrapbook produced by Burrelle’s Clipping Service. The clippings that have been adhered to the pages are dated between 1945 and 1946 and all pertain to Stefan’s work with John Walther and Jonval Couture. In addition to press clippings, some pages include fashion show programs, thank-you notes, and a single photograph depicting a window display featuring Stefan’s designs at Erlebacher's, a high-fashion ladies specialty shop in Washington D.C. Numerous clippings and other materials that were inserted loosely throughout the scrapbook are organized separately from the removed pages. The additional clippings date between 1945 and 1964 and cover Stefan’s work with both John Walther, Inc. and Leslie Fay Fashions. Other materials include nineteenth century fashion plates and pages removed from an unidentified book.

Sketches includes a watercolor portrait of two female nudes in addition to numerous charcoal and ink sketches depicting designs for men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing that appear to be from the late 1960s or 1970s. One sketch features patriotic children’s apparel with the inscription “bi-cent,” possibly indicating that the design was made for celebrating the United States of America’s bicentennial in 1976. Due to the outlying dating and incongruent style of these sketches, it is uncertain if Stefan produced them or collected them from another designer.

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Organization and Arrangement

Collection is organized alphabetically by format.

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Administrative Information

Sara Idacavage

Publication Information

Kellen Design Archives - 2016 May 11

66 5th Ave./
lobby level
New York, NY, 10011
212.229.5942
archivist@newschool.edu

Preferred Citation note

[Identification of item], [date (if known)], Stefan fashion design papers, KA.0137.01, box __, folder __, New School Archives and Special Collections, The New School, New York, New York.

Conditions Governing Access note

Collection is open for research use. Please contact archivist@newschool.edu for appointment.

Use Restrictions

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives. Please contact: archivist@newschool.edu.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred to the New School Archives and Special Collections from the University Librarian's office, 2015. The provenance of the collection is unknown.

Processing Information note

Clippings and ephemera were originally found in a bound scrapbook produced by Burrelle’s, a company in Brooklyn that compiled press clippings for their customers. The binding, made of a maroon material, had “STEFAN” inscribed in gold lettering on the front cover. While some clippings were glued to pages in the scrapbook, most were tucked, unattached, between pages throughout the book, in no apparent order. The scrapbook mostly consisted of blank pages. The scrapbook was dismantled in processing. Pages with adhered clippings were re-housed in folders in the order in which they were encountered upon transfer to the archives.

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Related Materials

Photographs of Stefan visiting with Fashion Design students in the 1950s are present in the Parsons School of Design Alumni Association records (PC.03.02.01).

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Keywords for Searching Related Subjects

Corporate Name(s)

  • John Walther Fabrics, Inc.
  • Leslie Fay Companies.

Genre(s)

  • Correspondence.
  • Photographs.
  • Publications.
  • Scrapbooks.
  • Sketches.

Occupation(s)

  • Fashion designers.

Subject(s)

  • Clothing and dress -- France -- 20th century
  • Clothing and dress -- United States -- 20th century.
  • Clothing trade -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • Fashion design.
  • Fashion shows.
  • Women's clothing -- United States -- 20th century.

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Collection Inventory

Box Folder
Awards, 1958, 1959 
1 1
Correspondence, 1961, undated 
k_17 1
Fashion show materials, 1945-1961 
1 2
k_17 2
Photographs, 1940s-1960s 

Includes numerous portraits of Stefan, as well as publicity photographs featuring some of his designs.

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1 3-4
k_17 3-5
Publications, 1946, 1960 

Consists of a 1946 copy of Where, a hotel greeter’s guide that provides tourists with information about New York City, and a 1960 issue of  Fashion Digest, a publication for young designers associated with the Traphagen School of Design.

k_17 6
Scrapbook pages, 1945-1964 
1 5-8
k_OSxx-8 4
Sketches, circa 1965-1976 
1 9-10

Collection Guide Last Updated: 02/28/2017

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