Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Eldridge Cleaver

Leroy Eldridge Cleaver was born in 1935. By the late 1960s he had become a leading activist in the Black Panther Party, but after mounting an ambush on Oakland police, during which two officers were wounded and a Black Panther member was killed, Eldridge fled to Cuba and later Algeria to avoid prosecution.

In 1972 he moved to Paris where he became a born again Christian and turned his hand to fashion design. In 1975 he released his modern take on the codpiece with his “virility pants”, aka “Cleavers”. He promoted the idea that they would give men “a chance to assert their masculinity” and saw no conflict between the overt sexuality of his pants and his newfound Christianity.

Cleaver returned to the United States in 1977 to face the unresolved attempted murder charge. During the proceedings he incorporated Eldridge Cleaver Ltd. and began manufacturing and selling his “Cleavers”, which he claimed liberated men from “penis binding”. His charge was reduced to assault and he was sentenced to 1,200 hours’ community service, but his pants never found much success. Cleaver eventually joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and became a member of the Republican party. He died in 1998.

Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Ramona Rull

Left: model Donna DeMarco wears a Ramona Rull dress with Sheesha work. Right: Ramona Rull wearing a wood-block printed cotton ‘at home’ dress, Toronto, April, 1979

Several years ago we inherited a collection of caftan and caftan-like dresses from a friend who loved the style. A few of them were labelled Ramona Rull, and the quality was particularly interesting, but I couldn’t find anything about the name on the label. Fortunately, thanks to Fashion History Museum remote researcher Lynn Ranieri, she managed to find a LOT of information about Ramona Rull and her career as a manufacturer:

Ramona Mary Rull was born into a Eurasian family of Hong Kong clothing manufacturers on August 5, 1933. In 1965, Ramona moved to New York and took a job at the United Nations. However, the fashion industry was in her blood and in 1968 she opened a boutique on Madison Avenue selling clothes made in Hong Kong from textiles she sourced across Asia. 

In 1971, Pakistan House International (a government agency), financed a trip for her to Pakistan to see what they could offer to encourage the export of Pakistani textiles. That same year Ramona closed her boutique and went into the wholesale manufacturing of cotton clothes made from vegetable-dye patterns printed with traditional wood-blocks. Sometimes her clothes also featured decorative work, like sheesha (mirrorwork). The dresses were manufactured in Lahore and Karachi using patterns for the export market that showcased the textile, using simple designs like slight A-line dresses with sash belts, caftans, and shifts with side slits. 

Her new manufacturing and importing business was called ‘Ramona Creations’. Over the next two decades she would travel to Asia for four to six weeks, three times per year, to source fabrics, draft patterns, and oversee quality control. The worst problem was ensuring textiles weren’t printed on rainy days when the dye wouldn’t set properly and then bleed easily.

In 1977, Ramona married Canadian businessman Thomas William Karson and moved to Toronto. Her first Canadian fashion show was held at Simpsons, Toronto in April 1979, where her clothes were sold through ‘The Room’ – their chic fashion department.  Over the years her clients would include Canadian journalist Betty Kennedy, and American actresses Ali McGraw and Shirley MacLaine.

Her husband passed away in June, 1989 and Ramona closed down her business by 1994.  Ramona Karson (nee Rull) died June 6, 2010. 

Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Kandahar Designs

Last week we received a donation of some clothing primarily from the 1970s to the 1990s. Amongst the items was a late 1970s striped grey cotton ‘A’ line sundress with the label ‘Kandahar Designs – Boston’. A few google searches resulted in an interesting back story

In 1970 or 1971, Eli Zelkha was heading down to Florida for spring break with Archie — (his last name is never revealed), a pre-med college mate from Colgate University in upstate New York. On the trip down they talked about what they would be doing that summer. Archie had $5,000 and suggested the two go to Afghanistan to buy ‘cool stuff’ to resell. During their summer they purchased a very expensive Bengal tiger skin rug, scores of antique 19th century Afghani rifles, and 800 men’s wedding shirts from dealers in Kabul.

When their purchases arrived in the United States, the tiger skin rug was confiscated, there was no interest in the rifles from collectors, and the shirts were used, stained, and mis-sized. All they could do was try to salvage what they could from the shirts, so they dyed them to cover the stains and then consigned them through boutiques. One shop offered to share his booth at an upcoming New York sale in lieu of payment for some shirts, and the shirts were a hit. Mademoiselle magazine snapped some up for a fashion shoot, and other fashion mags and leading stores followed.

The next problem was filling orders. By 1972, Eli and Archie had moved from being importers to manufacturers when they hired tailors in Afghanistan to make the items to order. As the interest in ethnic clothing grew, especially after Yves St. Laurent’s success with ethnic-inspired collections, the two expanded the business, hiring fashion designers to remake Afghani clothes and textiles into Western styles, like sundresses.

The venture was a huge success until 1979 when the Iranian revolution lead to Russia invading Afghanistan. Even though ethnic fashions were already cooling in popularity, Eli bought out Hindu Kush, a competitor clothing business that sourced similar clothes. He then attempted to shift production to different styles of clothing, but the business failed.

There is a great article that tells the story in more detail, as well as the video below, with Eli Zelhka telling his story first hand. BTW, the owner of Hindu Kush was Tom Freston who went on to found MTV in 1981, and Eli Zelhka went on to head the team that invented Ambient Intelligence in 1998.

Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Max Raab

Max Louis Raab was born in Philadelphia on June 9, 1927 to Herman and Fanny Raab, who owned a family-operated apparel company that specialized in making shirtwaists – affordable blouses worn with skirts by women of all classes for a variety of tasks and trades.

When Max returned from wartime service, he began working with his brother for the family business. Max soon realized that the postwar world was upwardly mobile and tastes and pocketbooks were allowing for a higher end product, especially for the younger teenage consumer in the growing post war suburbs. 

Max defined the new suburban preppy look by taking the tailored man’s shirt and turning it into a full-skirted shirtwaist style dress for women. Their new upscale country look was perfect for the suburbs that was neither the city nor the country, and was launched in 1958 under The Villager label. Around the same time he also launched Rooster ties, which made square ended straight grain ties in great textiles.

The Villager dresses were typically made in cotton or cotton blend fabrics, the style was the ultimate WASP dress, appropriate for the office, school, home or date night. The style was also quickly picked up by Hollywood, who used shirtwaists as go-to looks for TV moms.

Produced in men’s shirting, and then prints from companies like Liberty of London, textile artist Marielle Bancou Segal was brought in in the mid 60s to create prints in the textile studios of Kenmill, in New England. The brand was typically sold through a shop-within-a-department store locations that catered to the preppy chic customer. A younger line was created in the 60s called Lady Bug fashions that featured turtleneck sweaters, kilts, tights, slacks and simple dresses. The look grew into a collegiate look popularized by actresses like Ali McGraw, who wore Villager clothes for the filming of Love Story in 1970.

1970 was also the year, Raab recognized that fashion was heading a different direction and he sold all his companies to Jonathan Logan and turned his interest towards film production. Max returned to the fashion industry in 1974, setting up the company J.G. Hook, which specialised in women’s sportswear, often with a nautical flair. In 1989 he opened Tango, a necktie manufacturing company.  Max Raab was dubbed ‘The Dean of the Prep Look’ by Women’s Wear Daily. In 1998, Max sold off his share in the company and retired. He died in 2008. 

Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Conover Mayer 1995-2006

Just before COVID-19 shut down the world, I was invited to guest lecture at Syracuse University for the fashion arts program. Two of the teachers in that program, Jeffrey Mayer and Todd Conover, were former design partners working under the label Conover Mayer. Their high-end women’s fashion line produced two collections per year between 1995 and 2006 that were sold through stores like Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus.

I won’t repeat all the tea served in conversation, but it was fascinating to hear how the fashion industry shifted and changed during that decade. The two were already teaching fashion design at Syracuse University while they designed their collections, and continue to teach there today, but both have since moved on from designing fashion on the side. Todd Conover now designs jewellery, and Jeffrey Mayer curates fashion exhibitions.

Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Rosina Schiavone Ferragamo

While we are in Italy, here is another name that eludes research. Rosina Schiavone Ferragamo is often cited as being the sister of the more famous shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo. Her birth date is recorded as 1905, but I have not been able to find a death date – unusual considering she was designing shoes under her own name from the mid 1950s (the MET has several positively identified from then), until the mid 1980s, when there were also leather clothes being sold under that label (see eBay). Even more peculiar is that the Ferragamo company, family, or museum all fail to mention her existence. Perhaps there was a bit of a family scandal…

Patchwork suede pump by Rosina Schiavone Ferragamo, c. 1969, FHM collection

Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Oppio

In 1940, Anna Ancillotti Chiarugi established a dressmaking business in Sovigliana-Vinci, near Florence. Her four daughters Sandra, Lucia, Rosaria and Stella Chiarugi inherited the business in 1975 and seven years later renamed the company Oppio (Italian for opium). The label found international success, but by 2009 the company had been bought out or sold.

Embroidered and applique knit two piece dress, mid 1980s, by Oppio

Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Mrs. Franklin Inc. (1923-1938)

1931 – figure at right “dark blue wool golf or country suit with green jumper and white blouse, from Mrs. Franklin Inc.” This suit closely resembles the suit we acquired, without the jumper and blouse.

Last year we acquired a very nice forest green knit suit from the early 1930s. It is dead plain – consisting of a straight, ankle length skirt, and an open jacket with a belt. In the nape is a small tag that reads “Mrs. Franklin Inc.  Chicag0 – New York – Philadelphia”

With the help of some members of the Vintage Fashion Guild, we looked around the internet but didn’t find much of anything. All that could be found was a mention of Mrs. Franklin sponsoring a fashion show, and a few advertisements (all dating between 1931 and 1938) with references to Mrs. Franklin being available in Bar Harbor, Palm Beach, Haverford, Watch Harbor, Jenkintown, Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York. However, this chain of boutiques carried some fashion weight as Mrs. Franklin was included in several American Vogue magazines during the 1930s.

In 1933 the actual Mrs Franklin was interviewed by Vogue, who pointed out that her specialty was knitwear “Heavy, tweedy-looking fabrics were made by loving hands… on actual needles.” Vogue noted.

I thought that was it…

Added November 9 Marianne Dow found a legal document that outlines more history of Mrs. Franklin, which lead to a few more documents…:


Ellen J. Franklin, wife of William B. Franklin, was born in 1875. In 1915 she began knitting women’s sweaters and selling them from her home. In 1917 she opened The Sweater Shop in Philadelphia. In 1920 she bought a new premises for her shop and in 1921 incorporated the business, changing the name to Mrs. Franklin Incorporated in 1923.

In 1927 she opened a branch in New York, and in 1932, a third shop was opened in Haverford, Pennsylvania. Mrs. Franklin had built a good reputation for her tasteful designs, and she is credited with popularizing knit dresses and suits. By 1938 she had shops in Bar Harbor, Maine, and Watch Hill, Rhode Island, and was operating a factory in Philadelphia, making women’s knitted dresses and accessories for wholesale.

1938 – figure at far right “Model wearing a yellow dress with yellow plaid jacket by Mrs. Franklin Inc.”

However, by the summer of 1938, the business had not been profitable for several years and was in financial difficulties. Mrs. Franklin owed nearly $150,000 for mortgages, rents, and past stock, and didn’t have enough credit to acquire any autumn merchandise. The board negotiated a plan of readjustment with creditors by re-organizing under a new company called Mrs. Franklin Shops of Philadelphia, Inc. Ellen Franklin ceased working for the company and paid out $5,000 on the more than $21,000 she personally owed. She then requested a weekly payment of $75.00 for the use of her name for the company, which was paid towards the balance of her debt. The New York shop and Philadelphia factory continued to operate until the end of 1938 before closing. The new company went back to making hand-knitted sweaters and dresses and continued in business until at least the end of 1941. After that the trail goes cold, although the company is mentioned in several legal papers dating up to 1954 over precedence regarding the taxation of the money paid to Ellen Franklin for the licensing of her name.

Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Francis & Co., 9 rue Auber, Paris

There were so many couturiers working in Paris in the late 19th and early 20th century that it is nearly impossible to research their labels, especially when what information there is, likely exists only in France.

A couple of years ago we acquired a jacket from about 1903 with the label ‘Francis & Co. – 9 rue Auber, Paris’. The workmanship of the jacket is superb – beautifully cut, trimmed and lined. The Met has a red dress with the same label, which I am showing instead of our black jacket, as it photographed better.

Advertisement from Femina for travelling clothes by ‘Francis, 9, rue Auber’ August 1902

The location of 9 rue Auber is across the street from the Paris Opera House, and around the corner from Galerie Lafayette – Paris’ largest department store. It was also a short walk from rue de la Paix, where the highest-end couturiers were establishing themselves at the time. Femina, a French magazine printed between 1901 and 1917 for upwardly mobile middle class women, has an advertisment for travelling clothes made by ‘Francis, 9 rue Auber’, but that is the extent of anything I could find. By the 1920s a booking office for Air France was located at that address, and by the 1930s, another clothing shop had opened at 9 rue Auber by the name of Valerie.