Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Bess Schlank

IMGP2159_2Even though her fashions are as competant as anything that came out of Paris at the same time, little is known about the American couturier Bess Schlank who worked Los Angeles from the late 1920s to mid 1950s.

Parade of bathing beauties in Los Angeles in about 1921 with advertisement for Schlank costumes in background.

Parade of bathing beauties in Los Angeles in about 1921 with advertisement for Schlank costumes in background.

Born in Romania in 1887, by the age of 21 Bess was married to 29 year old Morris Schlank, a native of Omaha, Nebraska. Three children quickly followed before the Schlanks opened a costume rental business in Hollywood in 1914, with Bess making the costumes.

In 1919 Morris began producing comedy shorts – cheesy one reel films intended for third-run rural movie theatres. Morris continued to make his silent comedies into the late 1920s, while Bess expanded the costume business into a fashion salon. By February 1929 a billboard advertising “Bess Schlank Furs Gowns & Wraps” appears in a photograph of Los Angeles. On August 17, 1931 Bess incorporated her company first located on Wilshire Boulevard. The following year Bess was widowed when Morris died suddenly of  a heart attack at the age of 52.

Bess Schlank storefront, late 1940s

Bess Schlank storefront, late 1940s

The business prospered, catering to a high-end clientele of Hollywood actresses and Los Angeles socialites. According to her grandson, John Schlank, the salon moved to Rodeo Drive in the mid 1940s and closed when Bess Schlank died in 1955.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
This entry was posted in film costuming, Obscurier Couturiers and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Bess Schlank

  1. John Schlank says:

    …She had a store on Rodeo Dr in Beverly Hills from the mid 1940s until she died in 1955… Bess Schlank was my grandmother and I remember her on Rodeo very well. The LA County Museum displays her clothing when they have period clothing displays.

  2. Julia Riva says:

    Dear John,

    My grandmother Jo Warren was a client of your grandmothers. Some of my happiest childhood memories are of going to your grandmothers Aetlier with my grandmother to have her dresses made. I would scrounge around on the floor near the many bolts of fabric looking for scrapes for my doll dresses.

  3. Sheridan Arnburg-Manning says:

    The other night I was talking with her great grandson, Brett. I mentioned a friend had lived on Fountain and La Cienega Boulevard. He mentioned his great grandmother, Bess Wright Schlank, lived on those streets. The house is still there, if I remember correctly. Now it is a boutique hotel. The dates I find for Bess are 1884-1956.
    I have been looking for pictures of her store on Rodeo Drive, but could not locate any.
    If I locate any, after searching the fashion institute and the academy’s libraries, I will send them to Brett so he can include them on his website, “W…Schlankville.”

    • Jonathan says:

      The death date I have was provided by her grandson, perhaps that is Brett’s father? I welcome more information about Bess Schlank – there is little written about her. I tried looking at the Schlankville site but it had nothing to do with Bess Schlank???

      • Sheridan Arnburg-Manning says:

        Got the dates from findagrave.com Maybe she wanted to be three years younger.

        Check this blog out: “After Mullen & Bluett’s closure, popular modiste Bess Schlank, wife of Poverty Row producer Morris Schlank, opened at 3630; the Schlanks had lived for a time at 3968 Wilshire.” A good blog about historical places on Wilshire Boulevard. Please feel free to contact me via my email.

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