Marie Dressler – celebrity branding pioneer?

marie dressler5 15 march 1942

Advertisement for Marie Dressler dresses, March 1942


Canadian-born actress Marie Dressler

About six years ago I bought a dress from an online shop that had a Marie Dressler label and hang tag. I knew Marie Dressler was a Canadian-born actress (I had seen her in a couple of films – Tugboat Annie, and Dinner at Eight) but was not aware of her clothing line. Dressler won an Oscar for Best Actress in 1930 and was, for a time, the highest paid movie star in Hollywood, earning $4,000 a week. In August 1933, Dressler also became the first woman to grace the cover of Time magazine. I assumed that Dressler had loaned her name for a line of clothes, something every other celebrity seems to be doing today, but this doesn’t appear to be the case. With thanks to everyone at the Vintage Fashion Guild who helped put the pieces together, I think we have figured out the story.


Hang tag from dress, image courtesy of Viva Vintage

Marie Dressler dresses were manufactured in Cleveland, Ohio by the Gottfried Co. Online trademark information indicates the name was being used by the company to sell plus size dresses between March 1935 and 1947. Problem is, Dressler died in July 1934. I wondered how a company could legally get away with using a famous person’s name to sell product, but I think I know how they got around it. Dressler was born some time between 1863 and 1871 in Cobourg, Ontario (most sources agree it was either 1868 or 1869) with the name Leila Marie Koerber. She professionally used her middle name as her first name and borrowed the last name Dressler from her aunt. When Marie Dressler became an actress in the 1880s it was still considered a dubious career, so the name change was to avoid embarrassing her family. I suspect Dressler never legally changed her name, and after her death who would sue if the Gottfried company sold their plus-size dresses with her name? The hang tag is carefully written to imply but not infer the dress is associated with Dressler.