Pola Stout in Pola Stout

Since Lizzie Bramlett of the blog The Vintage Traveler has been covering the fascinating work of Hollywood designer Adrian, I remembered an old post I wrote about one of his main textile designers, Pola Stout. I accidentally eliminated it some time ago in one of my misguided efforts at reorganization. It’s worth another look.

One of the most exciting aspects of research is discovering things you didn’t know you were looking for. While reading about Gilbert Adrian in the 1974 book American Fashion: The Life and Lines of Adrian, Mainbocher,McCardell, Norell, Trigère, I came across a reference to the textile designer Pola Stout.  Who was she?  It didn’t take long to discover that she designed and produced high end fabric for many top American designers, including Adrian, Irene Lentz, and one of my personal heroines, Bonnie Cashin.  Her fabrics were featured in Vogue and mentioned by name in department store advertisements.  Weaving and art magazines examined her work, which was also featured at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Fashion Institute of Technology. 

Because of her own renown, and also because she was married to the famous mystery writer Rex Stout, there is a lot of information available about her on line. (One scholar of detective novels has noted that Stout’s books have many strong European women characters, inspired by his wife.) Born in 1902 as Pola Weinbach in Poland, she studied in Vienna and had ties to the Wiener Werkstätte, the innovative Austrian design movement. She worked in Paris and Berlin before coming to the US in the early 1930s. By 1940, she was heading her own division for a major American mill.  In 1946, she opened her own factory. 

Stout worked primarily in wool and used geometric designs. New York Times fashion writer Virginia Pope called her an American Rodier, a reference to the innovative French textile firm. You can see her mastery of color and design in this 1944 dress by Adrian, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This 1948 photo shows Pola Stout wearing her own fabric in a handmade suit by legendary West Coast designer, Irene Lentz, who was a personal friend.  I love her look here—geometric, not fussy, with a little sense of whimsy in a swirled pin contrasting with all of those stripes.

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