Louella Ballerino (1900 -1978) was a younger mom when she first launched into knowledgeable design profession within the mid to late-30s. She had studied with MGM costume designer Andre Ani (over 40 movies, c. 1925-1930) whereas an artwork historical past main on the College of Southern California. When her household discovered themselves in monetary difficulties after the Despair, Louella returned to a scholar money-making scheme of promoting style sketches to wholesale producers. She may make $125 a month from these drawings.

On the similar time, Louella enrolled in pattern-making and tailoring programs on the Frank Wiggins Commerce Excessive Faculty, Los Angeles, whereas gaining sensible expertise working in a prestigious {custom} gown store.

Louella’s designs began for use within the gown store too, whereas on the Institute, her academics determined to advertise her to tutor courses in Style Idea.

After gaining additional expertise with producers, Louella began her personal {custom} enterprise in partnership with a good friend within the late 30s or c. 1940. The partnership later grew to become a solo enterprise, illustrating the instability of a design-business with out a full industrial co-producer, or a moneyed backer.
However other than being fostered by the educational artwork college ambiance, Louella Ballerino appears to have drawn energy and business assist from the native California design motion, a pattern pushed each by the West coast way of life and the response to it by a brand new wave of style designers and producers, a bunch of ‘Californian Fashionistas’ with whom Louella constantly confirmed her designs by way of the late 40s.

California Design

Within the late 30s and 40s, an awesome enhance within the skill to journey by automobile, aircraft and boat led to a increase in American tourism to California and the South West. Society in resorts similar to Palm Springs demanded a newly versatile, relaxed, but nonetheless spectacular leisure wardrobe centered round coordinated solar separates, sportswear, afternoon and night attire.
The components for this new model got here from a hanging rediscovery of California’s Spanish heritage and Mexican environment, and, additional afield, America’s sub-tropical neighbours within the Pacific and Caribbean.

a ‘style archaeologist’…?

This was a motion out of which Tina Leser emerged so efficiently. In distinction to Leser’s globetrotting, nevertheless, Ballerino was home-bound and California-based. Her style-sampling and wide-ranging analysis initially largely occurred within the library and, later, her personal costume design assortment, from whose tomes filled with historic or ethnic fashions she sourced concepts.
In 1945, Beryl Williams commented ‘She likewise research in museums and galleries and historical past books, and at any time when she has an opportunity she travels to additional enlarge her sources. Each possible kind of native artwork has been investigated… and each time she places even the narrowest border round a cotton skirt, she is cautious to make sure that its fundamental sample is an correct illustration of the standard one from which she derived it.’

…style ethnographer…?

The leisure and play-wear repertoire round which Louella based mostly her collections consisted of one-piece casual attire, each informal and sensible ‘sports activities’ separates in matching or coordinating units, and beach-sets. The recognition of this leisure wardrobe ~ and the brand new ethnic combination of kinds that got here with it ~ mirrored a shift in on a regular basis Individuals’ way of life and identification. Louella Ballerino’s personal exploration of this pattern took it to ever extra novel and distant locations…

From the New York Instances Dec 5 1943
“Los Angeles designers have as soon as once more come by way of with attention-grabbing designs keyed to current occasions. They present and all-American affect taken not solely from our personal Indians but in addition from our Latin-American neighbors. Mexican colours are strongly in proof. Designs are taken instantly from previous Guatamalan patterns. Types are female…

From the New York Times, 1943 Guatemalan design in purple & yellow Embroidery-banded Barrel/Peasant skirt, c. 1949  Courtesy of noirboudoir.com Peasant 'barrel' skirt, detail of embroidery Courtesy noirboudoir.com

The dirndl skirt, separate, or in a gown, was one among Louella Ballerino’s first and persevering with successes; the barrel or horizontal banding seen right here on a c. 1949 skirt, was one among her favorite and most attribute adornments. A banded ornament gave Louella the chance to raise genuine designs direct from two-dimensional e book illustrations, or in transferrable rolls of applique direct from a cottage-manufacturer and apply them on to her clothes.

The recognition of a single design, a hop-sacking gown with a dirndl skirt adorned with an African yarn figural design from the Tongan tribe, gave Louella the wherewithall to begin her personal idiosyncratic design home.

From 1949, a later model of the banded full skirt, just like one proven in a bunch of ‘Cotton Fashions’ on the Ritz Carlton Oval Room, New York, April 1949: Louella Ballerino’s contributions spoke of the outside lifetime of California. A hot-orange denim was made with front-buttoned bra and shorts. Within the peasant temper was a white cotton with off-the-shoulder decolletage and barrel skirt banded in peasant embroidery over the hips. (Virginia Pope)

Experimentation in sample and ethnic model led to larger experimentation with kind: Ballerino adopted her dirndl launch with a variety of ‘full-trousered Dutch-boy slacks, with quick double-breasted jackets in a contrasting color.’ and her later frock and seashore set designs (under…to return) present a want to innovate in how every garment is worn – for instance, doubling a overskirt on a gown, or a wrap skirt in a seashore set, as a bolero shoulder cover-up, or a cape..

South South-East

Guatamalan and Mexican-patterned sports activities separates like Louella’s grew to become instantly in style within the 40s. The Second World Struggle introduced the remainder of the world nearer, and particularly for America’s West Coast, constructed on an current fascination with Hawaiian kinds and as well as heightened consciousness of south-east Asian silks, brocades and patterns.

Wool jersey dress with Native American influence on sleeves. Courtesy of coutureallure.com

However influences got here west, too. This mid-40s sculptural sundress appears to succeed in past Californian villas for inspiration, to Previous World Spain.

Within the 1930s, Austrian producer Lanz had already scored an awesome success in California with their Germanic-peasant influenced designs, a reputation that persevered by way of the early years of the warfare.
Ballerino’s ‘play frock’ from the mid-40s appears to choose up on the pattern for Mittel-European milkmaid freshness, once more utilizing embroidered motifs with delicate precision. This is perhaps the outfit described within the New York Instances of November eighth, 1945 when Ballerino, one among 4 exhibiting designers, confirmed a ‘black peasant gown bordered on the deep, spherical neckline with white lace.’ though the journalist right here noticed it as drawn from ‘Mexican inspiration’.
And now for the gown nominated My Most Desired Ballerino Design, a 1946 ‘Sari Gown’ illustrated within the New York Instances of Jan 15th.

New York Times 1946 'For Now or Later'  By Louella Ballerino. New York Times Jan 15th

The caption reads: “A print displaying an Indian derivation is utilized in a frock of rayon jersey. The headscarf could also be looped by way of the waist or worn over the shoulders. A Louella Ballerino design at Stern’s. Now the general impact could also be pseudo-Bombay, however the particulars are all Ballerino-esque – a print that includes sturdy stripes that are performed with within the minimize, a versatile scarf, to be worn like a semi-detached peplum, or like a scarf…”

Based on one up to date report (Style Fundamentals, 1947) Ballerino, like Tina Leser, pioneered using hand-blocked printed designs on attire, and her style for revolutionary prints solely continued. With the shut of WWII, the subsequent few years noticed an awesome interval of success for Louella Ballerino, as wider partnerships gave her entry to the uncooked supplies and distribution which allowed extra folks to understand her designs.

Louella & Jantzen ~ 1946-48
Louella’s work for wholesalers was various and infrequently apparently fleeting, however one among her most profitable partnerships with a producer was a two to three-year design contract with Seattle swimwear producer, Jantzen. LACMA now holds a number of 1954 males’s fits donated by the corporate’s designer Maurice Levin, ‘in reminiscence of Louella Ballerino’, a present which appears to acknowledge the significance of her designs to Jantzen. in 1946, the collaboration was first promoted equally with the third hyperlink within the manufacturing chain, Bates Materials:

from a Feb. 1946 Vogue ad Louella Ballerino looks with approval on her newest double-exposure

Louella Ballerino appears with approval on her latest double-exposure, one among a set of seashore garments designed solely for Jantzen, who is aware of there’s something new underneath the solar, and sees that younger America will get it For Ballerino, as for different main American designers, Bates custom-makes materials that hold their beautiful, under-water colours by way of salt, solar and soapsuds keep brilliant and shinging as a mermaid’s fins.

And right here’s a surviving swimsuit in the exact same Bates ‘Sea Fern’ cloth; these Bates materials have been specifically ordered by Ballerino for her Jantzen vary and this set echoes the print/black alternating design of the advert – though she shouldn’t be credited on the label, this have to be one among Ballerino’s designs. It was maybe solely the next 12 months that her inventory had risen sufficiently for Jantzen to weave Louella’s identify into their labels for the excessive profile promotion of a brand new vary of revolutionary play outfits she produced for them.

Louella Ballerino beachwear Courtesy of fuzzylizzie Louella Ballerino beachwear Jantzen Ballerino promotion, 1947

Her drum beats from the brand new Jantzen beachwear assortment By Louella Ballerino

Every model group was tailor-made to tune right into a spectacular, specifically chosen cloth sample, so that every evoked particular unique or historic themes. Two different strains which accompanied this Africa-themed set included: ‘Sweet Cane’ a powerful black and white striped American-retro styled set, and the gorgeous ‘Carte Blanche’ white rayon set, with scrolling inexperienced border-work.

From maybe the identical, or a subsequent 12 months, an enthralling cotton plaid three-piece seashore set preserved in two colourways, from the in depth, prime quality wardrobe collected by Helen South Alexander of Spokane, a woman of nice discernment, going by the remainder of her high-fashion, made-to-order wardrobe. The set’s ruffles present the affect of a favorite inspiration piece: the peasant apron; using plaid attracts on American folk-history. Easier cloth designs drawing on historic nationwide kinds balanced out the unique within the Jantzen Ballerino ranges.
The model of those extra mass market units was maybe prefigured by Louella’s 1945 assortment, which included a ‘lime-green shorts-and-bra costume worn with a full wrap-around peasant skirt inset with black-diamond motifs’. In 1946, she confirmed a beach-set at Altman’s Solar and Surf store which included a three-tiered skirt which doubled as a cape. Characteristically, essentially the most fundamental three-piece leisure garment may very well be transformed right into a deceptively easy mixture of ingenious designs.

Ballerino Jantzen Beach Sets Courtesy of M.Wilds/denisebrain.

Louella is credited on the label of those units, in contrast to the sooner Bates/Ballerino/Jantzen merchandise (above).


Probably the most seen section of Ballerino’s profession is the 40s decade. She is first famous nationally c. 1941. After her success with Jantzen, Louella’s fashions are usually given beneficial discover in reviews on Californian style.

She grew to become a part of the group of ‘Affiliated Fashionists of California’ because it crystalized on the nationwide stage within the late 40s, showing notably constantly alongside Agnes Barrett, but in addition, c. 1949-50 with Peggy Hunt, Marjorie Montgomery, Viola Dimmitt and different distinguished Californian sportswear corporations.
The place the personnel of the exhibits fitted, this group would model themselves ‘designing ladies’, though the composition may very well be fluid. Ballerino additionally appeared outdoors the umbrella of Californian style, displaying in New York in themed exhibits for Bogart’s Cotton Store and Altman’s Surf and Sand store, amongst others.

from a 1948 'American Cotton' ad Matching Mother & Daughter fashions

Left: 1948, Ballerino’s new matching ‘Mom & Daughter’ fashions (together with herself) featured in an ‘American Cotton’ advert;

However the place subsequent? Press references to Louella Ballerino peter out c. 1951-52, simply as a number of the leisurewear design parts she pioneered had permeated in style fashions country-wide. Her business collaborations over time had been attention-grabbing however not long-lasting, and it’s potential that she dropped off the radar in response to a necessity for wider distribution within the 50s, which she couldn’t meet.

Louella’s Concepts

Originality – Louella taught her college students to surrender on originality, since all the pieces – a line, a color, a function – had been tried earlier than someplace, someday. She turned this fatalism right into a energy, researching the world within the agency expectation that it could current her with one thing attention-grabbing to take a look at.

Curiosity – the ‘level of focus’ was the place Louella’s concepts began, whether or not it was a fancy dress print, piece of embroidery, or merely a scattering of ‘colored paper scraps’. When doubtful, the rule was, create a spotlight of curiosity; this was Louella’s technique when caught for a lesson plan: ‘I intentionally wore weird garments to class… they have been, I admit, slightly excessive… continuously a daring material line or an awesome clanking piece of jewelry served the aim of distracting my college students…’

Recurring Themes

~ Prints on heat color backgrounds, contrasted with darkish blocks of color (proper), daring stripes used to go with the garment construction.
~ embroidery or raised design appliques, continuously in horizontal bands, or single ornamental options (see the skirt pocket, above) performing as a spotlight of curiosity
~ ruffled edgings used to evoke peasant or nation kinds
~ Around the World themes – Louella sourced designs, patterns or merely strains from Bulgaria, Holland, Russia, Norway, Poland, China, Mayan design, American Indian tradition, South East Asia and Latin America
~ ‘Transformer’ outfits – convertable capes and overskirts, dual-use drapes, capacious pockets and self-fabric ties; Louella made her college students research anatomy to know how they have to make garments straightforward to put on.
~ Fascination – most significantly, a willpower to not be boring…

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Written by Lin – Noir Boudoir