Established in 2000, the Bonnie Cashin Archive is among the most significant fashion collections in the world. It is owned in its entirety by Cashin’s heir and biographer, Dr. Stephanie Lake, the foremost expert on Cashin’s life and career, whom Cashin referred to as her “little sister.”
Consisting of thousands of items, the Archive charts Cashin’s near-century of life in design and as the “mother” of American sportswear. From iconic garments to her own reference library, personal photographs, voice recordings, design illustrations, fine art, diaries, textile samples, and press archive, the collection is singular in its depth and range.
The fifth scholar in the world to earn a PhD in the History of Decorative Arts, Design and Material Culture (Bard Graduate Center), Lake’s interest in Cashin’s work began during her graduate studies and while working as a researcher for Sotheby’s Fashion Department. As first documented in the press by The New York Times and WWD, a classic “New York story” and fashion fairy tale ensued. In 1997, word of Lake’s academic intention to “redress historical neglect” of Cashin’s career reached the designer, and the then-student was invited to tea at Cashin’s iconic U.N. Plaza Apartment. The rapport between the two was such that Cashin granted unprecedented and exclusive access to Lake. Cashin was the subject of Lake’s master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation.
Until Cashin’s death in 2000, the two spent their time together discussing and documenting Cashin’s career, including her wishes for her personal archive and design legacy. In 2000, Lake curated the first major retrospective of Cashin’s work, “Bonnie Cashin: Practical Dreamer,” (FIT) and worked in Tokyo curating an exhibition of Cashin’s designs in the 1960s in conjunction with Coach (Mitsukoshi). From 2000 until 2003, Lake served as the chief adviser to Cashin’s estate, appointed by Cashin’s executors, and also curated a second Cashin retrospective (Goldstein Museum).
Consulting on all aspects of the estate’s philanthropic giving, Lake created a multi-million dollar network of endowed gifts in Cashin’s name. Defined by Lake’s mission statements, these include the Bonnie Cashin Fund at the New York Community Trust, The Bonnie Cashin Research and Travel Grant at the Bard Graduate Center, The Bonnie Cashin Memorial Fund at FIT, and The Bonnie Cashin Lecture Series at UCLA, where Lake also facilitated the donation of Cashin’s professional papers and served as curator and museum scientist in charge. Lake also wrote and presided over the installation of Bonnie Cashin’s marker on New York’s Fashion Walk of Fame. In 2005, Lake established the Bonnie Cashin Foundation where she served as Creative Director. Lake has no involvement in registration of Cashin’s name for use as a trademark, which Cashin herself did not register during her lifetime.
Lake published the definitive monograph on Cashin’s life and work, “Bonnie Cashin: Chic is Where You Find it.” (Rizzoli), and is currently at work on a second Cashin publication, developing several film projects, including a documentary with Jonathan Adler, Simon Doonan, Ruben and Isabel Toledo, Gloria Vanderbilt, Isaac Mizrahi, Beverly Johnson, Cameron Silver, Liz Goldwyn, Jeffrey Banks, John Tiffany, Nena Ivon, and Cashin’s family attached, charting a traveling Cashin exhibition throughout the U.S., and considering the opening of a public space for the Archive as an American fashion destination. Lake routinely participates in and promotes inclusion of Cashin’s work in international scholarship and exhibitions, and actively shares archival material on numerous social media platforms, including the Instagram accounts “BonnieCashinArchive” and “CashinCopy.”
As described by legendary fashion editor Eugenia Sheppard in 1963, “Bonnie Cashin isn’t just fashion. She has become a cult.” The Cult of Cashin flourishes today, epitomized by Jonathan Adler’s declaration “I worship at the altar of Bonnie Cashin,” and his “Ten Commandments of Cashinism” written as the foreword for Lake’s Cashin monograph.
Lake collaborates with notables in diverse fields, providing exclusive access to The Archive as source material and inspiration for new work. In this, Lake expands her stewardship of Cashin’s legacy to not only celebrate the significance of Cashin’s contributions to the design world throughout her career, but to also highlight Cashin’s singular role as a muse to generations of designers and secure her place as a national treasure.