Jessie Franklin Turner


Silk Evening dress by Jessie Franklin Turner, late 1920s, photo courtesy of MMA

There has been a lot buzz surrounding renowned custom dressmaker Jessie Franklin Turner lately, what with her inclusion in the Costume Institute’s American Women exhibition as well as The Museum at FIT’s American Beauty, the many years deceased fashion maker is looking a bit like the Deb of the Year. Franklin Turner herself would have loved this renewed interest in her designs. She was a great believer in mining the past for inspiration and frequented the museum collections around New York City as part of her design process. Evidence of this interest can be seen is an image from the late 1930’s advertising Franklin Turner’s 410 Park Avenue store. Pseudo-Tudor style evening dresses of velvet, replete with a sheer faux chemise reveal at the neckline and a face framing headpiece is featured. Artistic license has been taken with the anachronistic leg-o-mutton sleeve. That the ensemble works harmoniously is the mark of a designer with an understanding for proportion regardless of historical reference.

Franklin Turner’ museum research was not limited to Western cultures. As we can see in the evening dress above, she was also greatly influenced by the shapes, forms and techniques of art works from various cultures across the globe.   Franklin Turner, who was known to print and dye her own fabric, was perhaps at her best when balancing such exotically themed textiles with a fashionable silhouette, as she did early in her career with her critically praised tea gowns.

The evening dress pictured above is an example of a non western inspired textile design married with a current profile. From the Parsons Fashion Archive via the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the dress is a sumptuous piece made with an elongated bodice of golden hued brocade and a skirt is of sumptuous silk velvet, the quality of which is, rarely if ever, seen today. With an extraordinary rich hand that literally flows around the wearer’s legs the velvet  ends in an asymmetrical hemline that was very much on trend toward the end of the 1920’s as the short skirted garb of the flapper transitioned to the long bias cut glamour of 1930’s evening wear. The absence of a defined waistline further signifies the garment’s chicness.

Turner retired from fashion around 1942. Now, nearly seventy years later are we ripe to feel her influence all over again?