Mystery Dress!

by Erin on August 17, 2007

So, for my birthday, my marvelous sister Kate sent me this:

mystery dress

Isn't it awesome? Just the thing to hang in my sewing room.

Of course, I am now consumed by curiosity: who drew this? Why? How did it end up in a junk shop in Park Slope, for Kate to find?

It's marked "DeZine Studio, 105 W 40 ST. NYC", and the style number is D-1725. The illustration is marked "Peau de Soie" (and it's spelled correctly!).

Here's a slightly closer view of the actual dress (sorry about the flash glare):

mystery dress

Anyone have a clue for me? I could just *invent* the story, a la "Secret Lives," but I'd like to take a stab at finding out actual facts, first.

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous August 17, 2007 at 8:36 am

I don’t have any answers for you, but what a find! This would look great in my studio as well. I would like to do a knock-off of this one – it’s beautiful!BTW – I’ve been looking at your blog for a couple of months now and I love, love, love it. I check it often to make sure I haven’t missed anything. And the comments are so clever, informative and fun to read. Keep up the fun work!Alabama Seamstress

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Kate August 17, 2007 at 9:13 am

Does it say WHO St.? I thought it was a number with a “th” after it, maybe West (W) 40th St. I remember googling some street address after I got it…

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melissa joy August 17, 2007 at 9:44 am

my boss has a sketch of a different dress, same style of sketch in her office. it was a gift as well, so she doesn’t have any info on it.when exactly is your birthday?

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melissa August 17, 2007 at 9:45 am

never mind, i went back an entry.HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

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Erin August 17, 2007 at 10:32 am

Kate — you’re right, it does look more like 40th St. I changed it in the post. I wondered where “WHO” street was. And if Dr. Seuss knew about it …

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Archiknist August 17, 2007 at 10:41 am

Old NYC directories might help you figure out when the studio existed, while city records (held by the municipal archives: http://www.nyc.gov/html/records/html/about/archives.shtml) might also have some record of the business. They’d might also know who could help you if they can’t.Rebecca

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julia August 17, 2007 at 11:45 am

Erin – Happy Birthday! Mine was yesterday and I would consider another chapter of Secret Lives a most wonderful birthday gift!

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Summerset August 17, 2007 at 11:59 am

Oh Wow! I want your sister as a sister!

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Anonymous August 17, 2007 at 12:18 pm

I love the sketch! I don’t know any info on it, but I wish you luck with your search.

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barbie2be August 17, 2007 at 12:30 pm

i love that dress! it’s fabulous!

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Anonymous August 17, 2007 at 1:40 pm

Can we please have another “Secret Lives” anyway? Please?

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Anonymous August 17, 2007 at 1:41 pm

I’m more curious if it ever actually got made up than who drew it. That dress is gorgeous!

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Jen ~ MOMSPatterns August 17, 2007 at 3:14 pm

YOWSERS that is amazing! I tried to do a bit of sleuthing and did NOT find anything exactly like this, but DID find a gorgeous 50′s Vogue Special Design pattern (that looks like it sold for $50 last year) with a SIMILAR ruched bodice. At least it has a pattern number attached so maybe no day in your journeys, it will surface!http://www.lulusvintage.com/ephemera/index.html and it’s the 4th or 5th entry down. Good luck with more googling, guys & gals! I’m off for a nap. This heat’s unbearable..

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zimmersarmy August 17, 2007 at 3:18 pm

Jan 1958, in Oxnard California…A dress shop called DeZine Dress was robbed of $708.90 in merchandise. The shop was on 2207 Ventura Blvd (which now has me humming that song.)Perhaps your sister has traveled back in time to swipe you a present. But is it shoplifting if it is done through time travel?

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renee August 17, 2007 at 3:42 pm

What a wonderful present! The dress is soooo divine. I would make mine in a gunmetal taffeta, and go for a night out at the steak house, with a Manhattan to drink. Happy belated birthday! Oh, and thanks for the tape measure that arrived the other day, which now lives in my purse.

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mickey August 17, 2007 at 4:03 pm

The sketch is just screaming “Make me a “secret lives” story! Happy birthday and many more-

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susan August 17, 2007 at 5:15 pm

Would you wear a necklace with that neckline? I don’t think I would. I think I’d do earrings and bracelets.

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Els August 17, 2007 at 5:58 pm

Happy birthday.A beautiful present. Peau de Soie is French and means skin of silk and is referring to a medium weight smooth with a semi dull finish. Originally made in Padua Italy.

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Carol August 17, 2007 at 8:22 pm

Ooh, renee, I received the best compliment of my life in a gunmetal taffeta dress. A man I had worked with for months (though I must admit, he had usually only seen me in scrubs, an OR cap and a mask) saw me at a formal occasion wearing a gunmetal taffeta dress and asked a mutual acquaintance, “Who is that incredibly attractive woman?”Being a shy person of dubious self-esteem, it warms my heart that at least once in my life I was thought to be “incredibly attractive”.

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Welmoed August 18, 2007 at 4:16 am

What a beautiful gift! Happy Birthday!

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Jen ~ MOMSPatterns August 18, 2007 at 8:03 am

‘Maybe ONE day’. Not maybe no day. Geesh, that was a sly negative statement, wasn’t it?!

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Joni August 18, 2007 at 8:13 am

One of the gowns in the Christian Dior exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art has that same drapey gathering at the top of the skirt panels. My mother and I scrutinized that dress for a good ten minutes and we couldn’t figure out how they do it beyond, “First, you take a LOT of fabric…”

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Jo August 18, 2007 at 9:04 am

…yes a LOT of fabric, how wonderful to feel all that floating around you? :-) If I made it, I’d think of a rich maroon, or maybe forest green?

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Kathy F. August 18, 2007 at 9:40 am

I have an enormous portfolio of my Mom’s watercolors that look like this. She was 15 when she began doing them – amazingly talented! She entered contests for local department stores, too, and I have those “entries” also. One day I want to have some of them framed and hanging in my sewing room – this is just the inspiration! Thanks for sharing!

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Theresa August 18, 2007 at 11:47 am

Geesh – I checked out your sister Kate’s site — is the ENTIRE McKean Clan amazingly talented and brilliant?

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Anonymous August 19, 2007 at 4:41 pm

Ever since I’ve been watching “Mad Men,” dresses like this fill me with a certain tristesse. (Hey, if it’s in “peau de soie” I can refer to my mood as “tristesse.”) When I look at these garments’ tight, unforgiving construction, and their extreme exaggeration of seondary sexual characteristics, I can’t help thinking how women were defined by their gender in the 1950s, subordinated to men, and profoundly unfree. There’s a Max Ophuls movie, called “The Reckless Moment” with James mason (it was remade as “The Deep End” with Tilda Swinton a few years ago) that uses these tight, highly structured 1950′s-era dresses to make a point about how suffocated the heroine is by her role as wife and mother.But if I could look at the garment as nothing but a garment, deracinated from history, it is very beautiful.

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Anonymous August 19, 2007 at 11:52 pm

ooh ooh ooh – Secret Lives are so much better than “actual facts”!

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MJ August 20, 2007 at 9:15 am

Believe it or not, I saw a similar drawing on the wall in the ladies room of a furniture store this past weekend. The subject was wearing a two-toned kimono sleeved jacket and a pencil skirt, and the drawing was labeled: “C26-250, Helene E. Simke (or maybe ‘Sinake’), DeZine Studio, 1054 40th Street, NYC”.

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theredvelvetshoe August 20, 2007 at 9:33 am

I just love the picture~~it reminds me of Mad Men, too. (Which I watch solely for the style and clothing!)Michelle

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Wendy August 22, 2007 at 5:09 pm

The drawing and the location raise the possibility that this might have been (DeZine Studio might have been…) costume designers for Broadway shows.

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Martha August 23, 2007 at 10:55 pm

Anonymous’s post on gender roles reflected in dresses, along with the dress design, remind me of a post on Go Fug Yourself this week with a dress that has a scarf that reaches up from the bodice to wrap around the nick. On first glance I thought this dress was similar (now I see that it is a necklace worn with it). I’ll drink to modern day freedom to wear either slacks or froufy dresses.

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Anonymous January 21, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Hello, Helen E. Simke was my mother. DeZine Studio was the name of her company that she owned with Jack Kalkstein. She was the creative force and he took care of business. She was born in Germany and trained there, working in the super-charged fashion scene of Berlin in the 20s. She often went to Paris to preview the opening collections. She and my father came to the US in 1941. Not long afterward she formed her own company, Dezine Studio. Her illustration style was unique, always very free and loose. Many other sketch services at the time preferred a tighter style, but most who subscribed to her service wanted the feel of the garment rather than extreme attention to detail. If you have specific questions Id be happy to answer them. I was so delighted to see this…she too would have been thrilled to see the comments.Cathy

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Catherine Magid April 28, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Thanks so much for posting I have many sketches from your mothers studio found in a yard sale in Connecticut about 15 years ago. My friend bought them because I was a fashion designer. I have 52 hand painted gouch sketches and then I have sketches by Fay kozuck, Florence Anne Schatkin all from Cardinal Fashion Studio 117 W. 48th Street, New York 19, NY. Do you know anything about this studio? Would you be interested in making a book of her sketches from the studio? I have 30 in my study at home and 30 in the attached guest bathroom. People go crazy over them. I think its a story worth telling and publishing. And very inspirational to future designers. My father was a designer and he always said the inspiration always comes from somewhere before. My best–thrilled to see your comment Catherine Magid cmagid@triad.rr.com

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Kristi Carrell March 16, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Hi, I came across one completely done in pencil with the number D-9386XX and titled “Mousseline De Soie Black Lace”. I purchased this at a store in Denver. Were you ever able to find out more information? Mine also has the DeZine Studio 105W 40 St NY

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Kathryn Wilson November 8, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Just found 9 original drawings that appear to be from the same artist, Helen E Simke, DeZine Studios, 105 W 40th Street, NYC

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Kathryn Wilson November 16, 2013 at 4:58 pm

I just found 9 of these renderings from apparently the same artist at an estate sale in Chicago.

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kay January 12, 2014 at 6:43 pm

I have 6 of these drawings, cannot recall where I picked them up, but it was a thift store, or maybe the flea market in NY. I am a thifter and flea marker stalker. I cannot find anything about these mystery drawings, but they are framed and in my bedroom..

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Cathy February 27, 2014 at 11:19 pm

Hi everyone, I’ve not been back to this website for a while. I just love that so many people enjoy my Mom’s work. I (and my sister and brother) have many sketches and they are awesome. My granddaughter Ava, who is 8, colors the sketches as I used to do sometimes to help my Mom out at “imports” time. Dezine Studio made its money by offering subscriptions to other fashion enterprises: sole designers (Ciel Chapman), larger firms, pretty much anyone who wanted inspiration. Four times a year when Paris and Milan showed their new work my mother offered a special service that provided designers with the latest. This had to go very fast. She had people in several cities that air-mailed the sketches from the runway shows, she quickly drew each one onto a master lithograph sheet, and then the copies were run off, colated and mailed to her clients. Imports time was always a crazy time at the Simke household! I’m not surprised that there are many of these sketches out there; they were mailed far and wide. I remember that Cardinal was one of her competitors, but don’t know anything about them. I wonder if there’s a book that’s been written about the 50s NY fashion scene…

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