Kathryn Kuhn (1895-1979)
Original Art Deco Ice Skating and Fashion Designs

Fashion & Costume Designs

See also Ice Skating Costumes
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Ice Skating Costumes

See also Fashion & Costume Designs
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Kathryn Kuhn (1895-1979)
Costume Designs for Sonja Henie Hollywood Ice Revue of 1948
New York City: c. 1948
Watercolor and gouache, pencil, pen and ink, on stiff paper
21.5 x 14 inches, overall
$750 each
Fashion Designs for Women’s Dresses
New York City: c. 1930-1950
Watercolor and gouache, pencil, pen and ink, on illustration board
17.75 x 13.75 inches or 20 x 14.75 inches
$550 each
Provenance: Estate of Kathryn Kuhn

Several original fashion and costume designs, and three skating costume designs specifically intended for the Sonja Henie Hollywood Ice Revue of 1948. The fashion designs are for formal wear -- evening gowns and party dresses, many accented with Kuhn's characteristic embroidery and beadwork, represented in silver or gold paint. Some of the unlabeled designs appear to be dance costumes, even though they are not stamped with her costume designer union stamp. The gown designs tend to be form fitting and sexy, emphasizing the waist, with flowing draped fabric falling around the hips. They all display the attention to detail that Kuhn prided herself on.

All of the costumes are untitled with the exception of the three ice skating costumes, which are labeled Moonlight Ballet, Betrothal Ball Waltz, and Old Fashioned. The souvenir program for the Sonja Henie Hollywood Ice Revue of 1948 shows the Moonlight Ballet as the second number in Act 2, with six Showgirls among the company. It is possible that Old Fashioned and Betrothal Ball Waltz were renamed after the costumes were designed. Two likely candidates, shown in the souvenir program, are a number called Promenade and another called Invitation to the Dance, each of which have 24 women in the company. The program shows the Hollywood Ice Revues as lavish productions, with sometimes up to 50 or 60 skaters in one number. Kathryn Kuhn is listed in the program as one of two designers and three executers of the ensemble costumes.

Sonja Henie was a Norwegian ice skater who won three Olympic gold medals between 1928 and 1936. Upon her retirement from amateur competition, she became a popular performer for the next 24 years, skating in her annual Hollywood Ice Revue and in numerous American movies. With her business partner Arthur M. Wirtz, she also co-produced a series of highly successful ice shows during the 1940s in New York City at the Center Theater on Broadway, though she did not skate in these. The Hollywood Ice Revue of 1948 program states that over an eight-year period Wirtz and Henie's Center Theater productions had "already played to more than 7,000,000 persons."

Kathryn Kuhn was a prolific New York City fashion and costume designer and custom couturier for over 50 years. Working out of her New York City townhouse studio, she created innovative Art Deco clothing designs – from formal and elegant to playful and bawdy -- for private clients such as the actresses Sophie Tucker and Carole Lombard, and for various theatrical productions. Kuhn started her career as a private dressmaker in 1911. During the Depression in the 1930s, she found new clients designing for the theater. Among her most celebrated works were her designs for the Sonja Henie Hollywood Ice Revues. She also designed the costumes for three of Henie's Broadway productions between 1947 and 1950: Icetime of 1948; Howdy, Mr. Ice and Howdy, Mr. Ice of 1950. Kuhn's other Broadway credits include three musical comedies between 1943 and 1946, notably Hollywood Pinafore (1945), written by George S. Kaufman and Sir Arthur Sullivan, and productions by Ziegfeld and by Mike Todd.

From about 1950 until her retirement in 1967, Kuhn focused on her private dressmaking business, which she felt was a more stable profession. In 1961, as profiled by the New York Times, she demonstrated herself to be articulate and confident, taking pride in quality workmanship and attention to detail. At that time, according to the article, she had a staff of 12 working from one of the oldest townhouses in New York City at 57 West 56th Street. The article described the eccentric charm of the townhouse atelier, a slice of the City of a bygone era: "Mrs. Kuhn has three floors elegantly arrayed with paneled walls, elaborate mouldings, towering ceilings, and long casement windows, through which the afternoon light filters, giving all an antique glow. Six parakeets and two Cairn terriers, which look, in her words, 'like dirty muffs,' are well-behaved additions."

She had "hundreds of sketches from which her customers may choose," though she explained that the vast majority of the time, she approached her job as one of discovering the woman's vision for the outfit and helping her realize it, adding personalized touches such as embroidery, beads and appliqués to make them unique. Nonetheless, she kept sketches that were up to 30 years old (dating back to the early 1930s). Said Kuhn, "I never throw them out – fashion is always a rehash. I just finished an updated dress that I made originally for Carole Lombard thirty years ago."

Condition: Generally very good, variously with the usual overall toning, wear, soiling, bumped corners, extraneous marks expected for working illustration art. Betrothal Ball Waltz with attached small detail illustration 9.75 x 6.5 inches, causing a shadow impression where attached.

References:

Holmes, Mary Burt. "Shop Upholds Tradition of Custom Dressmaking." New York Times. 9 November 1961.

Johnson, Jim. "Ice Revues." Sonja Henie Snapshot. 25 April 2007. http://www.sonjahenie.net/revues.htm (29 April 2010).

"Kathryn Kuhn." Internet Broadway Database. http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=25015 (29 April 2010).

"Kathryn Kuhn, 84, a Dressmaker And Ziegfeld Costume Designer." The New York Times. 20 September 1979.

Sonja Henie Hollywood Ice Revue Souvenir Program. Chicago, IL: Hollywood Ice Productions, 1948.

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