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.
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.