The Reign of Nan Duskin

My name is Megan Robles and I am the Curatorial Assistant Co-Op at the Fox Historic Costume Collection. I have been working at the FHCC since the end of September and I am enjoying my time here. There are a variety of tasks for me to work on and I have learned a lot about the collection.

 

Recently I was asked to look through garments pulled for an upcoming exhibition to see if they had any tags indicating their retailer. I found the label for Nan Duskin in a handful of the garments including designs by Jean Muir, Hanae Mori, Norman Norell and a day dress by an unknown designer. After discovering this label in various garments I did some research into the retailer’s history and significance.

 

Jean Muir

Accession 2004.4.45, Blue jersey dress, Jean Muir, England, 1972 Donated by Joan Cahan

Jean Muir:Nan Duskin label

Accession 2004.4.45, Blue jersey dress, Jean Muir, England, 1972 Donated by Joan Cahan

I found an article on Philly.com posted on November 11, 1994 that discussed how Nan Duskin in Philadelphia is closing after it filed under chapter 11 in January 1994. The shop, named after its founder, opened in February 1927 on 18th and Samson Street. Then in 1936 the store was moved to the 1700 block of Walnut Street and eventually took up the space from 1723 to 1729 Walnut. The store stayed in this spot until 1989 when it moved to Rittenhouse Square where it remained until it closed in 1994. Nan Duskin was a three-store chain with two other locations in Strafford and Haverford, both acquired in 1971. The Rittenhouse Square location was the flagship store and the last to close.

Day Dress:Nan duskin label

Accession 2014.69.179, Light blue synthetic linen day dress, USA, 1970 Donated by Charles Shuman

Day Dress

Accession 2014.69.179, Light blue synthetic linen day dress, USA, 1970 Donated by Charles Shuman

Nan Duskin was an internationally known boutique that dressed Philadelphia’s high society. They carried merchandise from major designers such as Chanel, Donna Karan, Giorgio Armani, and Yves Saint Laurent to name a few. Nan Duskin was an important part of Philadelphia’s fashion history because it was place for women to get the latest fashion styles.

In January 1994 the co-owner of Nan Duskin, Louis N. Marks, his sister Marilyn Cooper and two other investors filed to reorganize under chapter 11 because the store hadn’t paid its rent since June 1993. Many of the high-end labels pulled their merchandise from the store once it filed for bankruptcy. At the time this article was written the store was beginning its final clearance sale.

Hanae Mori

Accession 78.1.44ab, Hanae Mori, Japan, 1970-1975, Donated by Mrs. Coxe-Wright

Hanae Mori:Nan Duskin label

Accession 78.1.44ab, Hanae Mori, Japan, 1970-1975, Donated by Mrs. Coxe-Wright

The most interesting thing I found about reading the Philly.com article is the public’s response to Nan Duskin’s closing. Many people expressed how this was the “end of an era” and how it was sad to see a renowned fashion store close it doors. I believe that the article captured the essence of Nan Duskin with a quote from Susan Schwartz, owner of Sophy Curson, who said, “Nan Duskin had a worldwide name – people who came to Philadelphia knew this store. She had a great eye, and she carried all the best lines, and had the courage to be avant garde” (Campbell). I am glad that I had the opportunity to reasearch Nan Duskin and learn about a significant part of Philadelphia’s retail history. I am excited to continue my co-op and explore different retail companies and designers.

Sources:

Campbell, Roy H. “Nan Duskin Store Bids Phila. Au Revoir The Exclusive Retailer Is Closing After It Filed Under Chap. 11 In Jan. A Clearance Sale Will Begin Today.” Philly-archives. N.p., 11 Nov. 1994. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.

Megan Robles

Curatorial Assistant Co-Op

21 thoughts on “The Reign of Nan Duskin

  1. Hello. I recently acquired a vintage Nan Duskin labeled ladies hat of fine quality made from genuine jaguar fur. It’s in remarkable condition.
    Could you assist me in dating the style?

    Thank you.

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    • Mr.Warne,

      Based just on the material, it is likely that the hat dates from the first half of the 1960s. If you like, you can email a photo to fhcc@drexel.edu, and we can take a closer look for you. It’s possible we won’t be able to get back to you until after the holidays, so we ask for your patience. With the deinstallation of our Immortal Beauty Exhibition, we have our hands full around here!

      Thanks for your interest in our blog and our collection!

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  2. Pingback: Fashion | Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

  3. As a 19 year old, I worked at Nan Duskin in the alteration department in 1951 and 1952. Despite the fact that it was not a large store, it employed 35+/- seamstresses, 5 tailors and and several fitters.Miss Kip managed the department and Dorothy was the go-for gal who shopped for trimmings/findings/etc when needed. If zippers could not be found that were the right color, she dyed white ones to match the garment. When a customer brought back numerous scarves from abroad, dresses were designed and constructed on the premises.

    Mona Strauss
    Chestertown, MD

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mona! Thanks so much for sharing these memories. Would you be willing to be interviewed by our Archivist? We really love archiving stories about Philadelphia’s fashion history and Nan Duskin was such an important part of that. If you would be willing to talk to the archivist, Michael, you can email him at fhcc@drexel.edu. We’d love to hear about your time there!

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  4. My first job was working at Nan Duskin on Walnut Street. I worked in the receiving department and helped set up some of their fashion shows. I also made deliveries around Rittenhouse Square to various clients. They carried a lot of designer fashions from names like Bill Blass and Dianne Von Furstenberg. It was definately a high end store.

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  5. I worked as a sales girl for Non Duskin in 1977. I was in the Christmas department. They sold candy called chocolate lace. There was a house model. All of he sales girls could only wear black gray or blue. We had a gray smock to wear over our clothes. I worked with Ann Duskin, I believe she was a sister in law of Nan. They had a dog named Max that was trained to smell adrenalin so as to catch thieves! One time a shopper came in and wanted someone to try on clothes he might buy his wife. He didn’t want the model to wear the clothes, they chose me as I was his wife’s size.

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    • Thanks for this info Dawn! We are always excited to hear about experiences at Nan Duskin. Our archivist continuously works on keeping these histories. If you would like to share more of your memories, we’d love to hear more–email us at fhcc@drexel.edu.

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  6. My Mother was a hair stylist at Nan Duskin for many years and we recently lost her 2 1/2 months short of 99yrs. old. Mom loved Nan Duskin and I have a letter Nan Duskin wrote to Mom in 1958.I even modeled my hair there in the 50’s. I was devastated over last nights riots in Philadelphia . Hopefully, Walnut Street and Chestnut streets are not totally destroyed.

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    • Hi Mary, thank you for your comment. Over the years we have heard so many wonderful stories about Nan Duskin, from the women who worked there as well as the women who shopped there. We are always interested in talking more with people who have memories to share. I too hope that center city was not destroyed!
      -Monica

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    • Please forgive my typo Monica…I hit the x instead of the c. Mom’s memories and stories of Nan Duskin will live on forever.
      Mary

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  7. I worked in the small men’s department for a short time in 1987. I still talk about it. Every thing in glass cases. Had to be presented to customers. Waiters serving champagne, a piano player…the older ladies that worked there for years were amazing! They wore couture clothes every day. Fur trim, high heels, hair and make up done to perfection. I remember my first day one screaming in the back room to the servers “Champaign! champagne! I cannot sell these clothes without champagne!”, then gave me a wink. At 6 o’clock, they were out the doors before the lights were out, husbands waiting in cars to pick them up. It was so old school and glamorous, like a movie from the 1950s.

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    • Anthony, thank you for sharing this! We love hearing stories like these. The store has made such an indelible mark on so many people. WE are always collecting memories for our archives. If you would be interested in a more in depth interview, please email us at fhcc@drexel.edu. All the best!

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  8. OMG! I was just watching an episode of Forensic Files of a former murder investigation in Phila. In one of the clips, it showed a clothing label from Nan Duskin. Having now lived in Florida for 30 years but having been a frequent shopper at Nan Duskin, I decided to google Nan Duskin to find out what had become of the store!! Well, my google search brought me to your web site and here I am writing you this message. Sorry, I did not work at the store, but I was a frequent customer at my favorite store having lived in Stratford. Just could’nt resist posting this wonderful memory to you!!

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  9. Can you help me identify a dress I have from Nan Duskin in the 1960s or so that looks exactly like a pucci. I have pictures. The signature looks more like Bessi or Bersi. I would love to send you pictures so I know who designed this dress. It is a silk dress from Italy

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    • Hi Jody, thanks for your comment! I’d be happy to look at photos and assist. Send them to me at mbs63@drexel.edu. Try to make them as sharp and as clear as possible. I’ll need a shot of the full garment, detail shots of the labels and the textile print. Best, Monica

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  10. My mother shopped at Nan Duskin on Walnut Street and I have memories specifically between 1978 and 1979 of going with her. I remember the fitter bringing the rolling rack into the room packed with beautiful pieces. She would help my mother dress and undress over and over again in front of a huge three way mirror as she sipped champagne. A few times I would sneak out to the sales floor and peek into the large glass counter cases full of jewelry and other accessories. It always felt like a magical place where my mother was treated like a Queen.

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