One of the most interesting patterns of the 80s garments, besides the shoulder pads and the neon blazers, were the bugle beaded sequin dresses, with intricate and, in some cases abstract art embroideries. The 80s were conflicted by the Cold War with the Russians and the rise to technological power with the Japanese. The United States was trying to catch up to the world, and influence from the East was powerful. While it looked like 80's fashion was not reflecting the era's tone, some styles were definitely telling a different story. Shoulder pads elevated and masculinized the power suit for women trying to climb the ladder in the workspace and achieve higher positions; the stilettos came back to add more height and the neon colors to capture all the attention of the executives. While the beaded work was trying to mimic the exquisite elaborate designs of the east.
But at night and during those business luncheons and parties, women were getting dressed to impress. Beads and sequins were at the highest level of sophistication, contrasting them with shoulder pads and adding an exotic flair that could only be captured by Japanese and Indian beadwork. This is where I believe the wiggle bugle beads pattern was born, a look that almost speaks an abstract language and fills all those blank spaces on the dress with some extra glam. All nightdresses were ultra embellished, and besides shoulder pads, hip silhouettes were added to the shape, and many body-fitting dresses got a dose of different curves. Because you must be strong at the office but sexy and extra glam during the night.
Many designers embraced the style, but the Indian makers excelled at their craftsmanship, or so we think. A.J. Bari, Laurence Kazar, Scala, Stenay, Tan Chho, Joan Leslie, and Lillie Rubin. But were they Indian, and were they real? Were they designers or Designer Lines or labels? Designer labels created by designer houses were trendy in the 80s and 90s, and finding information about them is almost impossible.
Let's demystify some of them:
A.J. Bari was one of several lines designed by American designer Kay Unger as part of the Gillian Group. The A.J. Bari line was in existence from about 1972 but was closed in 1995 when Unger formed her own label.
Lillie Rubin was founded in 1946 in Miami, Florida. They are a specialty clothing chain, selling primarily special occasion and evening dresses. In 1990 the company was bought by Cache', who added a sportswear line. In 2006 all the Lillie Rubin stores were closed or converted to Cache'.
Scala seems to be a designer label in existence, but nothing on their website's about page mentions anything about the 80s designs. The current designer appears to be of Indian descent.
Nothing on Laurence Kazar, Stenay, Tan Chho, or Joan Leslie. But if you look for dresses and tops from these designers or labels. You will find thousands of fabulous pieces that should be treasured and preserved. All online vintage boutiques have sold at least one of these designers at one point because who couldn't resist the exquisite art embroidered into these pieces.
After researching current Indian fashion sites, the only thing I was able to find about Laurence Kazar was a company that was open 30 years ago and finally dissolved in New York in 1994. This does match our records to a degree, but Laurence Kazar's designs date from before the 90s. We believe some of these lines belong to the Gillian Group owned by Kay Unger or the Nahdree Group owned by Nahdree. These companies had the idea of creating labels with real designers' names to add extra chicness to the pieces, and people could drop names and remember them. A marketing tactic still used to this day.
So, while the mystery might continue, most of the pieces were made in India with beads from Japan and silk from Bangladesh. The search for the actual truth should continue. I dare you to find more and leave a comment. I would love to talk to buyers or sourcing agents from one of the leading fashion department stores to tell me more about these labels.
If you also want to buy some pieces from my collection. Please take a look, don't be shy.