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 raise to technological power with the Japanese. United States was trying to catch up to the world and influence from the East was very strong during those times. While fashion did not look to be reflecting any of the changes of the era, if you look closely, all the signs are there. Shoulder pads elevated and masculinize the power suit for women who were 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 yes, shoulder pads but also adding an exotic flair that could only be capture by Japanese and Indian bead work. 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 night dresses were ultra embellished and besides shoulder pads, hip silhouettes were added to the shape and many body fitting dresses got a dose of extra 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 a thing very popular 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 in the about page of their website mentions anything about the 80s designs. The current designer seems 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 amazing 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 dresses. I know I haven't, and have sold some pieces myself.
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 designs date from before the 90s. At this point we believe some of these lines belong to the Gillian Group own by Kay Unger or the Nahdree Group owned by Nahdree. Having labels with names that resemble real designers gave some sort of chicness to the pieces and people were able to drop names and remember them. A marketing tactic still used to this day.
So, while the mystery might continue and 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 find a buyer from one of the main fashion department stores that could tell me more.
If you also want to buy some pieces from my collection. Please take a look, don't be shy.