Check the Label

Posted on April 19th, 2019 by

This month’s edition of JMM Insights comes from Tracie Guy-Decker, deputy director. She’s sharing a behind-the-scenes look at one aspect of the development of our two newest exhibits, Fashion Statement and Stitching History from the Holocaust. Missed any previous editions of JMM Insights? You can catch up here!


When I was about 7, I really wanted Jordache jeans. It was the early eighties. They were twice the cost of the Wranglers, but they also brought a currency with them the Wranglers just didn’t have. The Wranglers might have fit, but I believed the Jordache would help me fit in.

Despite my first-grader experience with jeans, historically, clothing labels were usually hidden from everyone but the wearer. Their generally “hidden” status makes the importance of labels all the more remarkable. Clothing labels can carry a lot of weight – I don’t mean literal pounds, but rather intellectual, sociological, and emotional heft.

Labels are a way for designers and manufacturers to make their mark (literally) and for clothing wearers to assert their belongingness to social circles. This ubiquitous “artifact within the artifact”—and all the associations it brings with it—is a common thread between Fashion Statement and Stitching History From the Holocaust.

Our wonderful “Fashion Statement” logo, by Jeremy Hoffman of Ashton Design, was inspired by several of the local clothing labels in the JMM collections (for details, see the end of this post). From the stitched border to the swooping, elegant font, Jeremy captured the essence of a high-end dressmaker, tailor, or department store’s look, without directly copying any particular shop’s logo.

We worked with Jeremy and his team through several iterations to get to the final design. Both the JMM and the Ashton Design team looked and thought deeply about the implications of font choice, word placement and size, and the relationship between the words in the logo to each other. The images above may look incredibly similar, but to a designer’s eye, the tiniest details matter!

For the in-gallery version of the logo—the first thing you see as you enter the gallery—the Ashton team came up with the brilliant idea of actually stitching the letters. They designed a board with pre-drilled holes at the appropriate places to allow them to render their existing logo design in a thick thread. The effect is of a giant clothing label.

Our colleagues at the other JMM (Jewish Museum Milwaukee) and at the Costume Shop that created Hedwig Strnad’s designs for Stitching History From the Holocaust also approached their work with an understanding of the power of the clothing label.

As they poured their hearts and passion into the project of making Hedy’s designs real, the artists at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater Costume Shop decided that the dresses needed a label. Regardless of how finished the dresses might look, they could not be complete without a label to identify their designer.

Hedy’s signature, found after several years of research into her story, was used to create her own label, one that—at least for these dresses—she sadly never achieved in reality.  Hedy’s label transforms a very personal element from one of the surviving letters and creates a brand identity out of it. When we see it applied it to the professional, stylish recreations of her designs, we are reminded both of the power and importance of the clothing label, and the talent and skill Hedy could have brought to the American fashion industry, had her story ended differently.

If you haven’t seen them, yet, we invite you to come and see Fashion Statement and Stitching History at the JMM. And whether you’ve seen them or not, try to pay attention to clothing labels for a few days. What reactions do you have when you see them in your own clothes or in the store? You might be surprised at how the label alone can evoke thoughts or emotions. After all, clothing is a language. We use it to communicate with one another about who we are and where (and with whom) we belong. Labels are one form of punctuation in that unspoken language.


Label Collage:

1. Jeannette Beck, Baltimore, Maryland. Gift of Isidore Schnaper, JMM 1992.112.2. 

2. D. Adler, Ladies’ Tailor, Baltimore. From fur-trimmed opera coat owned by Anne Adler Salganik (daughter of David Adler, the tailor in question). Gift of Gordon J. Salganik, JMM 1990.133.2.

3. (top) M. Greenberg, Merchant Tailor, Baltimore, Md. Roll of nine unused labels. Gift of Zelda Cohen, JMM 1988.159.2.

3. (bottom) G.F. Adler Sons, Designers and Tailors, Baltimore. Roll of nine unused labels. Gift of Ruth Lev, JMM 1990.10.6a.

4. Florence Esther – Baltimore. From a custom-made cloche hat owned by Margot Zipper (object 34 in “Fashion Statement”). Gift of Margot Zipper, JMM 2013.58.2.

5. Charlow, Custom Tailors, Since 1899. Gift of Kenneth Charlow, JMM 1990.203.5.

6. Wolf Cohn, founded 1895, Baltimore, Md. From a bespoke ladies’ suit jacket owned by Naomi Biron Cohen. Gift of Maxine A. Cohen, JMM 2004.114.1.

7. Minna Myerburg, Pikesville, Md. From a satin evening gown owned by Margot Zipper (photo accompanies object 34 in “Fashion Statement”). Gift of Margot Zipper, JMM 2013.58.4.

8. Estelle-Fanchon, Baltimore. From a pink chiffon dress worn by Sara Fox Hettleman. Gift of Ellen Kahan Zager, JMM 2015.45.2.

9. K. Katz & Sons, Tailors, Baltimore. From morning coat owned by Samuel Sakols (object 16 in “Fashion Statement”). Gift of Blanche Sakols Schimmel, JMM 1987.39.2.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland