collection SC.396 - Mainbocher collection

Identity area

Reference code



Mainbocher collection


  • 1938-1976 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

49 large scrapbooks (some housed in boxes) with access copies, and two folders of documents.

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Mainbocher (1891-1976) was the first American-born designer to work as a successful Paris couturier. He was also the first to transfer his business from France to America in 1940 at the outbreak of World War II. Before becoming a designer, he was an intelligence officer with the American forces, opera singer, staff artist at Harper's Bazaar and fashion editor turned editor-in-chief at Paris Vogue. He debuted his first collection in Paris in November 1930, and designed biannual collections in America from 1940 to 1971. Throughout his career, Mainbocher was known for his ageless style and quietly pursued his own private vision. He maintained his belief that "women ought to be investors, not speculators in fashion," and likened his clothes to museum pieces. Although he claimed he was not interested in setting trends or influencing the fashion world, his designs did just that.

He studied classical singing in Munich and Paris. He had intended to pursue an operatic career until overcome by severe stage fright. It was then that he turned his attention to fashion design as a career.

He introduced the strapless evening gown, designed uniforms for the Red Cross, the Waves, Spars, Girl Scouts. He made a success with elegant, wearable clothes; elegant evening gowns were his forte. He has been ranked with Molyneux, Schiaparelli, Lelong. His philosophy has been widely quoted: "The responsibility and to consider the design and the woman at the same time. Woman should look beautiful rather than just trendful."

Archival history

Legacy ID Y21

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Content and structure area

Scope and content

The bulk of this collection, which was donated by Nancy White in the early 1980s to the FIT Library, consists of 49 scrapbooks relating to Mainbocher, with additional correspondence written by Mainbocher, Nancy White, and Carmel Snow.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling

The scrapbooks are extremely fragile. Several of the scrapbooks are housed in archival boxes while others are still loose.

The small collection of correspondence dating to 1957 does not seem to relate to Mainbocher at all, as it consists of letters from Nancy White to her aunt, Carmel Snow.


System of arrangement

Efforts were made in 2009 to digitize the scrapbook pages to offer copies for handling. The copies are kept in archival boxes. This project was not completed, so many of the scrapbooks are loose. A selection of letters and writings were separated into a second series consisting of three folders.

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Access is open to researchers by appointment at the Fashion Institute of Technology Library, Department of Special Collections and College Archives. If you have any questions, or wish to schedule an appointment contact us at or call (212) 217-4385.

NOTE: Photocopied reproductions of the scrapbooks should be provided for research instead of originals for preservation reasons.

Conditions governing reproduction

The Department of Special Collections and FIT Archives does not own copyright for all material held in its physical custody. It is the researcher's obligation to abide by and satisfy copyright law (Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 108) when copying or using materials (including digital materials) found in or made available from the department. When possible, the department will inform a researcher about the copyright status of material, the researcher's obligations with regard to such material, and, wherever possible, the owner or owners of the copyrights. Any and all reproduction of originals is at the archivist's discretion.

Language of material

  • English
  • German
  • Hebrew
  • Spanish

Script of material

  • Latin

Language and script notes

The language of the materials is English, however, articles in Spanish, German and Hebrew appear in several of the volumes.

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Photocopied reproductions contain approximately double the amount of pages as the original Scrapbook because it usually required 2 photocopies to capture the content of a complete page.

Finding aids

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

The Library of the Fashion Institute of Technology, Department of Special Collections and College Archives, 27th St. at 7th Ave., NY, NY , USA, 10001

Existence and location of copies

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Description control area

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Dates of creation revision deletion

2009 - Processing of the Scrapbooks partially completed by Ashley-Paige Frankel
2019 - Import into AtoM with some additional information on the Scrapbook Series by Samantha Levin




      Accession area