Bracelet stories

Just got back from a quick shopping trip and wanted to share my favorite finds, 3 very different, very cool silver bracelets


Their origins are all unique. I’ll start with the cuff on the left.

It’s a sterling silver cuff, made in Mexico with a nice weight and subtle curved shape. I usually don’t go for anything too minimalist, but this is just a great design, would look good stacked with a bunch of other bracelets, and it also feels good on and fits nicely on a smaller wrist (like mine!)

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The stamp that you see above (alongside “Hecho en Mexico” and 925) is the Los Ballesteros mark. Los Ballesteros is a well-established high end shop of silversmiths. They started in 1937, and moved to Taxco, the silver capital, in 1941. Where they continued creating fine quality work. What’s distinctive about them is that in addition to more traditional designs Los Ballesteros kept up with the times and experimented with modernist design in the 1940s and 50s, which this 40s piece exemplifies.

The next amazing bracelet is not sterling silver, but is a great piece of history.


the airplane chased into the surface is “The Spirit of St. Louis,” the little single-engine plane Charles Lindbergh famously flew from New York to Paris in 1927. This must have been an American souvenir keepsake from that year. The skyscrapers of New York are pictured on one end, and the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe mark the French side. The plane in the center has “New York” and “Paris” scratched onto its surface and “33 hrs. 29 Min” the duration of the trip, is noted below. It’s also got little horse shoes with four leaf clovers for good luck.

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And finally, we got a Navajo piece that dates from either the 1940s or 1950s. Turquoise stones are very bright and smooth and it’s got great details.

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Everything you see is for sale, just shoot us an email.


The Incomparable Nelly Don

Here’s an unassuming rayon dress that serves as evidence of the kind of early twentieth century success story you’ve probably heard before; kid from a big Irish family in a small town starts a business and makes a fortune. But the story of the Nelly Don label is a little more unusual…

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First off she was a woman. Born Ellen (Nell) Quinlan in Parsons Kansas in 1889, Nell moved to Kansas City after high school, met and married Paul Donnelly who, despite a reputation for eccentricity, was at least supportive of his wife’s education. Nell finished college and started making dresses for herself at home, and shortly had friends and acquaintances wanting Nell’s designs for themselves.

At the start of the twentieth century the garment industry was the second largest in Kansas City, only the stockyards employed more people. The H.D. Lee Company was there, making jeans, overalls and other workmen’s clothes but women’s ready-to-wear, particularly dresses and jackets, accounted for most of the output. Even though she grew to be a major part of it, Nell didn’t start with mass manufacturing. In 1916 a local dry goods store ordered 18 dozen of her dresses, which were promptly snatched up, and got her design career started.



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By 1931, the decade this dress was made, she had over 1,000 employees and $3.5 million in sales of affordable house dresses and aprons. While business was good life at home wasn’t. Nell’s husband was drinking, cheating, and had a particular fear of the thought of her getting pregnant. As the couple grew apart, she started to confide in and spend more time with James A. Reed, Missouri state senator. She even made a trip to Europe to “adopt” a baby, but almost everyone knew that baby was actually Reed’s.

This personal scandal was nothing compared to what was to come. In December of 1931 Nell Donnelly was kidnapped along with her chauffeur. The kidnappers likely thought they would collect a tidy ransom for the clothing mogul’s return. Instead, they were faced with the wrath of Missouri’s fightin’ democratic senator. Reed didn’t mess around- he publicly threatened the kidnappers and reached out to local crime boss Johnny Lazia. Basically he enlisted Lazia’s help through extortion, claiming that if Nell was not returned safely within 24 hours he would purchase 30 minutes of radio time and expose all of Lazia’s gangsters underground dealings. The threat worked, Nell and her chauffer were returned home, no ransom paid, 36 hours after the kidnapping.

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Nell and Reed married in 1933 and stayed together until his death. She ran the company until 1956, and though it stuck around for another 30 years, it was never quite as successful as it was under Donnelly. Even after she stopped working, she kept active and live to be 102.

This little printed rayon dress has capped sleeves, pleated bust and it’s original belt. Simple, light, and wearable it really embodies the ethos of 1930s comfort and everyday style.

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If you’re interested in owning this bit of history check it out in our Etsy shop

And if you wan to see more about Nelly Don check out these sources:

from the Worn blog,

an interview I did with the curator of “An American Style” for Worn Fashion Journal

American Style: An Interview with Curator Ann Tartsinis



During WWI, the USA found itself cut off from European art and design, a source they had depended on for centuries of aesthetic guidance. At the same time, Greenwich Village avant-garde designers, many of whom were women, were challenging the conventions of feminine fashion. They were drawing connections between a liberated, un-corsetted silhouette and the traditional dress of non-European cultures. These factors converged, briefly, in the unlikely setting of a natural history museum.

New York City’s Bard Graduate Center is currently showing a small focus gallery exhibition entitled “An American Style: Global Sources for New York Textile and Fashion Design, 1915 -1928.” Curated by Bard alum Ann Tartsinis, the show focuses on this unique moment in the early twentieth century when curators from the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) were actively soliciting textile and fashion designers to work with objects and art in the museum’s collection. These artifacts, drawn from the museum’s Native American, Central American, and Southern American holdings had been acquired through early nineteenth century ethnographic studies that included some practices which by today’s standards are dubious at best and nothing less than theft at their worst. By encouraging designers to explore authentic artifacts, museum staff hoped the pairing would provide inspiration for inventing a true “American” style. What they produced continues to be a compelling body of work sparking questions about nationalism, appropriation, and inspiration.

WORN’s New York editor, Sonya Abrego speaks with Ann Tartsinis.

What drew you to the subject and how did you come across this material?
When I was doing my graduate studies I was in Professor Michele Majer’s modern textiles class and I found an illustration of Charles W. Mead’s Peruvian Art—help for students of design in a textile survey, and I was very curious as to what this was; who was Charles Mead? It isolated the Peruvian Bird motif and showed designers how to apply it to modern textiles, and he was the curator of Peruvian art at the AMNH and there’s this bigger story of the Anthropology department engaging with artists and designers at this time. I started to scratch at the surface and uncovered this really fascinating moment when four men who were later called “the fashion staff” actively pursued American designers in the hope of finding a new modern style.

Where do the objects in the exhibition come from? Are they still in AMNH?
All of the ethnographic objects are from AMNH. But the rest come from a variety of institutions in the region. There is a fantastic c.1920s batik style kaftan dress from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, well as numerous contemporaneous textiles that are from the museum at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), as well as the Smithsonian museum of American History and the Brooklyn Museum.

Do you have pieces you find particularly interesting?
The Siberian fur coat, which is probably from the Koriak culture, where Japan and Russia meet. It’s a reindeer hide coat with beaded tassels; it’s a dancing coat and it was extremely influential to quite a few designers. One is Jessie Franklin Turner (known for her sinuous 1930s tea gowns) who, in 1917, when she was the head of the custom department for Bonwitt Teller in New York, made a line of negligees and a tea gown based on the coat. We have a drawing of that, of one of the negligees, and a reproduction of the actual item that was produced in Vogue. We have the source object, the drawing that the designer was inspired by, and the image of the final piece. It’s rare, in this story, to have all those parts.

Also, there is a dress from the RISD museum that uses the H. R. Mallinson & Co. (a silk company) and one of their prints from the American Indian series. It is a Sioux war bonnet print which is created in a drop-waisted day dress, very 1920s silhouette, with lace ruffles… it’s a facinating collage of contemporary design using this pretty avant-garde print.

Was the 1919 Exhibition of Industrial Art and Textiles (an exhibition in the museum showing the designs alongside the pieces that inspired them) something that was well-received? Was it a popular show? 
It was only up for two weeks. It was perceived to be popular. M.D.C. Crawford, who is one of these key four members of the fashion staff, was a journalist for Womens’ Wear(now WWD), and at that time he wrote that it was extremely popular and it was considered popular by the museum itself. The trustees were supportive of it and happy with the popular outreach that they gained.

One of the many intriguing things you touch upon is who these people were. They were into this Greenwich Village, bohemian culture that included a lot of designers and artists. Do you see the aesthetics expressed in these pieces as part of the Greenwich Village avant-garde or do you think it’s a separate thing?
It’s definitely part of the avant-garde. A lot of the designers who took advantage of the museum activities were from the Greenwich Village avant-garde and there was kind of this melting pot moment that happened in New York in reaction to the effects of WWI. These designers and artists—a lot of them women who were embracing this new woman ideal—are educated; they have careers and they are not really looking to marry. They are part of these circles that are pushing the boundaries in terms of fashion and embracing artistic dress.

So this caftan silhouette, sandals and bobbed hair and, most importantly, the abandonment of the corset, this is connected to the story at the AMNH. A lot of the silhouettes that the curators are advocating based on ethnographic sources like Native American dress and the Koriak fur coat are fuller, looser silhouettes, so I think there is a melding between the two ideals that allow the new woman to function. The garments aren’t as restrictive and there is more mobility.

When I was looking at the show I felt my sentiments a little divided. I can appreciate the idea of stepping away from European influence in art and design, of looking to inspiration from this continent at a time when the nation was challenged with the war in Europe. I like that they were valuing original work and stylistic traditions from the Americas as compelling and inspirational. However, although these items existed in ethnographic collections here in New York, in terms of cultural property, they were not the curators’ property to give. Where do you situate this practice in terms of cultural imperialism?
You’re absolutely correct: they certainly were not the cultures that these curators could offer as freely as they did. Contextually, at this moment in the United States, their attitudes were part of broader theories of Central and South America as being the purview of the Unites States. So while these men, these curators, their activities certainly brought up questions of appropriation and cultural property they weren’t really acting out of the norm of the moment. However, looking back, I do think it’s a really sticky situation. I’m fascinated by their efforts to inspire American designers but the material that they were defining as American was not theirs to offer.

The project, even at the time, brought criticism from other curators at the AMNH; it drew criticism for appropriation, and these other curators thought it wasn’t appropriate for contemporary American designers to take the material, cite it, and use it as their own. The four fashion group curators did advocate inspiration over citation (i.e. copying) which gave them a little bit of room to get behind this movement, but with designers there were still some direct citations.

Today we get to hear from Native American scholars and activists speaking out against appropriation of Native American design traditions. I’m thinking of outlets like ‘Native Appropriations’ and ‘Beyond Buckskin’ calling out Urban Outfitters for their “Navajo” prints or Paul Smith for his “Electric PowWow.” Was this exhibition an antecedent to these practices? Is there any connection?
The connection is there but it’s tenuous. This project was an isolated moment in the AMNH’s history. Recent scholarship in the Anthropology departmebt does not talk about this at all, and it’s not really part of the museum’s mission even if it was part of their popular outreach at that time. I think modern designers will look to museum collections, and indigenous collections as well, for inspiration. And I think it is useful for designers to look to museums, but it’s the issue of citation. When you’re talking about meaningful, spiritual items being appropriated and placed on contemporary garments I would hope that companies and designers would at the very least acknowledge their sources or ask permission. The Urban Outfitters example is extremely troubling.

I think there is a considerate and appropriate way for designers to engage with museums. I don’t think the connection between cultural institutions and industry is a bad relationship. Museums hold a variety of inspirational material and industry can learn, either from what’s been successful in the past, or through techniques and methods that have been used by other cultures.

Artists and creative people are going to seek these out anyway. They might as well look at an original source with some history behind it instead of mixing and matching vague ideas.

I encourage everyone to visit the exhibition to see some amazing original material, think about how cultures have informed one another, how design circulates between cultures and how traditions of the past informed modernity. Cultural appropriation’s history is a tangled one. This show presents museum objects which embody multiple vexed relationships. It is also accompanied by a thorough image-rich catalogue, well worth seeing if you can’t make it to the show, that contextualizes all these issues in depth.

“An American Style: Global Sources for New York Textile and Fashion Design, 1915 -1928.” on view until February 2, 2014 at 18 West 86th street.