The discovery of a feature in Dance Magazine from December 1924 about the New York modiste Sophie Rosenberg has sent me on a slight detour from my current research. It would appear that she was a significant figure in the New York fashion design world from 1915 right through to the mid 1950s. Taking her inspiration from her yearly trips to Paris, Rosenberg created original designs with a Parisian air. Her enterprises evolved in 1915 in conjunction with her husband under various names and in 1935 she entered into a rather disastrous and short-lived business arrangement with Gloria Vanderbilt before re-establishing her independence.
Sophie Sonia Rosenberg was born to Benjamin and Leah Dashew, 15th November 1879 in Russia and married Abraham Jacob Rosenberg in December 1898 before emigrating to America shortly thereafter. Allegedly one of her first jobs was at the Eureka Dress Company from 1908. Seemingly, between 1908 and 1914 she had established some sort of dress making business in New York and prior to World War 1 had ‘trained’ in Paris.
In May 1915 she opened a new dressmaking establishment as Sonia Rosenberg at 153 West 44th street (opposite the Claridge) which had a Parisian touch and a grey and blue colour scheme. She was immediately viewed as ‘a formidable contender for the patronage of stage women’ and was thought to become ‘famed in New York modiste circles very shortly.’ She began dressing a range of performers that ranged from vaudeville, legitimate stage, cabaret and films. Two such shows were a Fashion revue with Catherine Crawford and 8 girls and The Girl of Tomorrow at the La Salle Theatre, Chicago in late 1915. Other named performers in vaudeville dressed by her at the time were Emma Carus and Dorothy Earle. She also claims to have gowned Theda Bara, Virginia Pearson, Mabel Normand, Lillie Shaw, Amelia Somerville, Christine Mayo, Virginia Norden, Lillian Walker and Mary Miles Minter.
By early 1916 it was revealed ‘her creations are causing considerable talk in the profession. The proof is that the best in the theatric world are wearing her dresses’ and Rosenberg was announcing that she could copy any one of her original models in 24 hours. By March 1916 she had opened a second shop called The Claridge shop at 161 West 44th Street and announced that the new establishment was for ‘those who seek exclusive, clever creations in gowns and suits.’ There was also a Paris outlet at 76 Rue Réaumur, although later by 1924 she had moved to 117-119 Rue de Faubourg. Other shows costumed by Rosenberg in 1916 included Arthur Pearson’s Step Lively Girls, Isabell D’Armand’s Demi-Tasse revue and Sam Sidman burlesque season at the Park, Bridgeport.
At the Fashion Exposition at Madison Square Gardens in May 1916 Rosenberg showed a complete line of her own creations in wraps, gowns, sporting wear and suits. Once again there was praise saying her ‘gowns are known for their chic Parisian effect that immediately appeals to the women of the stage.’
She was noted for her reasonable prices and for having an original streak in suiting ‘different’ gowns to clients. It was made clear that ‘the individuality of each patron is artistically studied.’ Her designs were viewed as ‘handsome, new and varied, elaborate and exclusive, with everything undeniably stylish, attractive, original and right up to the minute.’
One highlight was her creation of all the gown worn by the legendary Sophie Tucker at her extensive sojourn at Reisenweber’s cabaret in New York in early 1919 when it was observed that Tucker was ‘turning the place into a sort of personal fashion display.’
Rosenberg continued her operations with another shop at 24 East 54th Street in 1922 which was allegedly devoted solely to her original creations and the latest Parisian modes.
In an interview in Dance Magazine (December 1924) Rosenberg was described as ‘New York’s well-known couturier and gown creator’ and ‘a veritable oracle of Dame Fashion.’ We rare told that she had just returned from a style tour in Paris and other smart society resorts in Europe. By now she had added Mrs Reginald Vanderbilt and her sister Lady Thelma Furness to her roster of clients and no doubt a vast number of other members of New Yorks famous Four Hundred.
Sophie Rosenberg was asked what kind of attire would be worn in ballroom and she predicted that ballroom gowns would be gorgeous, beautiful and shimmering with a ‘mardi Gras of brilliant colours and will-o’-the-wisp fancies.’ She thought that straight lines would be fashionable with straight-line silhouttes and brilliant colours trimmed with bright beads.
For the younger set she advocated that silk nets would be the favourite material, trimmed with girdles of handmade flowers in pastel shades. Period costumes would be much in evidence with flutings and floral motifs as trimmings. Of these the Grecian effect would be favoured with long waist-lines giving a blouse effect, broad girdles ending in a sash and a novelty buckle.
For the mature woman there would be straight-line models, slightly draped with a train and the use of rhinestones and bead ornaments as adornment.
The ideal dance frock for the debutante whould be of chiffon in rich colourings, skirts would have large motifs or stripe effects and there would be fur trimmings especially for metal cloth dresses with straight lines.
Evening wraps would be more elaborate and striking with metal brocades, fur collars, straight lines and exotic colouring. For example, a gold brocade creation line with blue velvet would be perfect.
By 1926 her company based at 24 East 54th Street was called Rosenberg-Goodstein Inc and in August 1926 she created Marie Saxon’s gowns in The Ramblers at the Lyric Theatre in New York.
Spring 1926 outfits from Dance Magazine (May 1926)
Above left : A delightful strawberry silk poplin with tiny bands of silver
Above right: an outfit of blueberry crepe with bright peasant embroidery on the skirt, collar and sleeves. Two front pleats generously allow freedom of the knees
Above left: A plentiful pleated dancing frock embroidered with paprika bouquets sprinkled generously over white foulard
Above right: An outfit of pistachio toned heavy ribbed silk with a hip sash arrangement threaded through with heavy eyelets
Above left: a blouse of scarlet crepe satin worn with a white skirt of panne velvet
Above right: dash of mustard brings out the flavour of a piquant personality in this two-piece sports costume embroidered in many shades of bright chenille
Spring 1927 outfits from Dance Magazine (May 1927)
Above: a dance frock that is a stately period affair with long, slim bodice and bouffant skirt with uneven hem line. This creation of pink taffeta and pale blue chiffon embroidered in delicate beads of rose, pink and blue
Above: an evening wrap of soft chiffon velvet undershot with gold with wide white fox collar and cuffs
Above left: a gown of clinging gold sequins and gold tulle ruffles designed to create a stir amongst the most sophisticated. A spray of flowers lends a warm exotic note of sunset colour.
Above right: a simple dance frock more conservative and youthful in outline features slender ropes of seed pearls forming a deep fringe to the skirt and an embroidered bodice of pale rose and blue crystals
In early 1935, it was announced that she had gone into business with Gloria Vanderbilt and Lady Thelma Furness as Gloria Vanderbilt-Sonia Gowns Inc. During a trip to London in late 1936, the sisters promoted the range of fashions and had a fashion show at Harrods where their models were sold. However, everything went pear-shaped in mid-1938. The company’s debts had increased and suppliers had begun to sue and the sisters had opened their own wholesale dress firm called Ladyship gowns Inc without telling Sonia.
Rosenberg sued them for breach of contract and claimed the sisters gave clothes to friends and were not professional. The sisters counter sued claiming they invested $40,000 into the business but had received nothing. Both suits were later abandoned.
Undeterred by this fracas, Rosenberg carried on. In December 1940 she had a midwinter show and the room was full of famous clients. We are told that she had been making clothes for important women of the stage for the last 35 years and had ‘the knack of making fat women look slimmer and short ones taller.’ This was observed as one of the secrets of her success. Another was that her clothes never go out of style.
It was made clear that it was her evening frocks ‘where Sonia shines.’ Many in this collection were form fitting. One was of white crepe with double bands of red and purple running from neck to hem. Another had a tight black skirt and a peplum bodice of solid jet. But it was her ‘bouffant’ designs that caught the fancy of the women in the audience. One silver lame had four layers. First, was a silver lace skirted dress with bolero. Without the lace skirt there was a straight lame gown with bolero. Discarding the bolero was a lovely evening décolletage with the lace skirt becoming an entrancing cape. Many of Rosenberg’s gown were embroidered in silver and gold and an accordion pleaded dress of chiffon was sprinkled with diamond studs. There were also a range of lovely sports clothes for Florida.
No doubt there were other regular fashion showing such as a custom made group of fashions shown at the Ritz-Carlton in October 1946.
Sophie Rosenberg finally retired in 1956.
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
Images from Online
Dance Magazine December 1924
Various issues of Variety 1915-1940
Moving Picture World 17/6/16
Salt Lake Tribune 2/2/35
Buffalo Courier-Express 2/2/35
Nottingham Evening Post 30/7/36
Before Wallis: Edward VIII’s other Women by Rachel Trethewey
The Tatler 4/11/36
New York Eve Post 11/6/38
New York Sun 18/10/46
New York Times 12/6/38