Friday, September 21, 2012

Fern Violette: California Designer

This dress was designed by Fern Johnson Violette. She was born in 1920 in Montana, and grew up on a farm. At age 19, she married Ed Violette and had soon had a daughter. In her early 20’s they moved to Southern California to work in the aircraft factories during WWII.

After the war, Fern worked for a Los Angeles apparel manufacturer. While there she found that she was a natural for the fashion business. This inspired Fern to open her own company, under the “Fern Violette” label. She produced high-end women’s fashions from a location at 48 Market Street in Venice, California.

Later in her career, she hired Jay Morley, Jr. (1981 – 1997) to design for her. He is credited with his name on the label. Jay was the son of a well known actor from the early movie era and worked in the movie business as well. He had a prolific career from 1949 to 1957 as a low budget film costume designer, and is often given screen credit for his gowns. He was known to produce fashions that were more dramatic that Fern’s own earlier signature style.

Fern’s fashions are said to have been worn by Jackie Kennedy, among others. Her line was sold at Bloomingdale’s, Sak’s Fifth Ave, and the Los Angeles luxury store: Bullock’s Wilshire. She designed until the mid-1970’s when she retired with her husband and moved back to Montana where she lived until she passed away in 2010.

This "Fern Violette" design is a cotton two-piece dress, probably from the mid 1950's. It features a rolled collar with a "V" back.


A.J.A. said...

This is a gorgeous dress. I love the fabric.

Jen Orsini said...

Yes, I often wonder why some enterprising textile co. doesn't reproduce these beautiful cotton prints from the 50's.

Lizzie said...

I love this. I'd read the name Fern Violette in period writing and assumes it was a made-up label name! Thanks for setting me straight.

Rick Kunz said...

Fern Violette was my great aunt (my grandmother's brother's wife). Her fashions were worn by Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis, Dinah Shore, Della Reece, and other celebrities. It's nice to see that her impact on the fashion industry has not been forgotten.

Anonymous said...

My uncle, Jay Morley Jr., designed for Fern Violette. I loved visiting her studio and I love seeing some of their designs still being sold on E-Bay, etc. today. In a couple of my high school photos I was wearing dresses he designed and my sister and I have a photo with both of us in Fern Violette dresses we bought. I've been wanting to look back at some of the Bullock's advertisements where there were drawings of his designs. I'm glad to see here the years that he worked for Fern.

Jen O said...

Rick and Anon. Thanks so much for adding your personal notes. It really brings fashion to life when we can get some first hand comments like the ones you left for us here.


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