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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Chic Boutique: 1944

Chic Boutique: 1944

September 24, 1944. "Jay Thorpe Inc., West 57th Street, New York City. General view to entrance from rear." A retail fairyland of fire sprinklers and cove lights. Large-format acetate negative by Gottscho-Schleisner. View full size.

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Jay Thorpe, Milliner

Mid-1920s papers report Jay Thorpe designs appearing at the trade/fashion shows. Evidently the W. 57th Jay Thorpe Building went up in 1920, clad in the famous Bedford (Indiana) limestone, as the Empire State would be a decade later.

Empty space

I am struck by all the empty space that would be filled with clothes racks in any modern store, no matter how high class.

In 1951

I dated a girl who lived in a public housing development in the North Bronx. She had an uncle who owned the shoe department in the Jay Thorpe store. He lived on Park Avenue and the family had a butler.

Bovine Divine

Those two "cowhide" chairs on the left are totally awesome!
However, I'll bet they reeked terribly of cigarette smoke.

Limousin Chic

To me, the two cow hide chairs seem out of place, yet almost somehow right at home at the same time.

And the ash trays.... I'm a child of the 70s and when I was growing up all of the men in my family smoked. I just don't remember the smell of cigarettes affecting everything...clothes, rooms, cars etc then like it does today. I know...people say we were just used to it. But I just don't remember being at school all day and coming home to a house that I thought stunk. The only memory I have related to smoking is my paternal Grandfather always used matches to light his cigarettes. Even now whenever I smell a freshly struck match (a not so common smell these days), it immediately brings back memories of him.

Euphemistic ad

Apparently, for Jay Thorpe clientele, calling the fur by its real name, BEAVER, would not have been appropriate - hence, it has been euphemized to RUSSIAN BROADTAIL. Gotta love those ad men.

[Russian broadtail is a type of lamb fur. -tterrace]

Turn out I was a bit too quick with my unresearched comment - made the mistake of ASSUMING broadtail referred to beaver. Thanks tterrace for the quick fixerupper!

Well, at last

A place I can sit and have a couple of cigarettes and look at coats.

Don't forget the dash

Jay-Thorpe, Inc. (usually spelled with the dash) opened in the early 1920's and closed around 1970. Charles Oppenheim was its chairman during much of that time and Wilson Folmar its chief designer. One thing I haven't figured out is where the company got its name. The use of the dash leads me to believe that the founders/namesakes were Mr. Jay and Mr. Thorpe rather than Mr. Jay Thorpe, but Google isn't any help. My best guess is that they were financial backers who otherwise did not take an active role in the business.

During its heyday in the 1930's through 1950's Jay-Thorpe was one of the top players at the very top end of the city's fashion industry. Its main competitor seems to have been Henri Bendel, which of course is still around and thriving today. In addition to designing and selling expensive clothing, Jay-Thorpe also imported perfumes from France, a rather novel idea at the time. It had a salon in Palm Beach for a time but otherwise did not expand beyond New York.

In this scene we see the company's display space at 24 West 57th Street, a still-extant building that today houses mostly art galleries. Jay-Thorpe also occupied space next door at 20 West 57th.

Note: while we're on the subject of euphemisms, the term "Russian Broadtail" is a great example. It sounds a whole lot less gross than "lamb fetus."

[The dash (strictly speaking, a hyphen) disappeared from the store's advertising around 1935. - Dave]

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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