Debra Scala Giokas had never heard of 1940s and 1950s women’s fashion icon Claire McCardell until she came across her name in 2018 while reading about an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
But the Sayville resident — and now author of a children’s picture book about McCardell — quickly discovered how the designer’s casual style and idea of mixing and matching separates have influenced such modern day fashion gurus as Donna Karan, Isaac Mizrahi and Geoffrey Beene.
Scala Giokas, a 1987 graduate of Stony Brook University, noted that it was McCardell who brought us modern American women sportswear, ballet flats, knit ski caps, hooded jerseys and pockets. At the height of her career, McCardell was featured on the cover of Time Magazine in 1955.
“Claire: The Little Girl Who Climbed to the Top and Changed the Way Women Dress” was released on Monday, May 24, on what would have been McCardell’s 116th birthday.
The hardcover pen and ink picture book tells the true story of the clothing pioneer. It is available on Amazon and at Target, the Huntington Book Revue and the Astoria Bookshop, among other places.
Scala Giokas said the book — her first — illuminates the fashion icon’s story and she promises it will empower little girls. She teamed up with illustrator Mary Ryan Reeves, who hails from Claire’s hometown of Frederick, Maryland. The pair also combined efforts on a companion coloring book called “Claire’s Closet.”
“This became a labor of love,” Scala Giokas said. “Mary is the perfect illustrator to bring life to my words and to celebrate McCardell.
“This is to encourage little girls to dream big. Of course, it’s for anyone who appreciates fashion,” she added.
McCardell will also be honored this fall in her hometown with a seven-and-a-half-foot bronze statue by award-winning sculptor Sarah Hempel Irani. The piece will overlook Carroll Creek Linear Park in downtown Frederick.
Here’s a video about the larger-than-life project honoring McCardell.