Born: Cathaline Kaesuk Sur, in Seoul, Korea, 30 December 1933; immigrated to the U.S., 1952; naturalized, 1959. Education: Studied music in Korea and Japan. Family: Married Anthony Hardwick, 1966 (divorced); four children. Career: Freelance designer and boutique owner, San Francisco, circa 1966-70; knitwear designer, Alvin Duskin, San Francisco, 1960s, and Dranella, Copenhagen; moved to New York, 1960s; sportswear designer, Pranx, New York; designer, Cathy Hardwick 'n' Friends, New York, 1972; president/designer, Cathy Hardwick Ltd., New York, 1975-81, and Cathy Hardwick Design Studio, New York, from 1977; company reorganized, 1988; additionally, sportswear designer for Sears Roebuck and Co., from 1990. Awards: Coty American Fashion Critics award, 1975. Address: 215 West 40th Street, New York, NY 10018, USA.
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Cathy Hardwick has designed ready-to-wear for the audience she knows best—the modern career woman with an active lifestyle. There is a certain spirit and success about Hardwick's designs that come from this defining relationship to the clothing and its purpose. Hardwick's collections consistently offer women clothing with ease and simplicity, appealing to the young and young-minded spirit of the confident, self-assured businesswoman. Her clothing is not merely a somber uniform, but rather has an air of wit and sophistication that makes it fun, worn by the stylish young woman who is secure with her life and is moving in a positive direction. "Know your physical type and personal style, and be true to it. Any current look can be adapted in silhouette, scale, and color so it's right for you. You have to feel comfortable. The most fabulous clothes won't work if you're self-conscious," Hardwick said in a February 1978 Harper's Bazaar, article.
Recognized early in her career as a talented young designer involved in creating simplistic, modern clothing, Hardwick began designing knitwear for Alvin Duskin in San Francisco in the late 1960s. The designs were well-received and commercially successful. Soon after, she developed her own company and continued to design knitwear as a part of her collections throughout the 1970s and 1980s. She continued to design under her own label in New York, using almost exclusively natural fibers.
Hardwick's design success has been a result of the masterful execution of her pure and basic principles—neutral colors and simplicity of form. By centering her collections around neutral colors and relating the colors of current collections to previous ones, the wearer can develop a wardrobe of pieces that work together. Her designs recognize fashion trends but always retain a clean, simplistic style that is distinctly her own. Hardwick's clothing is associated with the modern woman's ability to go from an effective day at work to an evening out with minimal changes.
A 1980 advertisement for B. Altman and Co. portrayed a Hardwick collection coordinated in different ways to suit the style of the potential wearer. The ad copy read, "Hardwick's…forward-looking collection lets you choose the new length you like, a little or a whole lot shorter. Another fine fashion point you should notice: these separates are all cut and colored (in magenta and black) so you can build your own new-decade pants-set." Such a philosophy of personal style and selection has been apparent in Hardwick's collections throughout her career.
Based on strong, simple shapes reminiscent of traditional Korean clothing, Hardwick's collections hard back to her childhood. She was born to a Korean family of diplomats and financiers including her grandfather, who was an ambassador to France. Her clothing reflects her lifelong exposure to and depth of understanding of the fusion of Eastern and Western styles. The chinoiserie elements in the designs seem to be a part of the total vision and philosophy she has about clothing rather than a motif simply applied to Western fashion. In her first formal show in New York in 1974, Hardwick showed obi style wrapping in the closures of her skirts and trousers along with Oriental prints and accessories. In 1975, she showed the effectiveness of shaping a "Big Dress" with an obi -inspired tie. Earlier Hardwick incorporated frog closures in her mandarin collared jacket for a more direct use of the Eastern look. The mandarin collar and frog closures were used again in her spring 1994 collection on light and easy shaped tops.
Hardwick's style hasn't stopped at fashion. The freelance designer is as true to her passion for individualism in clothing design as she is to individualism within the home. Inspired by interior decorator Mario Buatta, Hardwick transformed her home into a modern masterpiece, which seems to have somehow maintained the simplicity and quaintness of English country living. Convention dominates the five-star apartment, with its 18th-century twist to modern conveniences. What was once a 2,000-square-foot loft became a traditional apartment with rooms overlooking Park Avenue.
Keeping up with the American designer's style of living, however, is the greatest challenge any Hardwick admirer would endure, not to mention Hardwick herself. The apartment is nowhere near being finished, nor will it ever be finished. "Rooms and houses are never finished," Buatta claims, "It's all a work in progress. You always buy new things. You always travel. You always change. After all, it's a living room, not a dead room." And for Hardwick, this means allowing herself to sit back while Buatta takes charge (with Hardwick's permission, of course).
While Hardwick's interest in home furnishings seem to have taken center stage in her life at the moment, fashion design, she says, is still her greatest love. There is no word, however, as to when she plans to continue with her career.
updated by Diana Idzelis