Born: New York City, 23 September 1930. Education: High School of Music and Art; graduated Parsons School of Design, 1951; B.S., Art Education, New York University. Career: Worked for Seventh Avenue clothing manufacturers; established own label, 1966; women's seasonal collections, 1966-75; label folded 1975; freelance designer 1975-78; consultant at Calvin Klein, 1978-81; design director of Calvin Klein jeans, 1981; critic, teacher, and member of Board of Overseers, Parsons School of Design; guest lecturer, Art Institute of Chicago. Collections: Texas Fashion Collection, University of North Texas. Awards: Coty American Fashion "Winnie" award, 1970; Maison Blanche "Rex" award, New Orleans, 1972. Died: 24 April 1985 in New York City.
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Skurka, Norma, "Chester Weinberg," in the New York Times, 6 January 1974.
American fashion is said to have come of age in the 1960s, and Chester Weinberg is counted among those designers such as Bill Blass, Geoffrey Beene, Oscar de la Renta, and Donald Brooks who are credited with helping American fashion grow up. Specifically, Weinberg designed clothes notable enough to garner the sort of distinction and reputation that only French fashion had previously enjoyed.
A native New Yorker who attended the High School of Music and Art and went on to Parsons School of Design, Weinberg designed anonymously as an assistant at a number of clothing manufacturers on Seventh Avenue, among them Harvey Berin, Teal Traina, Leonard Arkin, and Herbert Sondheim. His first collection in 1966 was a great success and launched him into the fashion limelight. Preferring soft lines, ruffles, and an unstructured form, Weinberg designed a wide variety of evening dresses and daywear, including caftans, one-shouldered dresses with slash hems, elegant ball gowns, culotte suits, mod A-line dresses, exquisite dyed silk Japanese dresses, sweaters, jumpsuits, and soft, uniquely detailed suits with distinctive silhouettes. He was especially fond of good fabrics, using textiles from all over the world in bold, nontraditional colors. Urbane and timeless, his designs were never baroque or overwhelming.
Weinberg brought the first longer skirts to the runway in 1965, showing A-lines ending below the knee. He frequently used prints, often gigantic prints in vivid colors. He was one of the proponents of the baby-doll look and the loose, gypsy-and flower child-inspired styles of the early 1970s. Weinberg loved to travel and spent some time in Japan, adapting what he saw there into his own designs. His design range took in everything from a midi baby-doll dress with eyelet ruffles to a black-sequined mini jumpsuit over a Pierrot-collared blouse of dark green silk chiffon; from evening dresses with little tailoring at all—just an unrestrained sweep of silk chiffon from a wrapped bodice, tie-dyed lush sunset blue and cerise—to finely detailed evening dresses with rows of buttons at the wrists.
The look of a Weinberg is familiar even to those who have never heard of him, for his designs were some of the defining looks of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Black-scarfed models in swirling, long black dresses topped by smock jackets in Jackson Pollock-like yellow silk or apple green mohair, a vivid wool gabardine suit with an empire waist, cinched by a wide contrasting belt, a gray geometric print dress, all are images of "mod." At the same time, Weinberg's designs were classically simple and elegant, with details like ribbons, princess seams, inverted pleating, and his signature ruffles. From a navy blue, silk dress with an empire waist to a wool crêpe chemise dress with black lace over a lining of light cocoa, vintage Weinberg is still fashionable.
After his company folded, Weinberg designed dresses and sportswear for a company backed by Jones Apparel Group, cashmere sweaters for Ballantyne of Scotland, furs, costumes for the Twyla Tharp ballet As Time Goes By, and patterns for Vogue and Butterick. In 1978 he became a consultant for Calvin Klein, who had admired his work for many years. Weinberg went on to become the design director at Calvin Klein jeans. Throughout his career, he taught and lectured at Parsons School of Design and the Art Institute of Chicago. An award and a scholarship were named for him: the Chester Weinberg Gold Thimble award and the Chester Weinberg Scholarship, both established in 1985, the year of his death. His untimely loss to the fashion world was much mourned, and his contributions to the American look are still relevant.