Chrysler Plymouth Fury

Erin Dowding

On February 17, 1955, the National Automotive Body & Design Association held its national conference in Detroit, Michigan. To this room full of automotive executives, Dorothy Liebes gave a presentation on the power and versatility of Lurex metallic yarn. In this talk, Liebes displayed, in her words, “subtle automotive things” as a suggestion of what could be used in innovative new car models. [1] The collection of samples specifically highlighted the “newest Lurex look of copper” and other tasteful metallic hues that Liebes championed as durable, light-fast, washable, free of odor, nontarnishing, fire-resistant, and luxurious. [2] To emphasize her points, Liebes showed the audience “a great hank of silk and a great spool of Lurex,” comparing the price and quality of the two materials for her listeners to “impress upon them that the really noble fibers of America deserve careful and intelligent use and treatment.” [3]  

Liebes, a color consultant, stylist, and advisor for the Dobeckmun Company, the makers of Lurex, passionately believed in the product and understood its range of potential uses in everything from upholstery and home decorating to fashion and transportation fabric. Experimentation with both designs and materials was part of the creative and design process at the Liebes studio, making the partnership with Dobeckmun a natural fit. In her role, Liebes used her expertise in the field, the influence of her name, and her incredible professional network to promote and publicize the product, enhance the technical properties of the yarn, and develop fabrics for display that showed the qualities of Lurex at its finest.  

With the postwar expansion of suburbs and the National Highway System, the automobile became both a necessity and a place to be and be seen. As more Americans purchased cars, automobile companies matched demand by creating new models that showcased advances in safety as well as in design. Innovations from automatic transmissions to power windows were paired with stylized exterior choices that included enlarged tailfins, a liberal use of chrome, wraparound windshields, and elaborate taillights. The automakers of Detroit understood the decision-making power women held in families and how the automobile was seen as an extension of the home, or how, as Liebes asserted in a Gentry magazine article, a car was seen as “the family’s second and often favorite home.” [4] Dorothy Liebes’s name was well-known to American women because of her many profiles and articles in lifestyle magazines. Her talk to the National Automotive Body & Design Association and her promotion of Lurex and its link to fashion and home decoration did not go unnoticed by the Chrysler corporation. In contract with Chrysler, Liebes developed “copper and white and black” fabric with Lurex called “Midas Magic” and designed the interior upholstery in gold-and-silver strié for the 1957 Plymouth Fury.[5] 

In 1956, Chrysler introduced the limited-edition Plymouth Fury as a performance/luxury subseries to the Plymouth Belvedere line in hopes of boosting sales and reaching new customers. In 1957, the striking two-door Fury, available only in Sand Dune White, was longer and wider than the previous model, with gold anodized aluminum trim and large vertical tailfins. To complement the exterior and bring that shimmer that Lurex is known for to life, Liebes created a gold-and-silver fabric for the interiors (Fig. 1, Fig. 2). With its new look and improved performance, the Plymouth Fury was part of the advertising campaign that ran with the tagline “Suddenly, it’s 1960!” Liebes’s fabric matched the state-of-the-art technology with its use of Lurex. Liebes understood not only the quality of this product but also its potential to enrich fabrics in rich and vibrant ways, bringing glamor, style, and the “Liebes Look” into one more dimension of life.  

 

NOTES 

[1] Dorothy Liebes, letter to Julia Morse, January 20, 1955. Series 5, Box 6 Folder 38, Dorothy Liebes Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. 

[2] Ibid. 

[3] Ibid. 

[4] Dorothy Liebes, “The Car Is the Family’s Second Home,” Gentry Magazine, Winter 1954–55. 

[5] J. M. Hannah, Western Union Telegram from Detroit to Dorothy Liebes, February 28, 1957. Series 5, Box 11, Folder 15, Dorothy Liebes Papers. In a letter to Ellen Grotto, Home Furnishings publicity director for the Dobeckmun Company, Dorothy Liebes describes the automotive fabric created for the Plymouth Fury as a gold-and-silver strié and that for the Chrysler, which she describes as having the “Midas touch,” as “copper and white and black.” Dorothy Liebes, letter to Ellen Grotto, March 12, 1957. Series 5, Box 6, Folder 38, Dorothy Liebes Papers. 

 

A black-and-white photograph of a car with the door open to show the interior.

Fig. 1 Chrysler Plymouth Fury, 1957; Chrysler Archives


A color image of a textile sample that is black and white with copper-colored metallic yarn.

Fig. 2 Sample card for automotive fabric, 1957; Designed by Dorothy Liebes; Manufactured by Collins & Aikman for Chrysler-Plymouth; Linen, linen-cellulose triacetate blend, viscose rayon, Lurex (cellulose acetate butyrate–laminated aluminum yarn); Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Gift of the Estate of Dorothy Liebes Morin, 1972-75-47


Erin Dowding

Erin Dowding is a MA candidate in the History of Design and Curatorial Studies program at Parsons School of Design. She is a curatorial capstone and research fellow in the Textiles Department at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.