Clare Potter

Leigh Wishner

Scanning Dorothy Liebes’s address books makes her milieu abundantly clear: an impressive array of well-known designers, industrialists, and architects dot the pages. But also nestled within are legends of the fashion world. Some of these names are less familiar but deserve to be more widely appreciated, as is true of American designers (and Liebes inner-circle members) Clare Potter and Daren Pierce. [1] 

Potter is just one designer on Liebes’s roster of close friends and collaborators; the two women’s acquaintance may date to 1937, when both designers won Lord & Taylor awards, or to the Golden Gate Exhibition, where Potter exhibited fashions. Liebes wore and promoted Potter’s clothing, which was sold under the moniker “Clarepotter”; and, as was true of Liebes’s relationship with Adrian, the association spilled over from fashion into Potter’s showroom furnishings. Potter and Liebes held many philosophies in common, from generating high-quality design at more affordable prices to exercising color in alchemical ways. Potter was known for choosing arresting palettes for combinations of tunics, belts, trousers, and easy shirtdresses. She excelled in the color-blocking technique, a fashion statement (undoubtedly by Potter) Liebes was photographed in (Fig. 1).  

A late-career appraisal of Potter’s work noted, “Her palette has always included the unusual blendings of strange colors, as she calls them, the ‘strange greens,’ pinks, and the excitement of putting colors together that may have formerly been taboo, like green and pink.” [2] A statement so equally applicable to Liebes speaks to the women’s shared prowess and daring. In 1956, as part of the marketing campaign timed to coincide with the launch of new Lurex colors, Dobeckmun’s advertising firm coordinated informal “interviews” between Liebes and American fashion vanguards Nettie Rosenstein, Clare McCardell, and Potter. Snippets from these conversations were and worked into a series of illustrated “Episodes in fashion” that appeared in Women’s Wear Daily. Fittingly, Potter and Liebes’s back-and-forth compares the parallel use of color in their work. Potter applauded Liebes’s dazzling studio, replete with startling hues Liebes humorously calls “whameroo” colors (Fig. 2). [3]  

Daren Pierce, a Liebes employee keenly interested in fashion, was hired in 1945 and served as an envoy for his boss at Jantzen’s plant in Oregon. Pierce attended costume design school in Los Angeles; illustrating under the name “Mr. Daren,” he came into Liebes’s orbit by walking into her Sutter Street studio and presenting stylized fashion sketches that incorporated her fabrics, such as the evocative Cuban Moonlight and Shalimar. Pierce had deep affection for his mentor, “Dodo,” and the two enjoyed a close relationship. His letters to Liebes from his time at Jantzen in 1947 are intimate and ribald, filled with accounts of resistance to certain “Liebes Look” colors, or wariness regarding her choices in knitting yarns (Fig. 3). [4] Some are embellished with comical scenes or smiling, doodled faces.  

Pierce also had a hand in executing one of the most sensational fashion items of all: a festive hostess apron “of bright hand-woven yarn and Lurex in gold and iridescent colors, and edged with gold metal tassels,” modeled on House & Garden’s February 1950 cover (Fig. 4). [5] Many sources credited him by name, but most identify the apron and black apres-ski (or patio slacks) ensemble as Clare Potter’s work; Pierce’s hometown paper reported that Potter would be adapting both of his designs, with modifications, for her line. No doubt, Liebes connected Pierce and Potter on this project. 


[1] Dorothy Liebes address book, circa 1940s. Series 1, Box 1, Folder 5, Dorothy Liebes Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 

[2] “Designer Clare Potter Likes to Make Fashion Easy,” Evening Star, April 22, 1959. 

[3] Scrapbook 1956, Series 8, Box 32, Folder 1, Dorothy Liebes Papers. 

[4] Letter from Daren Pierce to Dorothy Liebes, circa 1947. Series 2, Box 2, Folder 10, Dorothy Liebes Papers. 

[5] Cover, House & Garden, February 1950, featuring hostess apron by Clare Potter (American, 1903–1995) with Daren Pierce (American, 1923–1984), Condé Nast Archive. 

Fig. 1 Black-and-white photograph of a woman in a color-blocked shirtwaist dress standing beside a chair.

Fig. 1 Dorothy Liebes, circa 1948; Photograph by Hans Geiger; Dorothy Liebes Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Fig. 2 Advertisement with black line illustration of two seated women discussing fabric samples.

Fig. 2 Clipping, Advertisement for the Dobeckmun Company from Women’s Wear Daily, August 28, 1956; Dorothy Liebes Papers

Fig. 3 Typed and handwritten letter with a sketch of a man holding a bright-pink ball surrounded by four other figures passed out on the ground. Captioned “We’re putting Panama Pink in the line!”

Fig. 3 Letter from Daren Pierce to Dorothy Liebes, circa 1947; Dorothy Liebes Papers

Fig. 4 House & Garden magazine cover: A woman stands in front of a stove with copper pots hanging above. She wears a slim-fitting black top and trousers, with a colorful, striped apron.

Fig. 4 Cover, House & Garden, February 1950, featuring hostess apron by Clare Potter (American, 1903–1995) with Daren Pierce (American, 1923–1984); Layout by Herbert Matter (Swiss-American, 1907–1984); Condé Nast Archive

Leigh Wishner

Leigh Wishner is a modern textile and fashion historian. She has worked in the fashion museum field for over twenty years, holding positions at the FIDM Museum at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and at Cora Ginsburg LLC. She received her BA in art history and archaeology from Barnard College, and her MA in decorative arts and material culture from Bard Graduate Center. Leigh has an unabashed passion for twentieth-century textiles, fashions, and interiors, lecturing extensively on these intertwined subjects. Most recently, she contributed to A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes (2023, Yale University Press/Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum), the first major publication devoted to this pioneering twentieth-century American weaver.