Daren Pierce

Matthew J. Kennedy

Daren Pierce—trained fashion designer turned interior designer, needlepoint entrepreneur, and martini-fueled humor writer—worked at the Dorothy Liebes Studio for only a few years, but he remained close with Liebes and others from the studio, all of whom had an enduring impact on his life and career.

Originally from the West Coast, Pierce (1923–1984) graduated from the University of Oregon, in his home state (“from RFD 30 somewhere in Oregon”), and later attended the Wolfe School of Costume Designing in Los Angeles, California. Pierce started designing clothing under the name Mr. Daren, and his fashion illustrations demonstrate an eye for the style and silhouettes of the era, with bold shoulders and tiny waists, as well as a playfulness with color in warm and cool tones (Fig. 1). It is unclear whether any of Pierce’s early fashion designs were ever produced, but several sketches from the collection of the Fashion Institute of Technology illustrate his design process, affinity for fashion designer Adrian, and penchant for playing with proportions.  

Pierce’s launch into a design career was stalled by World War II; he enlisted in the US Navy and was stationed in Farragut, Idaho, and then at the Naval Training Station off the coast of San Francisco. [1] He first learned of Dorothy Liebes through her workshops with the American Red Cross Arts and Skills Corps. He later approached her in her San Francisco studio with fashion illustrations he had created that featured swatches of her fabrics, and soon thereafter, in 1945, he began working for the studio. [2]  


In addition to weaving, Pierce provided input on material sourcing and color options (Figs. 2, 3A & 3B). Given his training in fashion, Pierce served as ambassador for Liebes with clients such as the swimwear brand Jantzen. [3] Correspondence reveals his spirited approach to his work; he shared updates and commentary with humor (that was sometimes on the fun side of catty). On a visit to Jantzen’s mill to provide guidance about materials and color, he offered Liebes daily updates, boasting of becoming the “Darling of the Plant” and providing gossipy insights into Jantzen staff (“The other [stylist], Bill Bray, was a banker until 9 months ago and why he ever gave it up remains one of the unsolved mysteries of all time”). [4] In a recap letter Pierce wrote during this trip, he drew an illustration dramatizing the reluctance of the board to accept Liebes’s input on the look of the Jantzen brand, even though it had solicited her expertise and shelled out a paycheck (Fig. 4). 

Pierce also executed custom fabrics for fashion designers such as Bonnie Cashin (Fig. 5) and Clare Potter. After meeting through Liebes, Pierce and Cashin remained friends, and references in the press indicate his support and promotion of her work throughout their careers. A notable piece from Pierce’s time with Liebes was a hostess apron designed for Clare Potter. Although at first glance it appears somewhat restrained with the modest stripe detailing, with a closer look the fabric buzzes with color, texture, and metallics along with two cascades of tassels in black, gold, pink, chartreuse, and purple (Fig. 6). An apron in name only, the garment is indeed a showpiece of home fashion, to be worn for the hosting tasks of socializing and posing—certainly not for cooking and cleaning.  

From correspondence, it is evident that Pierce was a lively presence in the Liebes studio and quite close with Liebes. He affectionately refers to her as “Dodo” and includes animated illustrations, including birthday cakes and smiley faces, in his letters to her. In a letter beginning “chere, chere [sic] mère Bear,” Pierce declared his aspiration: “Some day I hope I will grow up to be a good cub and justify your faith in me” (Fig. 8). [5] 

When Liebes opened her New York City studio in 1948, Pierce relocated to the East Coast to continue supporting the studio. Many alumni of Liebes’s studio returned to California or otherwise relocated from New York City in seeking future opportunities, but Pierce thrived in the city, both in his work as a designer and with lively social contacts. [6] Press clippings describe Pierce attending events with and dinner parties at the homes of prominent individuals in business with writers and designers, such as Russel Wright; decorating the home of Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse; and catering to clients such as Babe Paley (socialite and wife of CBS founder William S. Paley) in business endeavors. It was probably through his work with Liebes in New York that he met interior decorator William Pahlmann. Pierce departed Liebes’s studio for Pahlmann’s firm, William Pahlmann Associates, in 1949, but more would be heard from Daren and Dodo. 


Over his tenure of more than twenty years at Pahlmann’s firm, Pierce seems to have served a variety of roles, being referred to at times as assistant decorator, director of industrial styling, and associate director, among other designations. 

Suggestions about Pierce’s personal decorating style can be gleaned from articles reporting on decorating trends and exhibitions of interior design, as well as from articles featuring his own New York City apartment. A 1959 New York Times feature on Pierce’s living room hints at his approach to space and aesthetics: “An angled, centralized grouping of seating pieces avoids the customary look of furniture marching around the walls of a room. Fabric-covered walls, now returning to fashion, are striped with floral design in brown, reds, black and white. Ceiling and woodwork are black. White shag rug on terra cotta vinyl floor.” [7] The article further describes Pierce’s apartment: “Vignette settings against walls complement arrangement at far end of room. . . . One includes pair of 17th-century turned-leg side chairs covered with gold leather, English walnut lowboy, collection of prints.” [8] The article notes that a large owl collection was on display, but this is not legible in available photography. 

Another article calls out Pierce’s use of area rugs. Also for his own apartment, a feature notes, “Cotton area rug in Morrocan [sic] design . . . is in bold relief against highly polished terra cotta vinyl title flooring. . . . Carpet features tan, apricot, gold and black against natural ground.” [9] Pierce similarly used area rugs in a bedroom, surrounding two twin beds with “rugs [that] are multicolored cotton on a polished floor of vinyl tile.” [10] Perhaps this affinity for rugs is the result of Pierce’s time with the Liebes studio, during which he learned to employ textiles as part of an overall decorating effect. 

In a profile spotlighting eight male interior decorators who amplified patterns in their designs, Pierce was described as an “abstractionist with fabrics,” alluding to inspiration he took from modern painting for his designs. He is pictured with a lively swatch of fabric featuring light, thin, serpentine lines against a dark background, evidently referencing “the spatter and squiggly style of Jackson Pollock.” [11] In addition to drawing on this modern influence, Pierce elsewhere engaged with a style that was described as mixing “furniture periods with a carefree hand” (Fig. 10). [12] In an advice column, Pierce dispensed guidance on mixing styles, noting, for example, the Victorian revival trend across design of the ’60s and claiming that style was popular among the “young bride set”; he encouraged readers to complement such furniture with white and other bright colors, cautioning, “But keep it gay. No dark, dull colors.” [13] (On the page in Liebes’s scrapbooks that contains this advice clipping are two photographs of interiors by other William Pahlmann Associates decorators, both of which feature Liebes textiles in pillow coverings or blinds.) 

In a 1949 letter Pierce wrote to Liebes, he encouraged his former employer to expand her business, outlining a three-product scheme to make her textiles more accessible and ultimately more sought-after by decorators. He noted, “We [Pahlmann Associates] now use Liebes fabrics on 1 job out of 75 but if it were possible to walk into a place . . . have the fabric readily available at a price . . . we would use it on every single job. I’m sure this would be true of all the other ‘boys & girls’ too.” [14] The three levels were “handloomed” fabrics, consisting of basics that could be made on a power loom; “handwoven,” which included fabrics that were built on basic structures but offered more experimentation in color and texture; and “special order,” described as “blinds, panels and special designed fabrics . . . [that] would operate exactly like the studio does now . . . sky’s the limit.” [15] At the time, Liebes was transitioning from her handwoven fabrics to a product that could be scaled and more accessible; perhaps Pierce’s encouragement informed her decisions or at least offered her insight on textile needs from other practitioners in the industry. 

In 1960, Pierce became the president of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Decorators. This role afforded him additional visibility in the industry, including through the press, and he served on host committees for exhibitions, fundraisers, and, of course, parties. 


An article by fashion writer Eugenia Sheppard published in November 1964 teased an anticipated needlework shop opening on Madison Avenue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Sheppard observed, “There’s no earthly resemblance to what grandmother used to make.” [16] The shop was Woolworks, Inc., founded and owned by Pierce and his partner and fellow decorator, Inman Cook (Fig. 11). The business plan articulated the concept: “To open a contemporary needlework shop equipped with designs and yarns suited to contemporary interior decoration. . . . An outlet to sell finished needlework by the yard or piece to the lucrative decorative fabric market through interior designers.” [17] Its emphasis was on contemporary approaches to needlework that were relevant to contemporary interior decorating. The plan further assessed the marketplace: “The present shops specializing in this work are extremely out-of-date in all aspects. Their designs and colors bear little relationship to fabrics, carpets and other items of interior design. There is also a lack of any modern merchandising or promotion. . . . Needlework fills this need for artistic creativity as well as being useful and decorative.” [18] The enterprise also intended to capitalize on needlepoint’s increased popularity as a hobby, with the business plan name-dropping actresses Betty Furness, Celeste Holm, and Mary Martin, model Suzy Parker, and the Duke of Windsor and claiming that all were needlepoint hobbyists. Photography of the store has not been found, but the shop was described in the press: “What stands out immediately in this rather small, neat and inviting shop are the brilliant, ravishing colors—11 of them are especially dyed—and the flame stitch that has become a kind of specialty of Woolworks. Needlepoint to look like patchwork is also new.” [19] 

Liebes herself was an investor in the enterprise and was initially credited as a consultant. Press coverage of the opening used her name to elevate expectations of the brand. Although letters suggest she was not a fan of the store’s name (she found it inaccurate and limiting, whereas Pierce thought it memorable and humorous) [20], in a letter confirming her investment, she exhorted, “Count on me to spread the word far and wide and get up a lot of enthusiasm.” [21]  

Pierce’s and Cook’s interest in needlework continued for some time, and in 1972 they co-wrote Betty Crocker’s Pleasures of Needlepoint. A review proclaimed, “The fascinating and intriguing world of needlepoint is explored in this handsome book. It’s fine for beginners, yet has many designs and suggestions that will help the more experienced craftsmen.” [22] This was one of the first books on needlepoint written by men, notable given that needlepoint was traditionally seen as women’s work. Such gendered disparity may have led to skepticism about Pierce and Cook’s opening the needlepoint shop initially, given the craft’s association at the time with queer identities and social anxieties concerning masculinity in the postwar era. [23] 

Woolworks, Inc., seems to have been a successful enterprise and was maintained by Pierce and Cook for the rest of Pierce’s life. Under subsequent ownership and in a different location on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Woolworks operated until 2018. 



In addition to building the needlepoint business, Pierce and Cook established, with designer Frederick Davis, a line of paper matchmates, or nonwoven paper fabrics, in 1968. The paper fashion trend—which eerily echoes our contemporary fast fashion—was marketed as expanding consumer options without forcing consumer commitment. Paper fashion and products could be seasonal and bold, but then be discarded once an item lost its appeal. Pierce commented, “You can have a lot of gay colors, but you don’t have to live with them forever.” [24] Pierce was quick to distance the products from the idea of disposability, instead emphasizing their reusability and flexibility. Products included bed throws, table covers, curtains, place mats, napkins, and paper plates, [25] while styles and imagery included wood grain patterns, leafy florals, giant squares, African and Indian motifs, red cherries, and stylized snowflakes. [26] There were also reports in the press of plans to collaborate with artists to expand the style options. 



Decorator and humorist are typically not careers found on the same résumé, but in 1957 Pierce began publishing a number of books with Jane Trahey, a fashion advertiser who dabbled in humor and playwriting. [27] This collaboration, published by Random Thoughts Publishing Company (a publisher Pierce and Trahey co-founded), started with The Compleat Martini Cookbook, which offers recipes that describe the dishes’ ease of preparation in terms of how many martinis the cook has consumed. After The Compleat Martini was rejected by a number of publishers, including Random House and Simon & Schuster, more than 45,000 copies were sold through Random Thoughts. [28] The company was co-founded with editor Elizabeth Fraser, printer Michael Margolies, and publicist Phillip Bloom. [29] Subsequent titles included 1,000 Names and Where to Drop Them (1958), a classic who’s who of various industries (with wittily provocative cover art—Fig. 12); Gin and Butter Diet: How to Lose a Pound a Day for a Year (1959); and Son of the Martini Cookbook (1967), illustrated by Edward Gorey. (Other titles that don’t seem to have made it through the publishing process include The Fine Art of Impossible Cooking—“it tells how to cook little intimate dinners for 40. . . . Everything takes four days and five people to make”—and The Sweetheart of Sigmund Froid, which offers non-Freudian interpretations of dreams. [30]) The books thrive in absurdity and impracticality, delivering humor rather than actual solutions to the ridiculous scenarios they postulate.  


Daren Pierce played a consistent role in Liebes’s life, and their relationship underscores the interconnectedness of like-minded creatives in the design industry—from studio colleagues to industry collaborators and beyond. Pierce remained a dedicated and loyal friend to Liebes and others, including Tammis Keefe (Fig. 13), and, in 1982, he donated several pieces to the Smithsonian Institution, including textiles designed by Keefe (to Cooper Hewitt) and a portrait of Liebes (to the National Portrait Gallery). Pierce and Liebes are woven throughout each other’s legacies, Liebes as a reliable mentor and Pierce as a creative force with enduring humor. 


[1] April Calahan, “The Daring Mr. Daren,” Material Mode: A Fashion Institute of Technology Blog, January 23, 2015, https://blog.fitnyc.edu/materialmode/2015/01/23/the-daring-mr-daren/. 

[2] Leigh Wishner, “Modern Fashion’s Secret Weapon,” in A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes, eds. Susan Brown and Alexa Griffith Winton (New York: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2023), 143. 

[3] Ibid. 

[4] Daren Pierce, letter to Dorothy Liebes, 1947. Series 2, Box 2, Folder 10, Dorothy Liebes Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 

[5] Daren Pierce, letter to Dorothy Liebes, undated. Series 2, Box 2, Folder 10, Dorothy Liebes Papers. 

[6] Calahan, “The Daring Mr. Daren.” 

[7] “Bias Arrangement Is Feature of Decorator’s Own Living Room,” The New York Times, August 5, 1959. 

[8] Ibid. 

[9] Lola McManus, “Decorators Take the Floor With Colorful Area Rugs: Synonym for Style,” Newsday, April 9, 1958. 

[10] “Hail the Area Rug: High Style, Low Cost,” no date. 

[11] Rita Reif, “The All-Patterned Room: New Approaches Give It New Vitality,” The New York Times, November 5, 1968. 

[12] McManus, “Decorators Take the Floor With Colorful Area Rugs: Synonym for Style.” 

[13] Daren Pierce, “Victorian Sofas for Moderns,” January 1959. Series 8, Box 32, Folder 3, Dorothy Liebes Papers. 

[14] Daren Pierce, letter to Dorothy Liebes, July 5, 1949. Series 2, Box 2, Folder 10, Dorothy Liebes Papers. 

[15] Ibid. 

[16] Eugenia Sheppard, “He Says He’d Do It Again,” The Hartford Courant, November 19, 1964. 

[17] Woolworks, Inc., business proposal. Series 2, Box 2, Folder 10, Dorothy Liebes Papers. 

[18] Ibid. 

[19] Virginia Lee Warren, “A Man Doing Needlepoint? It’s Not Unusual Anymore,” The New York Times, September 20, 1969. 

[20] Daren Pierce, letter to Dorothy Liebes, November 20, 1964. Series 2, Box 2, Folder 10, Dorothy Liebes Papers. 

[21] Dorothy Liebes, letter to Daren Pierce, December 10, 1964. Series 2, Box 2, Folder 10, Dorothy Liebes Papers. 

[22] “Art in Wool,” The Hartford Courant, February 11, 1973. 

[23] For more on needlework, masculinities, and sexual identity, see Joseph McBrinn, Queering the Subversive Stitch: Men and the Culture of Needlework (New York: Bloomsbury, 2020). McBrinn includes Pierce and Cook in a discussion of men writing about needlepoint who try to cast it beyond domestic craft to elevate it, in Pierce and Cook’s case comparing it to the fine art of painting. 

[24] “Papered Over,” Newsweek, October 31, 1966. 

[25] “Matchmates of Paper,” Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1968. 

[26] Ibid.; “Papered Over.” 

[27] Trahey published the first book under the pseudonym Baba Erlanger, possibly an allusion to a French fashion model famous in the 1920s. Trahey achieved great success as an advertising executive. She was also the partner of Tammis Keefe, a Liebes studio alumna and friend of Pierce, at the time of Keefe’s early death from cancer. 

[28] Sal Nuccio, “Advertising: Woman’s Wit in a Man’s World,” The New York Times, September 3, 1964. 

[29] Douglas Long, “Publishers on a Lark,” New York Herald Tribune, April 24, 1960. 

[30] Douglas Long, “Publishers on a Lark.” 

Fashion drawing shows a stylized woman wearing a sky blue and olive-green jacket with a matching olive-green pencil skirt. She also wears a thin purple sash and sky blue hat with purple ribbon. 

Fig. 1 Illustration, 1940s; Drawing by Daren Pierce (American, 1923–1984); Dorothy Liebes Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Color photograph of Daren Pierce weaving a reed screen, with other weavers and equipment in the background. 

Fig. 2 Daren Pierce weaving a reed screen, Dorothy Liebes Studio, San Francisco, California, circa 1947; Dorothy Liebes Papers

Side by side images. On the left, a letterhead with the name “Daren Pierce” in blue, styled as lettering from cross-stitch, is a handwritten note in black with question marks and a concerned-looking face. On the right, a similar vertical paper or board on which are three clumps of yarn in green, pink, and blue. At the top is the name “Daren Pierce” in blue, styled as lettering from cross-stitch. 

Figs. 3A, 3B Yarns on card, circa 1945–49; Dorothy Liebes Papers. This letterhead, with its graphic play on the grid of needlepoint, is one of a number of creative letterheads that Pierce used over the years, including plays on Victorian embroidery.

Illustration of a group of five people: four lay on the floor in shock while one in the center stands holding a small square colored in pink. Below the figures is text reading: “We’re putting Panama Pink in the line!” At the bottom right are the words “Love, Daren.”

Fig. 4 Pierce’s illustration of Mayer Monroe, representative from Jantzen, convincing the company’s “conservative” board to incorporate Liebes colors into the collection, 1947; Drawing by Daren Pierce (American, 1923–1984); Dorothy Liebes Papers

Fashion drawing shows a stylized woman wearing a gray suit with a pink shawl over one shoulder. The shawl is then drawn again, spread out behind the woman’s legs. 

Fig. 5 Design for a Suit with Woven Shawl, circa 1957; Designed by Daren Pierce (American, 1923–1984) for Bonnie Cashin (American, 1915–2000); Graphite and color pencil on paper; Dorothy Liebes Papers

A mannequin wears an apron striped with horizontal bands in black, rose and dark pink, grass green, blue, and gold. Bundles of lime-green, royal purple, lilac, black, and gold tassels hang in two bunches near the top, which is tied around her waist. 

Fig. 6 Hostess Apron, circa 1950; Designed by Clare Potter (American, 1903–1999); Woven by Daren Pierce (American, 1923–1984) for Dorothy Liebes Studio; Wool, synthetic, and Lurex; Courtesy of Douglas Todd

A caricature of Dorothy Liebes is outlined in thick, inky black strokes and filled in with mostly pale washes of paint. She looks out at us with ice-blue eyes as her pale, peach-colored face turns slightly to our right. 

Fig. 7 Drawing, Caricature of Dorothy Liebes, circa 1946; Drawn by Daren Pierce (American, 1923–1984) after a photograph by George Platt Lynes (American, 1907–1955); Ink, watercolor, gouache, and metallic paint on tracing paper; Dorothy Liebes Papers

a typed letter with teal doodles of an umbrella and birthday cake

Fig. 8 Letter from Daren Pierce to Dorothy Liebes, undated; Dorothy Liebes Papers

Black-and-white photograph of a man, smiling and wearing a suit and holding a glass while seated before a small, framed painting. An inscription at the bottom left reads “To Dorothy / with more appreciation / than she’ll ever / know! / Daren”.

Fig. 9 Photograph of Daren Pierce, circa 1940s; Photographed by Dean Stone & Hugo Steccati (San Francisco, California, USA); Dorothy Liebes Papers

A black-and-white photograph of an interior. The walls are covered in a floral pattern and the furniture is simple in the neoclassical style. 

Fig. 10 Photograph of neoclassical-inspired interior designed by Pierce, circa 1959; Dorothy Liebes Papers

A logotype for a business named “Woolworks, Incorporated”. On a yellow background, a orange box with beveled corners contains the company’s name in yellow in a thick, serif typeface. 

Fig. 11 Woolworks, Inc., letterhead, 1964; Dorothy Liebes Papers

A very vertical book cover. A cartoon image of a woman, from the bust up, with pink hair and wearing a black garment. The title, in white, “1000 Names and Where to Drop Them” is overlaid on her chest. 

Fig. 12 Cover, 1,000 Names and Where to Drop Them, 1958; Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Blurry color photograph of a man and woman wearing coats on a boat. Their backs are to the viewer, although they are turned looking at us. There is a large industrial structure in the background. 

Fig. 13 Pierce and Tammis Keefe, on a boat, circa 1960; Dorothy Liebes Papers

Matthew J. Kennedy

Matthew J. Kennedy is the Publications Associate at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, supporting the museum’s publications, exhibitions, and digital content. He received an MA in decorative arts & design history from Parsons School of Design and, as a writer and historian, specializes in design and theater history. He additionally serves as History & Collections Chair of Smithsonian Pride Alliance, an LGBTQ+ affinity group within the Smithsonian Institution. He co-organized the exhibition Sarah & Eleanor Hewitt: Designing a Modern Museum, focused on the founders of Cooper Hewitt, which was honored as Exhibition of the Year 2022 by The Victorian Society of New York.