Susan Brown

Dorothy Liebes networked tirelessly on behalf of all her industry partners, but she promoted none with such genuine passion as Lurex, the synthetic metallic yarn produced by the Dobeckmun Company. Liebes served the company as color stylist and brand ambassador from 1946 to 1961, during which time she introduced Lurex into everything from carpets, wallpaper, and automotive upholstery to swimwear, handbags, and shoes (Fig. 1).  

Lurex is a slit-film yarn made from aluminum laminated with a plastic film. Color is carried in the adhesive that binds the layers. As color stylist, Liebes expanded the palette of metallic yarns beyond gold and silver to include jewel tones of ruby, sapphire, and emerald; black and white; pastel shades she called “Porcelain Colors”; and even strié or variegated Lurex yarns (Fig. 2). As a student publication of the Clemson Industrial School of Industrial Management and Textile Design reported, “With these continuous color developments, under the guidance of Lurex consultant Dorothy Liebes, designer interest has grown steadily and drawn Lurex into every aspect of fabric design.” [1] 

The plastic lamination meant that Lurex was washable and would never tarnish—features Liebes showcased by putting Lurex into swimwear through her collaborations with Jantzen and Cole of California (Fig. 3). She advised the company to market directly to textile designers and consumers to ensure they understood that the yarn was both beautiful and high performing. [2] The result was “The Thread of the Story is Lurex,” a glamorous ad campaign showcasing Lurex-laced fabrics for fashion and home and incorporating industrial spools of Lurex yarn (Fig. 4).  

Liebes also explored the technical properties of Lurex for hand and machine production, in combination with natural and synthetic materials. She purchased a Collins Twister so that she could add Lurex to various yarns in her own studio to experiment with in weaving. [3] She worked with Dobeckmun to develop different yarn constructions suitable for varied applications, and encouraged the creation of narrower widths and Lurex staple—short lengths of the material that could be spun with other fibers. [4] 

Liebes experimented with Lurex in a variety of interior applications, including casement sheers for Quaker Lace, grass-cloth wall coverings for R. Gracie & Sons, and upholstery for Dunbar Furniture. She used it constantly for her own prestigious drapery commissions because, she said, “by day Lurex in drapery is not insistent but opaque and quiet. By reflected night light its true richness and beauty comes to life.” [5] She promoted the use of Lurex in automotive fabrics, speaking to the National Automotive Body & Design Association in 1955 about the newest Lurex look of copper. [6] She designed a copper-laced fabric for the 1957 Plymouth Fury and the copper Midas Touch upholstery for Chrysler, although she later wrote: “The only ones that were taken by the Chrysler people and the General Motors were deleted of metallics when they were made up” (Fig. 5). [7] Top furniture manufacturers, including Dunbar, Heritage Henredon, Herman Miller, and Knoll, featured Lurex in their fabrics. [8] Liebes even pitched her own home on New York’s Upper East Side, which she had completely redecorated in a white and metallic gold scheme, as a potential location for an editorial feature (Fig. 6). “The house with its elegant, old world atmosphere will be a fine spread to show what Lurex has done for contemporary fabrics by changing a house from old world splendor to contemporary splendor,” she wrote in a letter to Ellen Grotto. [9] 

In 1958, she earned a prominent spot for her client at the Brussels International Exposition by crafting a Lurex-laden stage curtain for the United States Pavilion, designed by Samuel Marx. The making of the curtain was widely covered in the design press (Fig. 7).  

Through her myriad professional and industrial collaborations, Liebes made Lurex ubiquitous in fashion, interiors, and industrial design. She was so successful in building popular and trade acceptance of the material that she eventually faced backlash: Lewis Mumford opined in The New Yorker magazine that Liebes “would one day have to answer at Heaven’s Judgment Seat for her part in starting the unfortunate craze for metallic textiles.”  

But Liebes was a true believer in the beauty of metallics in textiles, and when Dobeckmun ended its relationship with her, she found another metallic yarn manufacturer to promote. When the next World’s Fair took place, in Flushing Meadows, New York, in 1964, the stage curtains she created for the DuPont Pavilion showcased Fairtex metallic yarns.



[1] Dorothy Liebes, letter to Ellen Grotto, May 26, 1959. Series 5, Box 6, Folder 39, Dorothy Liebes Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. 

[2] “Lurex,” The Bobbin and Beaker, Summer 1954, 21.  

[3] “Twisters” are used to ply two or more yarns to produce a mixed “novelty” yarn, and to wind the combined yarn onto a spool or bobbin. The Collins Twister has 128 such stations, 64 on each side of the machine.  

[4] Scrapbook 1954, Series 8, Box 31, Folder 2, Dorothy Liebes Papers. 

[5] Dorothy Liebes, Lurex Report on the January Furniture Market, Chicago, Illinois, 1960; Series 5, Box 6, Folder 44, Dorothy Liebes Papers. 

[6] Dorothy Liebes, letter to Julia Morse (Anderson & Cairns), January 20, 1955. Series 5, Box 6, Folder 38, Dorothy Liebes Papers. 

[7] Dorothy Liebes, letter to Francoise Fernie, December 19, 1957. Series 5, Box 6, Folder 45, Dorothy Liebes Papers. 

[8] “Curtain and Drapery Resources with Lurex” and “Furniture Resources with Lurex.” Series 5, Box 6, Folder 40, Dorothy Liebes Papers. 

[9] Dorothy Liebes, letter to Ellen Grotto (Dobeckmun Company), November 17, 1955. Series 5, Box 6, Folder 38, Dorothy Liebes Papers. 


Fig. 1 Advertisement with a woman’s foot in a high-heeled shoe, a woman’s hand with red fingernails and a gold bracelet, and a large spool of metallic gold thread.

Fig. 1 Advertisement, “The Thread of the Story is Lurex: Accessories to the Time,” 1954; Dorothy Liebes Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Fig. 2 White card with a sample of gold, silver, red, and black variegated metallic fabric.

Fig. 2 Sample Card, circa 1952; Designed by Dorothy Wright Liebes (American, 1897–1972); Twill-woven nylon, silk, Lurex (CAB-laminated aluminum yarn); Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Gift of the Estate of Dorothy Liebes Morin, 1972-75-85

Fig. 3 Black-and-white photograph of a glamorous woman in a strapless bathing suit sitting on a fishing net.

Fig. 3 Rita Hayworth in a publicity photo for the film Down to Earth (1947; dir. Alexander Hall [American, 1894–1968]); Getty Images

Fig. 4 Advertisement with a blond woman in a strapless gold metallic gown, gold and white metallic fabric draped over a chair, and a large spool of gold metallic thread.

Fig. 4 Advertisement, “The Thread of the Story is Lurex,” 1956; Dorothy Liebes Papers

Fig. 5 White card with a sample of fabric in a tiny black-and-white grid with copper metallic.

Fig. 5 Sample Card, Woven upholstery for the Chrysler Plymouth Fury, 1957; Designed by Dorothy Wright Liebes (American, 1897–1972); Manufactured by Collins & Aikman (Troy, Michigan, USA); Plain woven linen, linen cellulose triacetate blend, viscose rayon, Lurex (CAB-laminated aluminum yarn); Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Gift of the Estate of Dorothy Liebes Morin, 1972-75-47

Fig. 6 Black-and-white photograph of a living room with two sofas, a black baby grand piano, and an Alexander Calder mobile.

Fig. 6 Dorothy Liebes’s apartment, circa 1956; Dorothy Liebes Papers

Fig. 7 Black-and-white photograph of a woman in a weaving studio with a pile of metallic woven fabric.

Fig. 7 Dorothy Liebes in her studio, New York City, with her theater-curtain fabric for the American Pavilion, Brussels World’s Fair, 1958; Dorothy Liebes Papers

Susan Brown

Susan Brown is Associate Curator and Acting Head of Textiles at Cooper Hewitt, where she has curated over a dozen exhibitions, including Fashioning Felt (2009), Color Moves: Art and Fashion by Sonia Delaunay (2011), Scraps: Fashion, Textiles and Creative Reuse (2016), Suzie Zuzek for Lilly Pulitzer: The Prints that Made the Fashion Brand (2021), and A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes (2023).