Helen Dryden

Last updated

Helen Dryden
Born(1882-11-26)November 26, 1882 [1]
Baltimore, Maryland
DiedOctober 1972 (1972-11) (aged 89)
Nationality United States

Helen Dryden (1882–1972) was an American artist and successful industrial designer in the 1920s and 1930s. She was reportedly described by The New York Times as being the highest-paid woman artist in the United States, though she lived in comparative poverty in later years. [3]



Dryden was born in Baltimore and moved to Pittsburgh when she was seven years old to attend Eden Hall. During her early childhood years Dryden showed unusual artistic ability, designing and selling clothes for paper dolls. Eventually she sold a set of her paper dolls and dresses to a newspaper for use in its fashion section. This in turn led to a position as illustrator for Anne Rittenhouse's fashion articles in the Philadelphia Public Ledger and The Philadelphia Press.

Dryden was largely self-trained, describing her works as "a combination of things I like, in the way I want to do them." Her artistic education consisted of four years of training in landscape painting under Hugh Breckinridge and one summer school session at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Deciding that she had no real interest in landscape painting, Dryden focused her complete attention on fashion design and illustration.


Fashion illustration

After moving to New York in 1909, Dryden spent a year trying to interest fashion magazines in her drawings. None, however, showed any interest in her work and many were harsh with criticism. Dryden was particularly disappointed in her rejection by Vogue . Less than a year later, however, Condé Nast Publications assumed management of Vogue and set out to make changes. Upon seeing Dryden's drawings, they directed the fashion editor to contact her immediately. The result was a Vogue contract that led to a 13-year collaboration (1909–1922) during which she produced many fashion illustrations and magazine covers. [4] Her "essentially romantic style produced some of the most appealing, yet fantastical images on Vogue covers, frequently depicting imagined rather than realistic representations of dress." [5] She also illustrated other Condé Nast titles, including Vanity Fair and House and Garden. [5]

Costume design

In addition to her prolific career as an illustrator, in 1914 Dryden launched a successful career as a costume designer. She designed scenery and costumes for the musical comedy Watch Your Step, followed by designs for several other stage plays including Clair de Lune , the fanciful drama based loosely on a Victor Hugo romance. Although the play starred Lionel and Ethel Barrymore, Helen Dryden's costume designs were generally given equal credit for the play's success. [6]

Industrial design

Following the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, Dryden turned her attention to industrial design, producing a number of designs for tableware, lamps, and other housewares, for the Revere Corporation. [7] She had a highly paid job with the Dura Company until the stock market crash of 1929, at which point she was replaced by George W. Walker. [8] It seems Dryden never fully recovered from this blow. According to Christopher Gray, "The 1925 census recorded her living at 9 East 10th Street with her 25-year-old Philippine-born cook and butler, Ricardo Lampitok."

Dryden worked for Studebaker from 1935 to 1938, reportedly earning $100,000 per year [9] ($1,816,312 in 2019 dollars [10] ). Automotive designer Raymond Loewy contracted with her to help him design Studebaker interiors. [11] Her work on the interior of the 1936 Studebaker Dictator and President that established Helen Dryden as an important twentieth-century industrial designer. [12] The advertisements by the automaker proclaimed, "It's styled by Helen Dryden." [13] Dryden designed the Studebaker President throughout, and the press marveled that a woman had attained this eminence in mechanical engineering. [14] She was considered "one of the top industrial designers and one of the few women in the automotive field." [15] Dryden worked with Loewy through 1940. [11]

By 1956 Dryden was again living in a $10-a-week hotel room paid for by the city's Welfare Department. At the time, she referred nostalgically to "her '$200-a-month' 10th Street apartment". [3]

Related Research Articles

Vogue is an American monthly fashion and lifestyle magazine covering many topics, including fashion, beauty, culture, living, and runway. Based in New York City, it began as a weekly newspaper in 1892, before becoming a monthly magazine years later.

Virgil Max "Ex" Exner Sr. was an automobile designer for numerous American companies, notably Chrysler and Studebaker.

Raymond Loewy French-born American industrial designer

Raymond Loewy was a French-born American industrial designer who achieved fame for the magnitude of his design efforts across a variety of industries. He was recognized for this by Time magazine and featured on its cover on October 31, 1949.

Clifford Brooks Stevens was an American industrial designer of home furnishings, appliances, automobiles and motorcycles — as well as a graphic designer and stylist. Stevens founded Brooks Stevens, Inc. headquartered in Allenton, Wisconsin.

Zandra Rhodes

Dame Zandra Lindsey Rhodes,, is an English fashion and textile designer. Her early education in fashion set the foundation for career in the industry creating textile prints. Rhodes designed garments for Diana Princess of Wales and numerous celebrities. In addition to designing garments, she designed textiles for interiors, featuring her prints on furniture and homewares. In 2003 Rhodes founded the Fashion and Textile Museum in London.

Automotive design

Automotive design is the process of developing the appearance, and to some extent the ergonomics, of motor vehicles, including automobiles, motorcycles, trucks, buses, coaches, and vans.

Miuccia Prada Italian fashion designer and entrepreneur

Miuccia Bianchi Prada is an Italian billionaire fashion designer and businesswoman. She is the head designer of Prada and the founder of its subsidiary Miu Miu. As of March 2019, Forbes estimates her net worth at US$2.4 billion.In 28 December 2020, Bloomberg estimates her net worth to be US$5.52 Billion & ranked 464th In Bloomberg Billionaire Index.

Catherine Martin (designer)

Catherine Martin is an Australian costume designer, production designer, set designer, and film producer. She won two Academy Awards for Moulin Rouge! in 2002 and another two for The Great Gatsby in 2014. Having won four Oscars, she is the most awarded Australian in Oscar history, having overtaken 1950s costume designer Orry-Kelly.

Isabel Toledo

Isabel Toledo was a Cuban-American fashion designer based in New York City. She was widely recognized in the fashion industry for her attention to craftsmanship and the "sophisticated simplicity" of her garments.

Marit Allen was an English fashion journalist and costume designer who specialized in costumes for films. She designed the costumes for several successful Hollywood films, including Mrs. Doubtfire, The Witches, Eyes Wide Shut, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Brokeback Mountain and La Vie en Rose. Her career as a film costume designer lasted over 33 years.

Lila De Nobili was an Italian stage designer, costume designer, and fashion illustrator. She was noted for her collaborations with leading stage and opera directors such as Luchino Visconti and Franco Zeffirelli, as well as her early work on fashion illustration at FrenchVogue magazine.

Giles Deacon

Giles Deacon is an English fashion designer, Creative Director and Founder of Giles Deacon group, Couture Fashion House. Deacon joined the Paris Couture schedule in 2016. Deacon has been known to challenge the traditional ideas of womenswear and often uses wild prints and pop culture references in his designs. Deacon was employed by the fashion houses Bottega Veneta and Gucci, before founding his own label, GILES, in 2003. He launched his first collection for GILES at the 2004 London Fashion Week and was named "Best New Designer" at the British Fashion Awards.

Jessie Franklin Turner

Jessie Franklin Turner was an American fashion designer based in New York in the early 20th century. She was notable for being one of the first American designers to create unique designs, rather than imitating or copying Paris fashions.

Muriel King (1900–1977) was an American fashion designer based in New York City. She was one of the first American fashion designers along with Elizabeth Hawes and Clare Potter to achieve name recognition. She also designed costumes for several major films in the 1930s and 1940s.

Count Renato Zavagli Ricciardelli della Caminate, professionally known as René Gruau was a fashion illustrator whose exaggerated portrayal of fashion design through painting has had a lasting effect on the fashion industry. Because of Gruau's inherent skills and creativity, he contributed to a change in the entire fashion industry through the new pictures that represented the already popular designs created by designers in the industry. The benefits, including economic stimulation and enhancement of advertising are still present in the industry today via a new way of fashion illustration, fashion photography. Gruau became one of the best known and favorite artists of the haute couture world during the 1940s and 50s working with Femina, Marie Claire, L'Officiel, L'Album Du Figaro and an assortment of "high-style" magazines. Gruau's artwork is recognized and commended internationally in some of Paris and Italy's most prestigious art museums including the Louvre in Paris and the Blank in Italy. In addition to his international fame and recognition, "Gruau's artwork is known for its timeless and enduring style".

Theodore Wells Pietsch II

Theodore Wells Pietsch II was an American automobile stylist and industrial designer who, with little formal education, managed to launch a career in automobile design that took him over a period of 38 years to nearly every major automobile company in the nation.

Eric Daman is a costume designer, fashion model, television personality, and author from New York City. Known for costume design and fashion styling on the American television series Sex and the City and Gossip Girl as well as designs for various products.

Mary Jane Marcasiano is an American fashion and costume designer, film producer, and social entrepreneur.

Claire Barrow is an English artist. Known for her unique hand painted leather jackets and caricature illustrations, Barrow does not view being an artist and a designer as mutually exclusive, but rather integrates both aspects into her work. Barrow is currently based in London, using British culture as an inspiration in her art. Barrow is, also, inspired by the idea of consumerism and its effect on art. She, like Burberry, has rejected traditional ideas of the fashion system and announced last year that she would no longer show her designs in accordance with the traditional seasonal model, preferring to focus on creating fashion and art without the motivation of consumerism.

Traphagen School of Fashion was a school in operation from 1923–1991, and was located at 1680 Broadway in New York City. The school was founded and directed by Ethel Traphagen Leigh (1883–1963) with a focus on the foundational concepts of the American design movement. This was one of the earliest fashion schools and played a role in the development of American fashion by educating over 28,000 students in 68 years of operation.


  1. Social Security application form OAC-790
  2. US Social Security Death Index
  3. 1 2 Gray, Christopher (5 December 1996). "New York Architecture Images" . Retrieved 12 March 2015. Greenwich Village became an artists' colony, it attracted people like Helen Dryden, who was described in The New York Times in 1956 as once having been the highest-paid female artist in the country.
  4. Krull, Anneke (18 September 2012). "Fashion illustration Legends - Helen Dryden". iloveillustration. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  5. 1 2 Blackman, Cally (2007). 100 Years of Fashion Illustration. Laurence King. pp. 58–59. ISBN   9781856694629 . Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  6. "Featured Designer - Helen Dryden". documenteddesign.com. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  7. Gantz, Carroll (2014). Founders of American Industrial Design. McFarland. p. 25. ISBN   9780786476862 . Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  8. "Reminiscences of George W. Walker". Automotive Design Oral History, Accession 1673, Benson Ford Research Center, University of Michigan. 1985. Retrieved 12 March 2015. Helen Dryden was a great artist from New York. She was an interiorist, and did a lot of wood interiors, and so Dura was paying her $35,000 a year, and that was a lot of money for Dura Company, and then when the cut down came with everybody being fired, she was thrown out. That's when I went in and said, "I'll do it for $200 a month.
  9. McPherson, Christopher G. "Helen Dryden". plasticliving.com. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  10. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–" . Retrieved 1 January 2020.
  11. 1 2 Lamm, Michael; Holls, Dave (1996). A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design. Lamm-Morada Publishing. p. 209. ISBN   9780932128072 . Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  12. Hendry, Maurice M. (1972). "Studebaker: One can do a lot of remembering in South Bend". Automobile Quarterly. X (3): 228–275.
  13. "It's styled by Helen Dryden (1936 Studebaker advertisement)". tocmp.com. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  14. "Are Engineers Designing Creatures?". Professional Engineer: 39. 1936. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  15. Hadden, Briton (11 November 1935). "Automobiles". Time. 26: 64. Retrieved 12 March 2015.