Before I started my professional retail career in 1985, I had never heard the term "Winter White." Why would I have? I grew-up in Hawaii—where white was blithely worn 365 days year (whether the temperature was 75° or 78°). Now, beginning my professional work life in a department store in chilly Hartford, Connecticut, I was expected to get behind the Big Company Push of Winter White!
It wasn't hard to do. Actually, I rather liked the color. And I had only just absorbed the whole "White Pants-Labor Day-Memorial Day" rule. But the name, "Winter White," struck me as having been coined by a salesman—by someone scratching to find something new to sell.
In later years, once I had opened a store in "The West Village," I began to probe the origin of that name. I knew that "Greenwich Village" had been the bucolic Eighteenth Century "Northern Refuge" from the Yellow Fever which was decimating Lower Manhattan. But why the "West" in "West Village"? Again, I smelled a sales pitch!
Greenwich Village—a well-established bohemian refuge throughout the Twentieth Century—was never called the "West Village" until part of the Lower East Side was re-branded "The East Village" in the Mid-1960's. Why? Because real estate agents—always looking to "fancify" the next opportune target—thought that the name "Lower East Side" was not smart enough. To their minds, the name reeked of tenements and poverty and immigrants. So, in the Sixties, real estate agents (and the people who bought from them) started re-branding the Northern part of The Lower East Side as "The East Village." Now that there was an East Village, they sought to justify their new brand by re-naming its Western neighbor. "Greenwich Village" was suddenly called "The West Village." There was no need for a West Village until there was an East Village! Even if the old-timers kvetched, just give it time, the agents assured us. In twenty years, none of the newcomers will ever know that the East Village and West Village hadn't always lived side-by-side—since the dawn of time.
Don't you hate when that happens?
The handsome satin white vase, shown above, was made by Abingdon (in Knoxville, Illinois) in the 1940's. The company was founded in 1908, making "sanitary ware": toilets, tanks and water coolers. They invested heavily in the very best clays, importing raw materials from England, Georgia and South Dakota. This resulted in a super strong, damage-resistant "vitreous" pottery which commanded a premium price. Abingdon was the first manufacturer to introduce colored fixtures to the market. And Abingdon produced all the plumbing fixtures for the Chicago World's Fair in 1933. But the Depression was hard on Abingdon. Construction slowed as the economy plummeted. So, in 1934, Abingdon started making art pottery—using the same premium clay and finishes—to make vases, bowls, plates and other decorative objets. They sold their handsomely-finished wares in better department stores like Gimbals, Wanamakers and Marshall Field. Between 1934 and 1950, Abingdon produced over six million art pottery items for the "better" gift market. But, come 1950, with the war behind us, the demand for plumbing fixtures roared-back and Abingdon abandoned the production of the small goods, such as the vase above. Please click on the photo above to learn more about this handsome vase.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques (www.mahlaantiques.com) or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248