Born: Sylvia Schlang in New York, 1901. Education: Studied art and fashion illustration, Cooper Union school, and at the Art Students League, New York. Family: Married William A. Pedlar. Career: Founder/designer, Iris Lingerie, 1929-70 (business closed in 1970). Awards: Coty American Fashion Critics award, 1951, 1964; Neiman Marcus award, 1960. Died: 26 February 1972, in New York.
Lambert, Eleanor, World of Fashion: People, Places, Resources, New York, London, 1976.
The Undercover Story [exhibition catalogue], Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, 1982.
Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York, 1996.
Bender, Marylin, "Lingerie Can Be Sensibly Elegant," in the New York Times, 17 December 1963.
For 41 years American women relied on Sylvia Pedlar for sleep and loungewear to suit their every mood. Fine fabrics, careful workmanship, and imaginative styling distinguished the Pedlar gown. Some of her designs were based on traditional favorites; others were strikingly original, sometimes pleasingly provocative, but always in good taste.
Pedlar designed to suit many scenarios. She understood a woman might prefer to dress in a certain way for the street, yet play a wider variety of roles in the privacy of her own home. She saw no reason why a wardrobe for sleeping should not be as versatile as one for day.Pedlar was the cofounder and designer of Iris Lingerie, from its inception in 1929 until she closed the business in 1970. In all that time, according to Marylin Bender, writing in the New York Times in December 1963, the company employed no salesmen and bought no paid advertising. The product spoke for itself. Pedlar was said to have created the baby-doll look, a phrase she disliked and did not use herself, as a response to the wartime fabric shortages of 1942. She interpreted the classic flannel Mother Hubbard nightgown in sheer cotton batiste, giving it a more sophisticated, bateau neckline and open, flowing sleeves. Deep borders of Cluny lace finished the neck, sleeves, and hem.
For women who preferred to sleep in the nude, Pedlar offered the "bedside toga," a column of crêpe slit entirely up one side which fastened with a single tie at the shoulder and one at the waist. Originally designed as a novelty item for friends, the bedside toga was photographed for the cover of Life magazine in 1962 and became a bestseller. Although she was trained as an illustrator, Pedlar preferred draping directly to sketching her ideas. Many of her designs relied on simple, bias cut shapes with a minimum of seaming, cut from solid shades of crêpe or chiffon. A trio of Iris gowns from the mid-1960s pictured in The Undercover Story, the catalogue for an exhibition held in 1982-83 at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, and the Kyoto Costume Institute in Japan illustrate Pedlar's gift as a cutter. An asymmetrical layered gown in turquoise georgette both conceals and reveals; an off-white one shouldered gown in crêpe charmeuse evokes the prewar years with its diaper hem and bias cut. A pair of coral lounging pajamas have trousers cut wide like a dhoti. Each is as wearable today as when they were first produced.
A winner of two Coty awards, Pedlar was cited by the American Fashion Critics committee for "her talent in combining luxury, beauty, and femininity with modern fabric developments and contemporary silhouettes."