I'm not typically a sucker for designer labels. I buy what I like, because I like it and it looks good on me, not because it's a known designer. Also, I can't really afford known designers. But I recently have become obsessed with Lilli Ann suits. Impeccably tailored and sometimes wildly inventive, a suit by Lilli Ann, particularly from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, is quite the coveted item. Even at the time, the label was synonymous with high quality, excellent fit, and signature style, like extravagant peplum jackets and tight pencil skirts. Adolph Schuman, a native San Franciscan and the son of a Hungarian Jewish delivery truck driver, started his clothing business in San Francisco's Chinatown (later the Mission district at 17th and Harrison) some time around 1934. Schuman and his first wife Lillian created the label as her namesake. After World War II, Schuman imported much of the fabric for his suits and coats from Europe.
Schuman showed European weavers how to modernize their methods, then placed orders with six mills for their entire output during certain months. The success of the whole plan, he believed, would depend on three rules: 1) buy abroad only what can not be obtained in the U.S.; 2) buy only in areas where the cloth has been made by craftsmen for years (i.e., broadcloth in Normandy, worsteds in (northern France); 3) insist that mills pay at least 75¢ an hour to their employees. Under the plan, Schuman had imported $2,225,000 worth of European fabrics by May of 1953, creating steady employment for many European textile workers. Additionally the mills were able to provide Schuman with top quality cloth at $2 to $4 less a yard than the European wholesale price, meaning the Lilli Ann customer got a gorgeous suit or coat made of high quality hand loomed fabric. (Source)
The company's factory was also located in San Francisco, in the South of Market district, and employed hundreds of local workers, thus the business was critical not only to European textile mills, but to the city it called home. Schuman was the business brain, but not the designer. According to her obituary, Lillian Schuman herself was the company's first designer, though it seems fairly clear from the company's "Original by Jean" label used through 1943 that Jean Miller was the head designer. In 1961, she (or someone else lost to history) was followed by Jeanne Taylor, who remained head designer until the company closed by 2000. I find it kind of baffling that there is so little information on Jean Miller, whose designs are now so sought-after and celebrated, or if there was an additional designer that I can't even find any information about (like perhaps some anonymous designs by Balenciaga?). Similarly, it's difficult to tell when or why certain labels were used. From what I can tell, the square Lilli Ann label