Leslie James, California Milliner
It's been fun hunting down Leslie James. I knew he or she? made rather wonderful hats. I've handled them occasionally over the years, and they were in a league with Caspar Davis, also of California, Sally Victor, Lilly Dache, et al. But as I searched, there was next to nothing. Perhaps it was a created name for a company. Then I found blurbs with photos and quotes, an finally the mystery became clearer when one newspaper used his full name. And even that turned out to be only partially correct!
So a little about Leslie James. He was a indeed a real person, a former film actor who was born Leslie George Masters May 25,1909 on a Utah farm, living there with his parents and siblings into the 1920s. He made the move to Hollywood in the very late 1920s. By 1930s, his father had did and he ha dtaken his other and 2 sisters to Los Angeles where they were residing together. While at MGM, he claimed that Gilbert Adrian encouraged him to go into millinery design, which he did with success under the name Leslie James Masters, head of Leslie James, Inc. He seems to have bought out P.H. Luther Co. to start. As an Los Angeles based hat maker, he furnished head wear to stars such as Greta Garbo,Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford. In business by 1937, he was selling nationwide by 1939, when he was referred to as a “famous house” in a Sarasota, FL newspaper. At that time, his hats were priced from $5 - $15, making them on the pricey side for the time.
James eventually sold through a variety of department stores such as Gimbel's, Marshall Field and Joseph Horne.In the 1940 census, he is listed as the manager of a millinery store, with an income of $3600 in 1939 ($61,000 in today's money) and that was a good living for the time. His sister Mary was the shop foreman, and his brother Fielding was a blocker in the business. James received a lot of news coverage as he made appearances at eastern department stores. Although based in Beverly Hills, he estimated that much of his business was was in the East. In 1946, prices had risen to $29.50 - $39.50. In 1964, prices were up to $30 - $300. He was still advertising and making department store visits as late as 1970. Leslie James died in April 21, 1991.
If you want to see lots of examples of his work, just search the Google newspaper archives - examples abound there.
now available at Past Perfect Vintage