5. Traphagen School of Fashion

Traphagen School of Fashion
The Traphagen School of Fashion closed in 1991.

Traphagen School of Fashion was a prominent art and design school just south of Central Park. Educating over 28,000 students during its 68 years of operation, the institute opened in 1923 and was founded by Ethel Traphagen Leigh. The school focused on teaching concepts of early American design and was one of New York City’s first fashion schools. Traphagen was a contributor to Ladies’ Home Journal and modeled marketing to her students through her work for Fashion Digest. The legacy of the school has been maintained perhaps more than others that have gone defunct thanks to a FIT survey exhibition of the school in 2019.

Traphagen applied a “design-by-adaptation” method to teaching, including hands-on work with different materials as well as historical research using many of the school’s books. Students made dresses inspired by designs of Kenya and ancient Greece and utilized rare materials for clothes like swimsuits. The FIT survey did find, though, that this method at times resulted in cultural appropriation. The school boasted a large alumni network, including figures such as Tony Award winner Edie Adams; designers Geoffrey Beene, Luis Estévez, and James Galanos; and Abstract Expressionist artist Nela Arias-Misson. The school ultimately closed in 1991.