Danskin Designer Bonnie August Has Got Almost Everybody Going Around in Next to Nothing
The credit goes to a green-eyed, red-haired, 31-year-old designer named Bonnie August. Since she went to Danskin in 1975, its revenues have more than doubled (to over $90,000,000). Last year the company won a special Coty design award, thanks largely to Bonnie's innovative dance and sportswear ideas.
She first shook up the 56-year-old firm by introducing the swimsuit leotard, made of nylon and spandex girdle material and dubbed the "Freestyle." It quickly became a hit and the basis for all her sexy futuristic body suits. When she added a wrap skirt to the Freestyle for evening wear in 1976 ("I saw disco coming"), she had another winner. "People understand my clothes right away," says August. "They're not something you have to get used to, like longer hems or narrower skirts. I let the body take over."
She often zips out as many as 120 sketches at a time with emphasis on hot colors. The current Danskin catalogue, for instance, offers pimento, raspberry ice and cactus flower. Bonnie garbs herself in layers of her own products, such as black "Pantskins" over a yellow leotard, an extension cord wrapped around her waist as a belt, a black cape and a 45-rpm record for a hat. "When I wear beige I feel terrible all day," she confides. Bonnie credits her creativity to dancers. "I can see Swan Lake and come back with 10 ideas for contemporary design," she marvels. "Dancers are so adept at tucking and pinning and making little changes in their leotards to make their own bodies look more perfect."
Of her early school days in River Edge, N.J., Bonnie recalls, "Art was the only thing I was good at." She went on to take a B.F.A. degree at Syracuse ('68). After a summer as a Mademoiselle guest editor, she began designing scarves under her own name for Bon-wit's and Neiman-Marcus, plus a line of department store jewelry. Then she hit a career snag. "I focused so hard on my work, I couldn't keep up emotionally," she admits. "For a while all the pressure caught up with me."
Trying to change her luck, Bonnie consulted her Ouija board (she's a believer). The message was clear: If she wanted to combine her interests in fabrics and sports (she's an energetic tennis player), she should call Danskin for a job. "I told them, 'We ought to get together.' They hired me immediately."
Bonnie lives alone in a six-room Manhattan apartment with a pet ferret named Rat Dog. (She ended an 18-month romance in March and is now "airing out.") When Bonnie works at home, Rat hangs out in the sewing room, and when she has friends over, she dresses him up in his rainbow-hued custom body suit. After all, whoever said Danskins were just for dancing?