Prerecorded and posted: October 14th, 2021
Rachel Elspeth Gross
Rachel Elspeth Gross 00:00
Hi, everyone, it's Rachel here for #ICanDoThat by Little Red Fashion today I have with me Andy angle, and we are going to be talking about your wonderful project that I am not sure how to pronounce the name of properly. So do you mind.
Andrew Ingall 00:15
Rachel Elspeth Gross 00:16
Warle. All right. So, Andy, you've got this amazing family history of this wonderful piece of world history that's in your in your family. Would you tell us a little bit about all of that, Leon, and?
Andrew Ingall 00:31
sure. So this all started, in June of this past summer, I read an article in a newspaper, a historic newspaper that goes back 100 years about the importance of looking through pages, and finding LGBTQ+ people who may be hidden in those pages. Maybe we read about them, we see pictures, and we have some ideas about who they were and who they loved. But we're not entirely sure, because back in those times, people weren't out. And they didn't have the same kind of rights and privileges that we have today. I'm a gay person, myself. And I got very excited about this article. And I remembered that my late father was, he was an avid blogger back in the day in the 90s. And he wrote articles, he posted photos, all his complaint letters to airlines. And it's another kind of treasure that we have that allows us to keep as our memory of hip him alive. So he has a section on family history. And in one page, at the very bottom. There's a section that was called that's called the gay corner, in which he identifies two cousins of his who everyone thought were gay, but you just didn't talk about that in the 1930s 40s or 50s. They were known as bachelors, they never got married.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 02:03
Andrew Ingall 02:04
Roommates (laughs), They and and one of them was this man named Leon Ingall, , who was an interior decorator in New York. And that what made him suspicious about being gay, but we weren't sure. Anyway, so I wrote to this author of this article in the newspaper, she happens to be a friend of mine. And she said, Do you know Andy, if you go to ancestry.com, you can actually get get free access to it if you have a New York Public Library card, and I live in New York. So I thought this was a wonderful idea. I went on to ancestry.com. And I found all the usual kinds of documents that you find on these ancestral roots, databases, like manifest lists, these are the passengers who were on ships, emigrating or immigrating to other countries. There were draft cards for the war. There were birth records, they were obituaries. And I found all this information about Leon. But what really got me excited was finding his civil union marriage certificate from 2002 in Vermont, and this is back before the days of marriage equality. Vermont was one of the first states back in the early aughts to allow for civil unions, not quite marriage, but civil unions between same sex couples. And I find Leons name, and I find his spouse Warren Kronemeyer, and I got so excited because this confirms it all the guesses about his life.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 03:56
Andrew Ingall 03:56
It was right there.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 03:58
So neat. I mean, I find in my own work, I find that reading obituaries which is a very morbid thing to do, but you can piece together so much of a person's history from you know, one little little bit and I mean, you know, my one of my favorite things in the world is reading about and learning about people who have either been forgotten or left behind or for whatever that excuse, you know, are no longer remembered, even though they change the world, even though the work that they did affected more than one country. And that's one thing that fashion really does. It's connected to the history of who we are, what we wear, what we think is beautiful, what we think is stylish, who we assign value to who we negate value from. And one of the things we done I've looked you know, through some of the things that you've sent and the fact that he was traveling internationally on ships to like fashion related events and shows in the late 40s is a pretty amazing thing I know that one manifest we were talking about shows him I think it's like 1947 going to England and to France.
Andrew Ingall 05:08
You have to keep in mind, Rachel that this man Leon was a refugee. He was originally from southern Russia. family was rich. And I that surprised me. I didn't think that there were super rich people in my family. They were according to friends of Leon, who I've tracked down aristocrats, noble people. and when the Bolsheviks had their revolution, in the early part of the 20th century they gotta get out, these were the rich people don't the perfect Bolsheviks did not like, and they ended up in Berlin. And in Berlin, Leon started his career in fashion. And so to your point, he was already traveling from Berlin to Paris to go see shows. And to bring haute couture back to Berlin. And in Berlin, the industry was primarily ready to where they didn't do a lot of haute couture there. And most of those fashion houses were owned by Jews, about 50%, more than 50% were owned by Jews in the 1930s. And as you know, racial laws were passed in the 1930s, under the Nazis. And ultimately, all those Jewish owned businesses were liquidated by the Nazis. They were taken over and most of those in the fashion industry were killed in World War Two, by the Nazis.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 06:44
Yeah, I mean, my family's from a similar part of the world. We are not aristocrat, but I very much understand the feeling of loss associated with this particular era in time and
Andrew Ingall 07:00
but going back to your point about traveling in the 40s, this is the part that amazed me that my grandfather helped Leon come to the states in 1940. And less than a year later, it seems that Liam was already working in the New York Fashion world. He got his first jobs, designing hostess gowns or hostess pajamas. And this is something I didn't know I had no idea what this was a hostess found that women when they were entertaining in their homes, would have these beautiful garments. They weren't like flannel pajamas, you know, they were these beautiful dresses that they would only wear inside as they were entertaining guests. And it's part of the larger, I guess, category of negligees, and lingerie. Hostess gowns and hostess pajamas fall under that category. And there was a huge market for this.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 07:58
Yeah, there was no, um, sportswear the way we think. Today there was no joggers. So
Andrew Ingall 08:04
This is loungewear.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 08:05
Yeah, yeah, it really isn't. It's fun. I mean, it's fun to think about all the outfits for all of the things. Um, I mean, Liam is a very talented man, I posted on this page a couple of times this week. I'll post more after this interview later today. But um, he was a very talented Illustrator. I know that when you what you were describing before about going to Paris and seeing the shows and bringing things back in that era, in both the United States and Germany, every place around the world, you went to Paris, and you either watch the shows and sketch very furiously, where you maybe bought a piece if you had the means and you brought it back, and you took it apart, or you made a copy, or you took pieces off of it. And so that whole drawing thing is really important, the ability to translate what you see into the into the page. It's really amazing how many of his visual pieces that you have have has happened an easy thing to track down those drawings.
Andrew Ingall 09:00
No. Well, maybe yes, because again, I started this all in June, and now it's October, and I found this Trove treasure trove of drawings and sketches, through a network of people in Vermont.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 09:16
Can you tell me about it?
Andrew Ingall 09:17
Sure, well, we're going to focus on the fashion life of Leon for this conversation. But there was a whole other professional life to Leon and Warren as well. They owned a boutique in New York City called Warle, which is a mash up of their first names Warren and Leon. And they, they were selling antiques and decorative objects from Europe. It was a very elegant store on Lexington Avenue and 80th Street, and at a certain point they decided to retire and move to Southern Vermont. And there I found friends of their's And there was a young girl at the time Her name is Eliza Thompson. And she was a family friend of Warren and Leon. Halloween is coming up. And according to the Thompson family, Warren and Leon had the best Halloween treats. They made snickerdoodles and popcorn balls. And they were beloved by this community in Vermont, who essentially adopted them because my family was not in touch with Leon, for whatever reason, and I'm still trying to figure that out. Anyway, where was I? Rachel. I'm so sorry.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 10:41
Oh the trove of documents.
Andrew Ingall 10:43
Yes, so Eliza showed an early interest in fashion and illustration and design. And Warren and Leon wanted her to have his collection of drawings and sketches dating back from the 1930s, and I spoke with a colleague of mine, who is based in Berlin, and he's written this book on the history of Jewish fashion houses in Berlin.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 11:13
I have to get that, you have to give the name of that title.
Andrew Ingall 11:14
Sure. Um, his name is Uwe Westphal, and I'll send that information to you later. Yeah, and Uwe tells me Andy, you don't understand you've hit fashion gold in terms of research to be able to find it's, it must be hundreds of sketches, and drawings, photographs, notes, everything I found early, like I even found, like clippings from German magazines in the 1930s that I'm not sure necessarily depict Leon's designs, but maybe it was kind of like part of his mood board. I don't know exactly.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 11:24
Yeah, gosh, things inspire me. We all do this to kind of be creative. You can't help but sort of collect, you know, things that inspire, colors you want to remember, things you want to add.
Andrew Ingall 12:10
I can show you some of the things I found if you're interested, Rachel so well, this made me very excited. When I wrote the background between me and Rachel, for the audience, is that I somehow found Rachel online. And I saw that she was this fashion historian that she had interest in all these underrepresented, folks. And I decided to write her and I asked for some ideas on how to do research about Warren and Leon, particularly Leon in London, because I knew that while he was based in Berlin, he would travel to London in 1939. He was in London on his way to the United States. And I wondered to myself, what was Leon doing at this time? How is he earning a living? And I learned from Uwe's book that I described earlier, that this company, MB, Max Barent, had relocated, actually had opened a subsidiary subsidiary of their business. In London,
Rachel Elspeth Gross 13:19
That is treasure. Oh my gosh,
Andrew Ingall 13:21
there were several businesses I found that had the luck and means to open up subsidiaries. In London, when in Berlin things were not going well for Jews who ran businesses.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 13:38
That cardstock oh my God, I'm just drooling.
Andrew Ingall 13:41
I know! Anyway, so I am this. And I knew I had found information in a document I found in the National Archives in Paris in France. They kept track of immigrants and refugees going back and forth in the 30s. And I just wrote to them and requested if they had any information about Leon and his parents, and he did. And on that document, it said that Lee Leon wrote in his application for a visa when he was in Berlin, that he was an employee of Max barent. And it provided the address in Berlin. And then when I learned that max had opened the subsidiary in London, I thought, maybe that's how Leon got work. I was right. I found this Yeah.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 14:35
That's so neat. That's so I mean, none of us do anything by ourselves, right? we all we all have people who help us. I mean, we get the biggest best idea in the world, but we all need other people. And I love that and time when the world was so cool and so hard. For such superficial ridiculous things to be able to survive. I can just survive but continuing work you love I mean, it's very obvious that we loved his work. You don't make beautiful Things like that, that like needing to I mean, that's one of my favorite things in the world is when you see somebody doing work they love and they get to do it. Well, it's like play. You know, it's such a beautiful, joyful thing to say
Andrew Ingall 15:13
that passion for design, whether it was clothing, or decorative objects, or antiques, or the look of their home, everyone commented, and how beautiful and elegant everything looked. And, okay, Leon, I'm not exactly sure Leon was really an aristocrat or not, I'm still trying to figure that out, you know, like, we hear these stories. And who knows
Rachel Elspeth Gross 15:36
Part of the mythology of fashion? I mean, I can think of a half dozen, if not more designers who have a mysterious path. I mean, Valentino, who would have been his contemporary was maybe you know, a runaway aristocrat who had to sell her diamonds to get on a train to get out of Russia. I mean, you have to have a story. And even if it's not 100% true,
Andrew Ingall 15:56
According to Leon and Warren's friends who I've connected with one of whom would be interesting for a future conversation maybe, because she's 93 sharp as a tack. Her name is Maria Saget. And Maria is also an immigrant. She came to the US from Italy, and I think, the late 50s. And she got a job working for Leon when he was working in New York as his seamstress. And they really liked each other. And Leon kept encouraging Maria, you know, Maria, you're really good at this. You should become a designer. You should go to FIT, and take classes at night, and be a designer too. And that's what she did. In the early 60s, Leon had this last job with Maria, and I think, I'm guessing and I can't be sure about this. I think he got a little tired of working in fashion at that point. And Warren, and he had already opened Warle their boutique. And then he went to work with with Warren and they spent their their time together. They lived around the corner in an apartment and they worked at the store, and I think life was a little easier for him a little less stressful. And then Maria took off, she ended up designing a line of lingerie for Joan Collins, who was a famous actress from the 80s on dynasty.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 17:24
I was just wrote about Nolan Miller earlier in the week. It's so funny. So cool. Oh my god. And you know, Joan Collins, it had to be something special.
Andrew Ingall 17:34
Well, what I understood is that the company that Maria was working for had invested a lot of money in getting the Joan Collins brand, they had to pay a lot for her name, and the lingerie line tanked.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 17:52
things, things happen. But still, what a fun story. And yes, please, I would love to speak with her. I adore that.
Andrew Ingall 18:00
So yeah, everyone, you know, everyone just adored them love their taste. Well, I don't know if everyone love their tastes, they were in Southern Vermont. And they were running this antique store, you know, sort of part time they had these two barns outside of their home on a main road. And people would just come up, and often I've heard from them is that they would like see people approaching and they would say, we don't sell country furniture. Kind of like go away. We only sell European decorative arts and antiques, which was kind of unusual for Southern Vermont.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 18:41
Yeah, but what a find I'm sure people came from all over just to go there. I'm sure they use a destination. I mean, I know some antique people who are very into that and you you treasure the the sources when you find them. So when you told me more about this overarching goal with the project and it's it's almost sounds like an analogy that you have this personal story and it is a meaningful story. But it's also an example right? It illustrates that there's so many other stories like this. So could you tell me a little about about
Andrew Ingall 19:17
that heartbeat? Sure, Rachel. So I think it's still I'm still working this through. But I see this as a multi platform project, which involves writing, potentially a book, I see a pop up exhibition that could happen in places where Warren and Leon spent most of their lives. That would be New York, Southern Vermont. And I want to in some ways, recreate the space of Warle this boutique in that existed in New York and also their home and antique shops in Southern Vermont. I want this beautiful space to be a site for conversation around LGBTQ plus caregiving for folks at the end of their lives. For most LGBTQ plus folks. They are disconnected from family, biological family. Many have adopted family or family of choice or what the writer Armistead Maupin calls logical family, we have our logical family and we have our biological family. They had logical family in Vermont, they were very lucky to have so much care from their their folks in Vermont. And it's a beautiful legacy also for Warren and Leon. Because today there is a nursing home on the site of their home. Warren was very smart at this point Leon had died. And Warren needed knew he needed long term care as he got as he aged. And he made an arrangement with a local hospital, in exchange for donating his property, he would get lifelong care. And now that home is the administrative office for the region's nursing home. And, yeah, it's a beautiful circle. And there's also an initiative now happening in this community, to educate caregivers, professional caregivers, nurses, aides, and administrators on how to care for LGBTQ+ folks as they age. So I would love this pop up to be a site for conversations on how we can be allies, to LGBTQ+ elders, and shine a light on them. And I also want to tell stories of other refugees like Leon other queer refugees in particular. You know, we're reading the news now about Afghanistan. And there are a lot of efforts to resettle Afghans in the US now. And so many of these folks are creative people, like Leon, and like Warren, and they contribute so much to society. So I think it's important for us to continue having these conversations on how we can be allies for refugees and immigrants.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 22:29
I think it's so important. And I think we all have learned in this last year. If you didn't know before, I'm sure you did. I know I did. But we need the arts, we need media to consume we books to make us think we need shows distract us and creative people. You know, their budgets get cut a lot. And they're they become line items a lot. But we need the arts and they come in many different formats. And I think you're absolutely right, we have a choice right now we can do the kind thing, we can do the good thing, and we all benefit from it. It's the right thing. So before we sign off, I just wanted to ask, there was one story that you posted about that American flag pin. Yeah. And if you just maybe, if you don't mind telling us that story, because it's beautiful. And it really reminds me of what you just said.
Andrew Ingall 23:14
I'll try. So I got connected to a lawyer who was assigned to the estate of Warren and Leon after they died. And he and his boss went into the room in the nursing home, where Warren had kept all of his things, including that trove of sketches and drawings that belonged to Leon. And he started going through all these papers, he had no idea that Warren was gay that he had this partner of 60 years. And he just got a he became overcome with emotion. And he had to stop what he was doing and take a break. He tried to call his partner his husband at the time but phone service is generally horrible in Vermont and he couldn't reach him. And he wanted to you know him as conservatives like is this going to be me will some stranger be going through all of my things and where will all these things go? And he got some comfort from his boss. And they saw this pin, a safety pin with red white and blue beads. It looks like an American flag. And his boss says if you want to take this you should just have it you should take it. And this this this man, Brian Frankel wore that safety pin at a time when Trump was elected and there was all this anti immigrant sentiment, anti immigrant laws, anti muslim laws. People were wearing the safety pins as a sign of solidarity. And he wore that during that time.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 25:07
Yeah, it's beautiful. And I really think I don't know there's a lot. No one person is one thing and there's a lot about individuals who have bodies or feelings or love that is not accepted by some people and anything that we can do. To start during that conversation differently, anything we can do to focus on the parts where we are all humans and we all want to make good stuff. I really feel like when we are doing work, and we are doing work, we love we are better people. And I mean way on such a good example of that he came from one of the darkest scariest parts of the 20th century and he found lasting love. He found a family he found work he believed in and then he shared that and god what a legacy. I mean, we should all be
Andrew Ingall 26:00
Here they are. (shows photo)
Rachel Elspeth Gross 26:02
I love that photograph.
Andrew Ingall 26:04
Country Chic with the little outfits. That's Nikki the Pekinese.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 26:11
They are family and they're beautiful. It's wonderful. Thank you so much for taking this time to talk with us.
Andrew Ingall 26:17
Thank you, Rachel. This is my first sort of public discussion of this project. And I'm so glad it's with you. One of my early champions, you're part of Team Warle.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 26:27
Yay. No, I really love what you're doing. I really think it's important to to do this work. It's good. It's good for all of us. It's good for our soul, like our collective soul. makes any sense. It really is. So all right, everyone. Thank you so much for tuning in today. And we're so glad to have you and thank you Andy for making making the time to speak with me.
Andrew Ingall 26:47
You're welcome, Rachel. Thank you.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 26:49
We'll see y'all next time.