Abstract: Are Synthetics "Test-Tube-Y and Unnatural"? Dorothy Liebes, Interior Designers, and DuPont Fibers in Postwar America

Regina Lee Blaszczyk


This paper explores the DuPont Company's efforts to market its new synthetic fibers—nylon, acrylic, and polyester—to the interior-design profession in the post–World War II era. Encountering resistance to synthetics among architects, interior decorators, and industrial designers, DuPont hired nationally known weaver and colorist Dorothy Liebes to erode tastemakers' biases against man-made fibers. From 1955 to 1971, Liebes used her ties within professional associations such as the American Society of Industrial Designers (ASID) and the Association of Interior Decorators (AID) to promote DuPont synthetics as an alternative to natural fibers such as cotton, wool, and silk. Although a champion of fabric eclecticism, Liebes succeeded in convincing high-profile designers of the technical superiority and aesthetic potential of synthetics. By the 1960s, prominent interior decorators like William Pahlmann Associates and renowned industrial designers such as Donald Deskey Associates were specifying "DuPont fibers" for important installations in private residences and public spaces, including hotel lobbies and airplane interiors.