Tina Leser, born Christine Wetherill Shillard-Smith, came from a wealthy Philadelphia family. She travelled the world at an early age, taking in many countries in Africa and Asia. Leser also attended art school in her hometown before attending school in Paris.
Tina married Curtin Leser after college and the pair moved to Honolulu Hawaii. In 1935 Leser opened her first boutique there. She sold gowns with handpainted cloth and imported Filipino textiles. She travelled to New York a few years later to sell her designs. In 1941 Saks picked up her garments and she soon opened a new location in New York City. Her fashion career really took off the next year when she joined with Edwin H. Foreman sportswear company and her designs were seen by a larger audience.
Leser’s designs in the WWII era reflected the fabric scarcities of the decade. International travel was restricted at the time but Leser managed to experience new cultures by taking in the sights and styles in Guatemala and Mexico. She used native textiles as inspiration and made sarong style skirts and dresses to use less fabric and trimmings.
After the war her design styles echoed her new freedom to travel the world. She took inspiration from Indian saris, Vietnamese robes, and Persian brocades. She took these cultural looks and translated them into chic sportswear with bolero jackets, cardigans, and suits all in beautifully detailed patterns.