Vanderbilt also routinely corrected the misconception that her work—and that of her “sisters,” as she referred to her fellow female designers—was more than merely decorating, or “select[ing] fabrics and sew[ing] things together,” she explained. “There’s a lot more to it than that, and that’s what we tried to tell the press over and over again.”
But GM’s PR team often capitalized on the employees’ “feminine” qualities rather than their full skill sets, driving the stake between the sexes even deeper. “Besides being color and fabric specialists,” Earl stated in 1957, “our women designers are tuned specifically to the woman driver’s problems.”
The Feminine Auto Show, staged in 1958, was GM’s biggest and glitziest effort to spotlight the damsels. For the exhibition—which was presented in a dome bursting with hyacinths, singing canaries, and soft, sherbet-hued lighting—each of the six female car designers customized the interiors of a range of new GM models. For her acqua Cadillac “Saxony” convertible, Vanderbilt included innovative additions like a folding armrest, a dictaphone, and a partitioned glove compartment. Glennie’s “Fancy Free” Corvette came equipped with colorful slipcovers meant to change with the seasons, and what might have been the industry’s first retractable seat belt.