You know, it’s funny for me to think where I get my inspirations from. I don’t really every set to think I am being inspired and really don’t realize the inspiration until I am designing something or having a conversation
with someone and something that I have seen or experienced comes into focus. Such is the case with NORMAN NORELL. I was speaking with a dear friend of mine and talking about amazing fashion icons that are so inspiring to today’s fashion designer
and interior designer. And of course the conversation went on to Norman Norell. Norell, for me, is one of my all time greats. My mother, a fashion designer and renown in her own right, loved his clothing and had quite a collection.
I was just looking at the resort collection from LANVIN, one of my bad habits! and thought of an outfit of Norell’s. So, needless to say, so goes today’s post!
I do so hope you will find what I find so inspiring! And Michelle Obama looked gorgeous in one of his vintage gowns!
Cocktail dress, 1961
Norman Norell (American, 1900–1972)
Black wool crepe
Though the cocktail party of the 1950s graced middle- and upper-class residences, creating a more prominent market for women’s cocktail clothing and accessories in New York department stores, the “Junior” or “Miss” collections of these retail giants developed
and promoted lines of cocktail clothing as well. Sororities and college clubs began celebrating the cocktail hour by the latter half of the decade and, modeling their aesthetic after the twenty-something actresses in films such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Norman Norell, who, by the early 1960s, had become one of the most globally respected New York fashion designers by perfecting a classic silhouette complete with couture-quality finishing details and exquisite paillette and bugle-bead embroidery techniques,
created simply tailored evening sheaths and impeccably cut day suits that reflected both a refined mature sensibility and a youthful spirit. This Norell “little black dress” is the quintessential cocktail sheath of the early 1960s, championing a playful leisurely
aesthetic while still propagating a certain formality inherent in cocktail dressing. Designers like Ceil Chapman and Nettie Rosenstein were creating beautiful late day and evening dresses for the American market, but Norman Norell had his eye on the international scene;
he combined the American invention of “day-to-evening” dressing with the subtlety and simplicity of French early evening garb. Priced comparably to the French couture, the visionary Norell dress became both the immortal symbol of mid-century bourgeois sociability
and the champion of youthful flirtation.
Simple, well-made clothes that would last and remain fashionable for many years became the hallmark of Norman Norell, the first American designer to win the respect of Parisian couturiers. He gained a reputation for flattering design while Traina, whose well-heeled clientéle appreciated the snob appeal of pared-down day clothes and dramatic eveningwear. From his early years with Hattie Carnegie, Norell learned all about meticulous cut, fit, and quality fabrics. Regular trips to Paris exposed him to the standards of couture that made French clothes the epitome of high fashion. Norell had the unique ability to translate the characteristics of couture into American ready-to-wear. He did inspect each model garment individually, carefully, in the tradition of a couturier, and was just as demanding in proper fabrication and finish. The prices of “Norells,” especially after he went into business on his own, easily rivaled those of Paris creations, but they were worth it. The clothes lasted, and their classicism made them timeless.
Certain characteristics of Norell’s designs were developed early on and remained constant throughout his career. Wool jersey shirtwaist dresses with demure bowed collars were a radical departure from splashy floral daydresses of the 1940s.
World War II restrictions on yardages and materials coincided with Norell’s penchant for spare silhouettes, echoing his favorite period, the 1920s. Long before Paris was promoting the chemise in the 1950s, Norell was offering short, straight,
low-waisted shapes during the war years. For evening, Norell looked to the flashy glamor of his days designing costumes for vaudeville.
Glittering paillettes, which were not rationed, would be splashed on evening skirts—paired with sweater tops for comfort in unheated rooms—or on coats. Later, the lavish use of all-out glamor sequins evolved into Norell’s signature shimmering
“mermaid” evening dresses, formfitting, round-necked and short-sleeved. The round neckline, plain instead of the then-popular draped, became one of the features of Norell’s designs of which he was most proud. “I hope I have helped women dress more simply,
” was his goal. He used revealing bathing suit necklines for evening as well, with sable trim or jeweled buttons for contrast. Variations on these themes continued throughout the years, even after trousersuits became a regular part of Norell’s repertoire.
Striking in their simplicity, Norell suits would skim the body, making the wearer the focus of attention rather than the clothes. Daytime drama came from bold, clear colors such as red, black, beige, bright orange, or pale blue, punctuated by large,
plain contrasting buttons. Stripes, dots, and checks were the only patterns, although Norell was credited with introducing leopard prints in the 1940s, again, years before they became widespread in use. Norell’s faithful clients hailed his clothes
as some of the most comfortable they had ever worn.