Monday, February 19, 2018


Norman Norell       It is no wonder that NORMAN NORELL is called "The Dean of 
 American Fashion." His sleek, sophisticated, American glamour was   visible in all his fashion silhouettes.  With attention to couture-  inspired  detail and luxurious fabrics his designs attracted an A-List   clientele that included Lauren Bacall, Babe Paley, Jacqueline   Kennedy, Lena Horne, Lady Bird Johnson and a host of the   industry's fashionistas in the corporate and magazine worlds. Styled   with  classic and modern inspiration, Norell's vintage garments are   still worn by film stars and even former first Lady Michelle Obama.
      Image; Triana Norell, Roman-striped sequined evening sheath   worn by Dovima, 1959. Photograph by William Helburn.
     It is a timely recognition; The Museum at the Fashion Institute of   Technology (MFIT) presents NORELL: DEAN OF AMERICAN   FASHION (Through April 14, 2018). The retrospective exhibition 
celebrates the work of this pioneering designer who created some of the finest most innovative clothing ever crafted in the United States. Approximately 100 ensembles and accessories from MFIT's permanent collection, are on view, as well as a compelling selection of objects borrowed from the stellar private collection of Kenneth Pool. 
NORELL'S EXTRAORDINARY OUTPUT The garments, accessories and related objects are organized thematically to illustrate the range of Norell's extraordinary output and the consistently outstanding quality of work produced by his atelier.  Most prominent are the designs from Norell's career---from 1960 to1972.  All his formal clothing was noted for its clean lines and comfort. His love of wool jersey was paired with fabrics like organized for a dramatic effect. Norell also made coats and suits using jersey sometimes in contrasting colors. Image; Norell evening ensemble with striped Duchesse satin ball skirt trimmed in black fox. Photograph of Kenneth Pool Collection (c) Marc Fowler. 
MERMAID GOWNS As a fashion historian I can say, "I have always felt that fashion inspiration starts with the choice and quality of the fabric." That is certainly true in this case, because the most representative of 
Norell's work were his glittering "MERMAID" gowns that only a svelte goddess could wear. They were unique simplistic creations generously but carefully embellished with thousands of hand-sewn sequins.  The base for those formfitting evening dresses was the flexible knitted jersey fabric that could cling to the curves of socialites and other shapely movie stars and fashionable women. It was cut with rounded necks and a variety of sleeves, short, long or openwork.. 
      His other love of wool jersey began with the creation of solid or color-blocked shirtwaist dresses that were the antithesis of the splashy, floral, day dresses popular during the 1940s. 

Image: Norell sequined Mermaid evening dress, 1965. Photograph of Kenneth Pool Collection. (c) Marc Fowler.
Inspiration from menswear was another key element of Norell's oeuvre. As in men's clothing, in women's fashions, pockets and buttons were always functional, yet every buttonhole and pocket was beautifully finished; a hallmark of Norell's atelier. On view is a wide array of daywear with select menswear details and ensembles that clearly evoke the look and style of men's clothing,,,but after all, hasn't fashion traditionally borrowed from men's wear?
   Although Norell was not the first American designer to employ couture techniques, he was the most important creator to transpose them to the ready-to-wear level.
    The exhibition is accompanied by a book titled Norell: Master of American Fashion. Written by Jeffrey Banks and Doria de La Chapelle, it is the first monographic study of this groundbreaking designer. Published by Rizzoli.
     In conjunction with the Norell exhibit is THE BODY FASHION AND PHYSIQUE in the Fashion and Textile Gallery. A Fashion Symposium will be held on Friday, February 23rd. For details and to register for the symposium go to the MFIT website or call 212.217.4585.
     Ta Ta Darlings!!!  Ah, to possess just one of Norell's classic, stunning fashions today. Rare to find, even in upscale Thrift Shops, to own a Norell garment is a timeless fashion to treasure. Fan mail welcome, I always love hearing from you, Visit Polly's Blogs at where in the left hand column are links to fashion, determined women, visionary men and poetry.

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