The Dean of American Fashion

When Halston and Calvin Klein established their fashion houses, positioning themselves as the ultimate tastemakers of the American fashion world, Norman Norell (1900-1972), thirty years their senior worked hard and privately at his atelier, designing chic, elegant fashion, quietly shaping the notion of American style; for this, he is called ‘Dean of American Fashion’ in a spectacular exhibition, opened at the Museum at FIT a couple of weeks ago. Everything about Norell was American. His clothes were sold at most department stores, they were made in New York or material sourced in New-York-based manufacturers, including jersey from New Jersey. The exhibition, which was co-curated by Jeffrey Banks and Patricia Mears draws from the private collection of Kenneth Pool, a long-time collector of Norell, as well as from the collection of the Museum. It is a great opportunity to see that great fashion can be timeless. In fact all 100-something glamour garments on show, dresses, eveningwear, separates, and his signature knitted jersey dresses covered with sequences, look as contemporary as if they belong on a 2018 runaway. Clean lines, plain colors, comfort, and chic, a lot of chic. No wonder that his designs attracted such A-list clientele as Lauren Bacall, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Marilyn Monroe despite the fact that Norell had never put his efforts towards attracting celebrities. This retrospective brings to memory another one which was organized at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1972 to which Norell could not attend. He had suffered a stroke just a day before the opening, and died days later at 72, leaving a legacy of the first American fashion designer whose work appealed to the upper classes in the same way as European couture.

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