Thursday, July 22, 2010


Norman Norell with models, 1959

Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection, gift of Toni Tavan

close-up of Norell's plum colored mermaid dress, Decades, Los Angeles

gown by Norman Norell, New York Public Library Archives

Norman Norell

Norman Norell, another talent from Indiana… Noblesville, Indiana.

Norman Norell, born Norman David Levinson in 1900, went to New York at the age of 19 to study painting. Working as a theatrical and movie costume designer for Paramount and Brooks Costume Company, he designed costumes for Rudolph Valentino and for Gloria Swanson. From 1924 to 1928, Norell worked for Charles Armour.

In 1932 he joined Hattie Carnegie, who was a client of… you guessed it.. Eleanor Lambert!

While working for Hattie Carnegie he adapted Paris design models for the American market. There he learned French couture techniques and how to change the Parisian proportions to fit the American body. After 12 years with her, he left to join Anthony Traina, where he also enlisted the help of his friend Eleanor Lambert to work her PR magic. The first Traina-Norell collection was very successful.

In 1943 Norman Norell won the very the first Coty American Fashion Critics Award. He won the award in again in 1951 and 1956. With the death of Traina, the firm was renamed Norman Norell. Jersey sequinned dresses (the Mermaid Dresses) were one of his hallmarks.

I remember at one Council of Fashion Designer of America Awards Ceremony in the 1990s, Lauren Bacall proclaiming Norman Norell and Halston as two of her top four greatest fashion influences, she said...

'"Norman Norell and Halston were two of the greatest American designers of all time... In fact, they were two of the greatest designers of all time!"

You can't argue with Lauren Bacall, I know I dont!

partial source: Smithsonian Archives

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