Monica D. Murgia

Art, creativity, and fashion
October 18th, 2012

Adele Simpson

With all this talk of Marcel Vertès and Wesley Simpson, it only seems right to have a post about Adele Simpson.
Adele Simpson advertisement.  Image courtesy of
Adele Simpson (1901 – 1995) was an American fashion designer and wife of textile manufacturer Wesley Simpson.  Before marrying Wesley, Adele (née Smithline) grew up in New York City.  She studied design at the Pratt Institute during the early 1920s, and after graduating began working on Seventh Avenue for clothing manufacturer Ben Gershel.  She continued working on Seventh Avenue after marrying Wesley Simpson in 1927.
Adele Simpson with mannequin.  Image courtesy of
It was during WWII that Adele made a name for herself designing clothing.  The war offered women the opportunity to be prominent in business and industry.  Coupled with war time restrictions and limited news from Paris, American fashion designers were free to invent new silhouettes.
Adele’s aim was desining clothing that was fuctional.  She did not design garments for dramatic entrances, but clothes to live and work in.  Adele’s interest in design was deeply personal.  Standing at less than 5 feet tall, she could never find clothing to fit her body.  She knew that other women encountered the same issues.  This made her pay close attention to the needs of her customers.  She explained in a 1945 article:
“There’s a personal slant to all designing and because I am a busy woman myself, I certainly am not going to spend hours getting all tricked out in an impractical costume for the sake of a dramatic enterance.  So for women like me, busy women, I make clothes that are easy to manage, suits that need no blouses, dresses that slip on easily, with fastenings where you can get at them, dresses that stay smart under stress, that you can walk in and more your arms in.”
Adele Simpson Dress
Adele’s popularity spanned from the 1940s through the 1970s.  She retired in 1985.  This practicality she stressed in the interview above was always present in her designs.  I recently found this ultra suede dress by Adele Simpson from the 1970s and noticed all of her trappings: a simple wrap design with hook and eye closures.  There were several eye fastenings, so that the dress could be adjusted depending on waist size.  The fastenings were easy to find and secure.
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October 12th, 2012

Marcel Vertès

The only limits we have are the ones we place on ourselves.  This is something I am continually reminded  of.  My fascination with fashion history only leads me to discover more and more incredible people that realized their full potential.  One of those people is Marcel Vertès.

Marcel Vertès illustration for Elsa Schiaparelli’s perfume, Shocking.  Illustration completed c. 1937.  Image courtesy of McCormick Interiors.
Marcel Vertès (1895 – 1961) was a Hungarian-born artist, fashion illustrator, costume designer, and textile designer.  He was most prolific from 1933 to 1952, during which he divided his time between New York and Paris.

 Marcel Vertès illustration of a Lilly Dachè hat, 1943.  Image courtesy of HPrints.


Vertès was a real renaissance man.  His creativity seems boundless to me – he created sets for theater, illustrated for major fashion magazines, painted, and even ventured into the fashion world.  He illustrated advertisements throughout his career, most notably for Elsa Schiaparelli.  He also worked for major magazines, like Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue.  (Illustration was so prevalent during the 1940s because of rationing of supplies needed for photography.  Illustrations continued to be popular in the 1950s.  I really recommend looking at the work of Rene Gruau if you enjoy fashion illustrations!)

Marcel Vertès illustration for The Ballet Theatre Souvenir Program, c. 1943.  Image courtesy of Meteorology.

In 1952, Vertès won two Academy Awards for his work on the film Moulin Rogue.  This film was set in late 19th century Paris, and followed the career of artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.  Toulouse-Lautrec explored the nightlife in Paris, including the burlesque clubs.  His Academy Awards were for Best Artistic Direction and Best Costume Design.
Later, in 1956, Vertès designed the costumes and props for the Ringling Brothers’ Circus.  The costumes were wildly sexy.  Critics said that Vertès had turned a family event into a “night time circus”.  I’ll let you be the judge . . .

ringling 56 rock dancer

Costume design by Marcel Vertès for the John Ringling North circus, c. 1956.  Image courtesy of Showbiz David.

Prior to all this erotica, Vertès had designed textiles for Wesley Simpson. Last week, I wrote a little bit about the collaboration between textile designers and artist.  These collaborations were not only beautiful and interesting, but they stimulated the Postwar economy.  The Metropoltian Museum of Art has several examples of Vertès’ textile designs:

Marcel Vertès textile design for for Wesley Simpson, 1944.  Used for dress design by Adele Simpson. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Marcel Vertès textile design for for Wesley Simpson, 1944.  Used for dress design by Hattie Carnegie.  Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Marcel Vertès textile design for for Wesley Simpson, 1944.  Used for dress design by Adele Simpson. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Seeing that one person could do all of this inspires me beyond words.  And I hope it inspires you!


September 27th, 2012

Wesley Simpson

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a collector.  Since I’m in the habit of moving often, I’m very selective about what I keep.  I constantly edit down the unnecessary.  Over time, editing out clothing and shoes becomes easy.  Either my style has evolved in a different direction, or the object has worn out.  Other accessories tend to have longer staying power in my suitcase.  One part of my collection that has remained untouched are my scarves.
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Honestly, I started collecting scarves at a young age.  They reminded me so much of paintings, something I longed to collect but couldn’t afford.  It was only after studying fashion history that I realized I had amassed quite an impressive collection of scarves.  While I collect them much less now, I couldn’t resist my newest acquisition . . .

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Lucky me to have come across this mint condition scarf!  “Downtown” by Wesley Simpson.  To me, finding this scarf was like scoring a Renoir painting for $7 at a flea market.  Wesley Simpson (1903-1975) was an American textile manufacturer who was responsible for bringing many artist-designed textiles to the market after World War II.

He started his career in retail sales c. 1919 for Cheney Brothers.  Simpson job was to sell textiles to dress companies throughout the garment district in Manhattan.  During this time, he met his wife, Adele Smithline (later known as Adele Simpson, the famous designer).

During the Great Depression, Simpson established his own business as a textile converter.  This means that designs were produced in-house or via freelance artists, and then the actual printing was contracted to outside factories.  Simpson was the chief stylist of his company, which came to be known as Wesley Simpson Custom Fabrics, Inc.  The company operated from 1932 to 1950.

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My scarf has a lovely repeat of a furniture store, with a sale sign in one window, and a bed frame in the other.  Next to it is most likely an apartment building.  So cute!  The border is a contrasting yellow, and the edges are hand-rolled and tacked down.  There is no care label, but the fabric feels like rayon.  I’d say this scarf is from the late 1940s.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a very similar scarf from c.1948:


Scarf by Wesley Simpson, Inc. c. 1948.  Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Has anyone seen a scarf like mine?  Please leave a comment if you have any clues!


For more information on Wesley Simpson, please read this excellent presentation by Lynn Felsher.

And take a look at this fantastic ad campaign featured on The Vintage Traveler

You should also buy a copy of Artist Textiles: 1940-1976 – it’s worth the investment!

April 22nd, 2011

Color and Design: A Book from 1951


Color & Design: Fashion in Men's & Women's Clothing & Home Furnishings by Bernice G. Chambers

I love collecting old books on art and fashion.  A few months ago, I came across this book.  It’s called Color & Design: Fashion in Men’s & Women’s Clothing & Home Furnishings by Bernice G. Chambers (1951).  Apparently, it’s been out of print for years.  It’s a total gem from start to finish!

Composition, 1930 by Mondrian

The book was: written to enable the reader to use the intangible but effective forces of color and design advantageously in the selection, use, arrangement, creation, buying, and selling of merchandise. The author was a Professor of Retailing at NYU in the 1950s.  Clearly a textbook for fashion enthusiasts.

A Suggested Buying Guide

Here is the author’s suggested buying guide.  2 blouses every year?  My, how times have changed.

A Guide to Men's & Women's Proportions

The average person is 7 or 7 1/2 heads tall.  Hmm, this reminds me of Nancy Riegelman’s book – 9 Heads: A Guide to Fashion.  Is our current ideal out of proportion?  Still, Riegelman’s book is beautiful.


Different Body Shapes of 1951.

Here’s an illustration of the average figure size and shape that an alert sales person learns to recognize. The tall slender on the top right was the 1951 ideal body shape.


Interesting Collars and Necklines



I love the scarf collar!




Love the skirts below.









My Favorite

Styles from Gimbel's Department Store

More from Gimbel's






Sketches by Vera Maxwell




Fashions of 1951



Tina Lesser Dress Inspired by Dancing Shiva


Gilbert Adrian et al

Cecil Chapman et al




Shoes & Their Parts



One of my favorite parts of this book was the pronunciation guide for the French terms and houses.  Look for my next post which will be based on this idea.  See you next week!





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