Piece of the week

Adele Simpson’s influence as a fashion designer lives on

Red silk chiffon suit designed by Adele Simpson.

This week’s piece of the week is donated from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City. During the mid-1990s, FIT decided to gift smaller museums designer pieces from their Costume Collection, which consists of over 50,000 pieces.

The goal of this contribution was to expand the collections of smaller museums to include more attention-grabbing designers. NDSU received 63 pieces from FIT, one of them being this red pantsuit by Adele Simpson.

The suit consists of two pieces, a mid-thigh tunic and palazzo pants. It’s beautifully created from red silk chiffon fabric with large leaf and paisley print in fuchsia and blue. The lining adds to the charm by consisting of a gold braid with sequence piping.

This 1970s piece was designed to make a statement; the colors are bold, and the proportions of the tunic create length to a person’s figure. Although not a piece one would wear every day, it called attention during large occasions.

The suit was created by Adele Simpson, an active designer during the 1940s-1980s. She was born on December 8, 1903, in Greenwich, Connecticut. Her parents were Latvian immigrants. Adele Simpson was the youngest of five siblings.

She graduated from the Pratt Institute with a design degree when she was 21 and took over her oldest sister position at Ben Gershel as head designer. In 1949, she was worked for Mary Lee on 7th Avenue in New York when she renamed the company to Adele Simpson Inc. During the same year, she introduced her first line of medium-priced clothing.

Adele was an unconventional designer. She didn’t sketch, she traveled across the globe and designed clothing for women who worked. Her clothing was affordable yet exquisite.

Adele got a lot of her influence from trips abroad to countries such as India, China and France. The inspiration for the evening-suit came from traditional Indian sari fabric, along with other pieces she designed for the New York World’s Fair.

Though she designed primarily for the everyday women, she was involved in dressing a few First Lady’s, including Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon and Barbara Bush. She designed a couple of pieces for Lady Bird Johnson, a wrinkle-resistant yellow street-length coat and a matching dress and hat. Adele designed the turquoise blue silk organza and silver silk lame princess-line dress for the second inauguration gown for Pat Nixon in 1973.

Adele Simpson died on August 23, 1995. She left her company to her daughter Joan Raines and her son-in-law Richard Raines, who sold the company to Barron Peter in 1991. Not long after, Barron Peters filed for bankruptcy.

Her legacy continues in what remains of her collections. Through her collections, people can travel to the countries she visited, they can see her dedication to fabrics and extraordinary shapes. At NDSU, the 63 pieces donated by the Fashion Institute of Technology can be viewed at the Emily Reynold’s Historic Costume Collection and we are proud to have them.

This item will be on display in the display case on the fourth floor of the Family Life Center until January 10.

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