From the Collection: Norman Norell Cocktail Dress
November 6, 2012
By Clare Sauro
Norman Norell was one of the most successful American designers of the 20th century and one of the most influential. His designs were prized for their high-quality workmanship and stylish simplicity. A Norell dress was regarded by many as the epitome of chic and accordingly he won numerous accolades and awards from his peers. He was known for “exclusive” ready-to-wear clothing that was sold at only one store per city.
This kimono-style, polychrome silk cocktail dress took this exclusivity one step further. Although a pale pink version of this cocktail dress was available throughout the United States (and was photographed in Vogue), this version with its bold and colorful textile was available only at the Nan Duskin shop here in Philadelphia. The eponymous boutique was opened by Duskin (later Mrs. Ann Lincoln) in 1927 and was known for its impeccable selection of high fashion. Duskin herself arranged for this dress to be donated to the Drexel Historic Costume Collection (DHCC) in 1968 (it was a gift of Mrs. Walter J. Kohler). Her enthusiastic support and unparalleled influence in the fashion community enabled the DHCC to become one of the finest university costume collections in the United States.
Unfortunately, despite its undeniable quality, the DHCC has remained a relatively hidden and underutilized resource of Drexel, largely due to an overwhelming lack of proper storage and display space. However, the DHCC recently moved to the new URBN Center at 3501 Market Street where it has a new, vastly improved storage facility. Organized storage enables the collection to be more accessible to students and visitors. A gallery devoted to the display of the DHCC allows the garments and related objects to be seen on a regular basis—many, like this spectacular Norell cocktail dress—for the very first time.