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Guide to the Norman Norell collection, 1941-1974

Collection Overview

Kellen Design Archives
Creator - Designer
Norell, Norman, 1900-1972
Creator - Designer
Tassell, Gustave, 1926-
Traina-Norell (Firm).
Norman Norell collection, 1941-1974
13 linear ft: 5 boxes, 5 binders, 5 oversize boxes
Norman Norell (1900-1972) was the first American fashion designer to compete successfully with French couture. In 1943, he received the first Coty American Fashion Critics Award, and in 1956 he was inducted into the Coty Hall of Fame. Norell served as a visiting critic at Parsons School of Design from 1943 to 1972. The collection includes awards, biographical material, clippings, fashion sketches, photographs, publicity scrapbooks, and five examples of Norell's clothing.

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Biographical Note

Norman Norell was born Norman David Levinson in Indiana in 1900. Norell's father owned a menswear store and introduced his son to vaudeville, inspiring Norell to become a costume designer. In later years, Norell also professed an early interest in fashion magazines.

In approximately 1919, Norell moved to New York City, where he took classes at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and created a new surname by combining the first three letters of his first name with two letters from his last name, and adding an extra "l." By the early 1920s, Norell was fulfilling his childhood ambition, designing costumes for vaudeville shows and film productions in Paramount Pictures' New York studios.

In 1924, Norell made the transition from costume design to fashion design, working for dress manufacturer Charles Armour. From 1928 until approximately 1940, Norell designed for Hattie Carnegie and accompanied her on business trips to Paris. In 1941, he joined Anthony Traina and together the two designers formed "Traina-Norell."

The American fashion industry's ascendancy during World War II boosted Traina-Norell's reputation. The firm's ready-to-wear collections were recognized as being able to compete with Parisian couture. Norell was inventive with his use of non-rationed items, such as sequins, which would became associated with the designer through his close-fitted, sequined "mermaid dresses." In 1943, Norell was honored as the first recipient of the American Fashion Critics Award, the Coty, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He would receive a second Coty Award in 1951, and in 1956 was the first designer inducted into the American Fashion Critics Award's Hall of Fame.

From 1943 until his death, Norell regularly served as a visiting critic for Parsons School of Design's Fashion Design Department, working with a number of future designers, including Louis Dell'Olio. It was thought for many years that Norell had attended or graduated from Parsons. He received a distinguished alumni medal, the Parsons Jubilee Medal for Distinguished Achievement, and in 1962, Norell became a member of the school's Board of Trustees. Parsons has no record of his enrollment.

After Traina's death in 1960, Norell purchased the firm with the assistance of silent backers. That same year, a Norell design was chosen for the cover of the September 26th issue of LIFE magazine. Two years later he helped found the Council of Fashion Designers of America and served as its first president. Norell released his Norell fragrance in 1968. A financial success, the proceeds from the sales of the perfume helped him to buy out his partners.

In October 1972, Norell suffered a stroke while working on a retrospective of his work for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and died ten days later on October 25. Following Norell's death, Gustave Tassell (born 1926), who, like Norell, had designed for Hattie Carnegie, took over the firm, which closed in March 1977. Norell's fashions continued to be recognized throughout the 1980s and into the 2000s, receiving attention in museum exhibitions and worn by celebrities, including actress Demi Moore and First Lady Michelle Obama.


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Scope and Content of Collection

The Noman Norell collection includes awards, clippings, fashion sketches, photographs, publicity scrapbooks, sample women's apparel, and a perfume bottle with its packaging. The collection consists of materials of a strictly professional nature; it includes no documentation of Norell's personal life. Also absent are records of his professional career prior to his partnership with Anthony Traina in 1941.

The bulk of the collection consists of reproductions of eleven publicity scrapbooks featuring newspaper and magazine clippings in addition to various marketing materials, such as proofs and tear sheets, brochures, and captioned photographs. The scrapbooks primarily cover the years 1945 through 1949.

Photographs, primarily documenting fashion shows, consist exclusively of black and white prints and contact sheets. A large percentage are undated, but appear to date from the 1960s through the 1970s. The fashions depicted in the photographs may have been designed either by Norman Norell or by Gustave Tassell after Norell's death. Some prints bear photographers' stamps, notably that of Bill Cunningham. Also present are a series of contact sheets for a 1972 retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; Norell was working on this project when he suffered his fatal stroke. Other photographs depict a Bonwit Teller store window and what appears to be a costuming session with Dinah Shore at NBC Studios.

Realia consists of three dimensional objects, including awards, garments, and a Norell perfume bottle in its original packaging. Awards include: two Coty Awards, the Parsons Medal (1956), the New York Fashion Designers award (1967), a medal from the City of New York (1972), and an undated medal presented by Harper's Bazaar. Included within awards is a medal identifying the wearer as a member of the jury for the first American Fashion Critics' Award in 1943. Garments consist of two coats and three dresses.

Sketches are primarily undated and unattributed. Originally bound into three-ring notebooks, the sketches often feature handwritten notes and swatches. It is unclear whether these sketches were executed by Norell, by his successor Gustave Tassell, or by another designer.


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Organization and Arrangement

Organized in 5 series:

  1. Biographical, 1941-1972
  2. Photographs, circa 1950s-1974
  3. Realia, 1956-1972, undated
  4. Scrapbooks, 1945-1971
  5. Sketches, circa 1960s-circa 1973

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Kellen Design Archives July 11, 2011

66 5th Ave./
lobby level/
New York, NY, 10011

Use Restrictions

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the Kellen Design Archives. Please contact: archivist@newschool.edu.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Collection created by Kellen Design Archives from multiple accessions. Sketches transferred from the Fashion Design Department of Parsons School of Design to the Kellen Design Archives. Photographs and one set of fashion sketches donated by Tim Gunn, former dean of Parsons School of Design Fashion Design Department, 2003.

Existence and Location of Copies note

70 sketches from the collection have been digitized and are available as digital files.

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Related Materials

Records of several fundraisers organized with Norman Norell's assistance and the Sixtieth Anniversary Dinner at which Norell received a Parsons Medal will be found in the Parsons School of Design Alumni Association records (PIC.03.002.1). Additionally, the Kellen Design Archives holds 16 mm film reels in which Norman Norell appears as a visiting critic in the Parsons School of Design's Fashion Design Department. Photographic documentation of Norell serving as a critic will be found in the Kellen Design Archives' Photographs collection.

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Keywords for Searching Related Subjects


  • Medals.
  • Photographs.
  • Scrapbooks.
  • Sketches.


  • Fashion designers.

Personal Name(s)

  • Cunningham, William J.
  • Moore, Peter, 1932-1993


  • Clothing trade -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • Costume design.
  • Fashion design.
  • Fashion shows.
  • Show windows.
  • Women's clothing -- United States -- 20th century -- Pictorial works.

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Collection Inventory

Series I. Biographical 1941-1972 
Title Box Folder
General, 1956-1972  1 1

Includes an undated congratulatory telegram from Italian textile designer Luciano Forneris, a program and guest list for Parsons School of Design's Sixtieth Anniversary Dinner (1956), a partial program for the American Shakespeare Guild's 1969 production season, and the typed text of a eulogy by Charles Revson (1972). The medal Norell received from Parsons will be found in the Realia series, while photographic and textual documentation of the award will be found in the Parsons School of Design Alumni Association records (PIC.03.002.1)

Awards and citations, 1958-1967  3 1
Title Box Folder
Clippings, 1941-1972  1 2
3 2
Life magazine, 1960 Sep 26  3 3

Cover features an ostrich feather cape designed by Norell. Features an article about celebrities who wear Norell fashions.

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Series II. Photographs circa 1950s-1974 
General circa 1950s-before 1973 
Title Box Folder
Bonwit Teller display window, circa 1950s  1 3
Dinah Shore (Photographer: Fred Hermansky, NBC), 1960  1 4

Contact sheet depicting Shore modeling various outfits, presumably designed by Norell, including a feather cape similar to the one featured on Life magazine cover of September 26, 1960. Norell appears with Shore in some photographs.

Dinner party, before 1973  1 5

An unidentified event that possibly took place in Norell's home.

Fashion shows 1968-1974, undated 

Fashion show photographs consist of black and white prints and contact sheets. Although most are undated, all shows appear to date from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s. A small number of photographs include captions regarding the outfit being modeled, and some feature swatches, as well.

Title Box Folder
Undated show #1  1 6-10
Undated show #2  1 11
Undated show #3  1 12
Undated show (Photographer: Warren Uzzle)  1 13
Undated show (Photographer: Walter R. Vecchio)  1 14
Undated show (Photographer: Washington Post 1 15
Undated show (Photographer: Women's Wear Daily 1 16
Title Box Folder
Undated show attended by Norell, before 1973  1 17-20
2 1-4
1968 (Photographer: James C. McGarrity, Philadelphia Inquirer 2 5
1969 (Photographer: Robert M. Teeple, Philadelphia Inquirer 2 6
Metropolitan Museum of Art retrospective, 1972 (Photographer: Peter Moore)  2 7-8

A program for this retrospective will be found in the Parsons School of Design Exhibition records (PIC.05.004.1) in the Kellen Design Archives.

Fall/Winter 1974 (Photographer: Bill Cunningham)  2 9-20

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Series III. Realia 1956-1972, undated 
Title Box Folder
Awards, 1956-1972  3 1
Title Box
Garments, undated  OSxx-1
Perfume bottle, after 1967  6 1

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Series IV. Scrapbooks 1945-1971 
Title Box Folder
Un-numbered, 1947-1948  3 4-5
OSx-1 1-3
Title Box Folder
#5, 1945  3 6-8
OSx-1 4-8
Title Box Folder
#6, 1945  3 9-10
OSx-1 9-12
Title Box Folder
#7, 1946  3 11-12
OSx-1 13-16
Title Box Folder
#8, 1946-1947  4 1-2
OSx-2 1-4
Title Box Folder
#9, 1947  4 3-4
OSx-2 5-9
Title Box Folder
#10, 1948  4 5-6
OSx-2 10-13
Title Box Folder
#11, 1948  4 7
OSx-3 1-3
Title Box Folder
#12, 1948-1949  5 1-2
OSx-3 4-6
#19, 1971  5 3-6
Title Box Folder
#23, 1964-1966  5 7-10
OSx-3 7-10
Oversize inserts  k_OSxxx-3 6

Consists primarily of proofs for I. Magnin and L. S. Ayres stores' newspaper advertisements featuring Traina-Norell fashions.

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Series V. Sketches circa 1960s-circa 1973 
Title Binder Folder
Sketches book #1  1-2

Although undated, the designs documented in the sketches appear to be from the 1960s. Includes handwritten notes in addition to fashion sketches.

Sketches book #2  2-3
Sketches book #3  4-5

Originally housed in an over-filled binder, these sketches are prefaced by a handwritten note indicating that many -- if not all -- were created for the Autumn and Winter 1973-1974 Collection. Because they possibly post-date Norell's death in 1972, these sketches may have been executed by, or under the direction of, Gustave Tassell.

Title Box Folder
Sketches book #4  2 21

Undated photocopies of sketches, possibly created by Gustave Tassell.

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Collection guide Last Updated: 08/30/2012

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