When you hear the name Vera in regards to fashion these days, most people automatically think of designer Vera Wang, and her gorgeous gowns for made for weddings and other fancy occasions. But before Vera Wang came along, the name Vera was synonymous with the bold textiles created by the early feminist icon – artist turned designer, Vera Neumann who in 1946, started to screenprint images from her paintings onto place mats after she and her husband George, and partner Werner Hamm founded the Printex textile company in New York City. Together, they built an extremely successful business manufacturing silk scarves out of surplus army parachute silk, that became coveted by women worldwide. The company eventually expanded into apparel, manufacturing women’s sportswear, and licensed her designs for dishes, household linens and other home goods. By the 70’s she had built a $100 million business with products that all started as original pieces of art created by her own hand, carried in 20,000 stores around the world. Her company was essentially the prototype Martha Stewart brand.
Vintage collectors worldwide have not lost their fervor for collecting Vera goods, and in response, retailer Anthropologie has worked with The Vera Company to license the original artwork of Vera Neumann to create a modern apparel and home goods line called We [Heart] Vera, which debuted in their stores this spring. Continuing and building on this relationship, Anthropologie collaborated with The Vera Company to curate an exhibit that debuted last week in their Rockerfeller Center flagship store, putting an eclectic mix of 40 original Vera scarves from the company’s archives on display with original film print negatives that were originally used to create the screens to print Vera scarves. The exhibit also includes a video installation entitled “In the Company of Vera” which was made by the company in the mid-70’s, and shows viewers an inside look of the Vera showroom, workroom, vertical manufacturing process in the company’s Ossining mansion, and introduces the individuals integral to Vera’s life, and business. In one scene, you can even catch a glimpse of designer Perry Ellis, who was one of Vera’s many protégés.
Vera once said “Color sings to me. Color is such a marvelous way of expressing emotion. We have so many problems in this world, color just brings a little bit of joy into our lives” and I couldn’t agree with her more. I was turned on to Vera by my mother. Vera’s energetic designs are synonymous with my earliest memories because my parents had a few sets of Vera sheets for their king size bed, and they eventually became the sheets we would take to lay out on our trips to the park and beach, always garnering much attention from passersby. The sheets have been passed down to me, and I continue to collect Vera scarves, clothing and textiles when I find them in thrift stores, or can manage to scrounge up the loot to battle it out on Ebay. Everything about her work to me just feels so accessible, vibrantly pedestrian and like home.
The Vera: A New Look gallery will remain open at the 40 Rockerfeller Center Anthropologie store through August when the new collection will be hitting stores for fall. The collection of skirts, dresses, and tunics will have a modern feel in keeping with the tone of the designs, chosen from artwork painted by Vera from 1961-1969. Print negatives are available for sale at the gallery for $280 – $380. Some of the spring items from the We [Heart] Vera collection are still available on Anthropologie.com.
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