Fashion designer Norman Norell (1900-1972) was famous for his love of sparkly sequins and beading, which he applied to evening sheaths, pajama pantsuits, and even jacket linings. As he once said, "If you're going out at night, for heaven's sake wear something that explodes and goes pow. A dress that doesn't knock-em-dead when you come into a room is absolutely no good these days."1 Although he hated the term "cocktail dress," Norell may have perfected the form with this simple shirtdress, whose Peter Pan collar and prim buttons are set off by the "pow" of deep bands of silver bugle beads at the cuffs and hem.
A master of strict elegance, Norell's clothes were never flashy or tacky; he used "yards and yards of crystal beading" to give his eveningwear a rich look, combining metallic embellishment with matte fabrics in muted colors.2 In 1962, Women's Wear Daily praised his "bugle-beaded borders by night."3 He continued to experiment with beaded borders in subsequent collections. This dress is probably the one Vogue had in mind in March of 1966, when it described "a soft, small, icy-blue crepe with sleeves caught at the wrist, completely plain, except for a ten-inch band of silver bugle beads shivering above the knee."4 The magazine had pictured a very similar Norell dress the previous month, calling it "the evening dress of the season--short, knee-baring, geometric, easy and snug at the shoulders, swinging wide at the hem in the manner of the trapeze."5 The combination of traditional tailoring with a contemporary perspective defined the Norell look. As Vogue put it: "Modern to the bone, without a flicker of nostalgia, his clothes at the same time bring back the best of an era of great elegance."6
1Women's Wear Daily, Septhember 20, 1967.
2Women's Wear Daily, June 28, 1961.
3Women's Wear Daily, July 11, 1962.
4Vogue, March 1, 1966.
5Vogue, February 15, 1966.
6Vogue, February 15, 1966.