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Norman Norell collection

Identifier: KA-0035-01


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 was inducted into the Coty Hall of Fame in 1956. Norell served as a visiting critic at Parsons School of Design from 1943 to 1972. The collection includes biographical material, clippings, sketches, photographs, scrapbooks, and five examples of Norell's clothing.


  • 1941 - 1974



8.4 Cubic Feet (6 boxes, 5 binders, 6 oversize boxes, 1 oversize folder, 3 reel-to-reel recordings, 1 award)

3 16mm Film

Language of Materials


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, likely dating from the mid to late 1960s. All are ready-to-wear daywear.

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.

Numerous sketches reference the names of Norell's house models, including Gunn Thorkell, Claire Eggleston, Yvonne Presser (née Stamper), Audrey Stadin (née Sedor), Denise Linden, Deborah Burns, Claudia Halley (née Morgan), Doreen McKay, and Sheelagh Manno. Some of these models, who worked for Norell for many years and were affectionately known as the "Norell Girls", are also featured in the photographs series and in the moving image file documenting Norell's Spring/Summer 1969 fashion presentation.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use. Please contact for appointment.

Use Restrictions

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives. Please contact:

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.

Organization and Arrangement

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

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

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 (PC.03.02.01). Additionally, the New School 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 New School Archives' New School photograph collection (NS.04.01.01). The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library also holds a collection of scrapbooks documenting Norrell's career.

Guide to the Norman Norell collection
New School Archives and Special Collections Staff
July 11, 2011
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • June 11, 2019: Added award to inventory that had been left off inadvertently.