Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The First Signature Scarf In History - Vera Scarves

Vera Neumann (born Vera Salaff, July 24, 1907)
was an American artist and entrepreneur.
She is best known for her bold colored patterns on her linens and scarves, signed with her script "Vera" and a ladybug.

Vera was the third of four children born to Fanny and Meyer Salaff. Her parents encouraged each of their children to find a passion and follow it. Vera's passion was drawing and painting. Her father gave her 50 cents for each sketchbook she could fill with her drawings as well as taking her to The Metropolitan Museum of Art every Sunday. Vera attended art school at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art after high school and enrolled in classes at Traphagen School of Design.  After graduation, her first job was as a fashion illustrator and then a textile designer on Seventh Avenue in New York. After a brief stint at that, she left to design fabric and murals for children's rooms.

Vera met George Neumann who was from Austria and who had a familiar background in textiles.  George and Vera decided to merge their career backgrounds and began their company, Printex. They built a small silkscreen to fit on their dining room table and produced linen placemats (the only thing that was small enough to fit the table printing press). These they cured in their kitchen oven.

They were soon joined by Frederick Werner Hamm, a friend who had recently immigrated from Germany and also had a background in textiles. He used his sales ability to sell the first order to the department store B. Altman. The company outgrew the apartment and moved into a larger apartment. They soon outgrew the larger apartment and moved into a large derelict 1810 Georgian Mansion near the Hudson River in Ossining, NY.

World War II was in full swing when Vera found that the linen supply was dwindling. Searching for more linen for her products, she came across extra parachute silk at an army surplus store. Thus began her scarf business. She kept her signature on the art that was transferred to the scarves, thus creating the first signature scarf in history. Vera scarves launched the business into immediate popularity and Vera was soon on a first-name basis with women around the country. Marilyn Monroe was a fan as well as Grace Kelly and First Lady Bess Truman (who had selected Vera fabric from Schumacher, Inc. to grace the White House third-floor Solarium windows and upholstery.) Women around the country chose Vera products for their color and happy prints.

The demand for Vera products and the untimely death of George in 1962 led Vera to sell the business to Manhattan Industries in 1967. Both Vera and Werner Hamm became board members and Vera stayed on as the creative director. The company expanded into sportswear (eventually hiring up and comer Perry Ellis to oversee that division) and luggage.
Emile Walter Galleries, located at 121 East 57th Street, launched an exhibition in 1970.
 It included around 50 original paintings and brought famous art collectors from around the country (the first customer was John Lennon.)
 Department stores across the country hosted a traveling show of scarves and other products, set up to look like an art gallery. The Smithsonian inducted Vera into its Resident Associate Program in October 1972 as their first artist. They also commissioned her to paint the Foucault Pendulum (which still hangs in their offices today.)

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