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~ VERA ~

Mention vintage scarves and the name "Vera" immediately comes to mind. The designer behind the name was Vera Neumann, an artist turned textile designer.  Vera began designing textiles in 1946 after she and her husband, George Neumann founded Printex along with partner Werner Hamm.

They used a small silk-screening machine to print designs onto linen, which Vera then made into placemats.  Hamm then took the finished placemats to B. Altman, where he made the company's first sale.  In the post- WWII period, army surplus silk which had been used for parachutes, became available at cheap prices.  Printex started buying it, and soon they were in the scarf business, making the items in their Manhattan apartment, a loft on 57th Street, where Vera and George handled the entire operation.

 

The "vera" trademark was first used in 1947.  In 1948, the business had out-grown the loft and was moved from Manhattan to Ossining, NY. The Neumans bought an old mansion which was converted into her studio and factory.  For a time the Neumans also lived in the mansion.

Vera's brother, Philip Salaff, joined the company, and it was he who was responsible for the organization of Printex.  The company was set up in a vertical fashion, meaning that the entire operation, from design to finishing, took place at the converted mansion.

By the 1950s business had grown to the point where Vera employed a team of designers.  These designers were responsible for taking the original design which was done by Vera herself in the form of a 36" scarf, and translating it into other products.

As many as 500-600 different designs a year were developed by the team, many of which were printed in the factory right below them. Geometrics, especially dots, were very popular, as were bold florals.  Many prints were done in color and also in black and white.  All were copyrighted.

The scarves were actually printed in Japan.  Vera left nothing to chance, making a sample of each scarf in the New York factory, and sending it along with the dye formulas to the factory in Japan.

In the 1960s a clothing line was added to the scarves and household linens. Blouses and dresses were made from the Vera textile designs. These garments are quite interesting, as the fabric was engineered, or designed with the idea of the finished garment in mind.  The starting place for each design was always the 36" scarf.  The earliest Vera clothing was made with either 100% cotton or 100% silk.  Later, items were made from nylon and polyester. 

In 1974, Perry Ellis went to work for Vera as a merchandise manager.  He asked if he could submit designs for the clothing lines, and Vera encouraged him to do so.  She liked his work, and he became a designer for Vera.  In 1976 he was given his own division, Portfolio by Perry Ellis for Vera, which he designed for three years before starting his own company.

George Neumann died in the late 1960s, and soon thereafter Vera sold the Vera Companies to Manhattan Industries, one of the clothing manufacturing giants. She continued on as the designer at the company, often working six days a week in Ossining, but going into Manhattan on Tuesdays to have her hair done and to attend meetings with her marketing staff.  After the Vera Companies were sold to Manhattan, she became the only woman to sit on their Board, which had to conduct their meetings on Tuesdays to accommodate Vera's long-standing schedule.

Vera worked nearly up to her death in 1993.  Vera scarves continued to be made after her death, and today the trademark is owned by The Vera Company of Atlanta, GA.

Hints for Dating Vera Scarves and Clothing

Vera clothing is found with a label like the one to the right. The earlier pieces from the mid 1960s will often have 100% Cotton, or 100% Silk on the label.  Also, the earlier pieces have the ladybug logo, and Vera printed on it, usually in the lower left corner. The fabric is engineered, or specially designed to fit the garment.  In the blouses pictured above and below, note how the design continues unbroken across the front opening.  Vera also made knit slacks in solid colors to coordinate with the colors in each blouse. 

In later garments from the late 1970s and into the 1980s, the fabric is an over-all design and there is usually no logo on the outside of the clothing.  However, look carefully and you might find a small Vera signature somewhere in the print.  Also, starting in the mid 1970s, the clothing was more often made from a synthetic fiber knit.

Label from an early 1970s blouse.

From a 1950s scarf.

A side note: It is said that Vera choose the ladybug as her logo because it is a symbol of good luck.

Vera scarves are fairly easy to place a rough date on, as there were some pretty obvious changes in her signature through the years.  Just be aware that are exceptions.  I have seen the ladybug symbol on scarves as late as 1975.

1947 - mid 50s: The earliest scarves were signed vera in a very small print. All the letters were lower case. 

Late 50s- The Vera signature became capitalized.

Early 60s: The ladybug symbol and  copyright symbol (registered 1959)  were added to the Vera.  The signature and the bug were about the same size.

Mid to late 60s: The ladybug was used less and less, and the signature got larger.  The ladybug became much smaller than signature.

Early 70s: The Vera signature continued to get larger and bolder.  Usually no ladybug.

Mid 70s: Bug sometimes present, but disappears totally after 1976.

Late 70s: Signature started to slightly shrink.

80s: Smaller signature with  copyright symbol.

To see examples and for a better explanation of Vera dating, visit the Vera Blog. 

A group of 1970s scarves.

Collecting Vera

There are lots of Vera collectors, and there is so much material that no two collections are alike. Some collectors want just the clothing - especially the early cotton and silks. They like the clothing that is bold and graphic, and in which there is an obvious designer's hand. The mini dresses from the mid 1960s are especially popular. It is possible to find dresses that coordinate with some of her table linens - perfect for retro entertaining!

Scarf collectors seem to be attracted to a particular type of Vera designs; some love the polka dots, others prefer the bold florals or butterflies, and still others want just the geometrics.  Whatever your preference, be assured that Vera left us with plenty of choices, all distinctively "Vera."

 

Collectibles: Flea Market Finds,Winter 1998.  Very Vera, by Cathy Cook.

In the Company of Vera, a film by Fred Salaff, 1976

Salaff, Fred, interview via telephone, July 13, 2008

Seid, Susan, Vera: The Art and Life of an Icon, 2010

Vera Paints Ibiza in the Sun, A film by fred Salaff, 1972


Vera signature buttons from a 1960s dress.  
Photo courtesy and copyright of Couture Allure Vintage

 

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