Editors note: Adele Simpson has been called the 'first lady of American fashion,' for her commitment to style and her philosophy that clothing should not only be fashionable, but practical and comfortable. Her designs have been the favorites of some of the nation's first ladies, including Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon and Barbara Bush. Simpson has received many fashion awards, including the prestigious Coty American Fashion Critics Award, the Neiman-Marcus Award for distinguished service and the American Academy of Achievement Award.
Her daughter, Joan Simpson Raines, and her son-in-law Richard oversee the business today, and their vision emulates the same high standards set by Adele 40 years ago. By JOAN SIMPSON RAINES For United Press International Many names come and go in the competitive world of fashion, but the company that Adele Simpson founded 40 years ago has withstood the test of time.
This year marks a very special anniversary for us, and although my mother isn't as active as she once was, she still keeps an eye on business to make sure the clothing bearing her name has the quality, integrity and consistency she so strongly believes in.
Today my husband Richard and I oversee the business. We've learned everything from Adele, who has provided us with a very special education. Fortunately, we have the same high standards, the same perfectionist's eye. That is what will carry us not just into the 1990s but into the next century.
Born Adele Smithline in 1904, she got an introduction to the fashion world when she was 21. Her sister Anna was leaving William Bass, a manufacturer of dressmaker suits, and Anna suggested Adele would be the perfect replacement.
Several years later, Adele became head designer of another firm at 530 Seventh Ave. -- the same address where her collection is today. She bought out the company in 1949 and as president of Adele Simpson Inc., the collection she had been designing for others became her own.
At the time, Adele made fashion news in several ways. She took cotton out of the kitchen -- a fabric long associated with housedresses - and shaped it into suits and dresses. As a result, she was the first recipient of the Cotton Fashion Award given by the National Cotton Council of America.
Adele also made news because of her travels round the globe - searching for unique fabrics, trimmings and accessories -- to places like China, the Philippines, India, Brazil, Turkey and Africa.
Her travels also inspired her to create a 'travel wardrobe,' pieces that packed easily and worked together effortlessly. Today it's called sportswear, but back then the concept didn't exist, because stores merchandised each category separately.
Adele also traveled the United States and by doing so, learned first-hand about customer preferences. Her ability to listen is one of the most important reasons for her company's success.
Instead of following fashion's whims, she always provided her customer with realistic, practical clothing. 'My clothes,' she said, 'must never be contrived.'
Dressing the nation's first ladies indeed ranks as a highlight over the years: Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon -- including her 1972 inaugural gown -- and Barbara Bush. These high-profile women are perfect examples of the Adele Simpson customer -- bright, elegant, attractive and very American.
Major industrial changes have been part of the fashion landscape over the years, too. In the 1950s and '60s, stores were family-owned organizations passed from one generation to the next. A close rapport existed between designer and retailer, which generated tremendous loyalty.
By the 1970s, the cycle of mergers and acquisitions eliminated this generational influence in retailing, and consequently, has dramatically affected the way business is conducted today.
Computers, for example, have had a profound effect in altering stores' buying habits. The personal contact between buyer and seller has diminished, as has the buyers' contact with their customers. There has definitely been a loss of intimacy.
However, as in the past, Adele Simpson will continue to provide the customer with the kind of clothing she has come to expect.
The Simpson philosophy is evident in the fall '89 collection. Daytime dressing includes impeccably tailored suits and dresses in wool crepe, challis, and wool jersey. Short jackets in both bold and subtle patterns are paired with sleek straight skirts or simply cut trousers. Silky blouses and cozy turtlenecks create an all-American look that combines elegance with ease.
Lifestyles are changing, and in the future it appears there will be more at-home dressing, since the 'thirtysomething' crowd seems to be spending more time in than out. Less important are the nightclubs, noisy restaurants and notions of disposable fashion that marked the early '80s.
While some designers would like to cultivate longevity and integrity overnight, it simply cannot be done. It takes a consistently strong product to win not one, but three generations of admirers -- and we're looking forward to winning a fourth.