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At a Washington, D.C. Christmas celebration in 2010, Michelle Obama made history wearing a vintage dress designed by Norman Norell, an Indiana native. Her dress had a gorgeous full skirt and a defined waist, but what caught my eye was the square neckline, rarely seen in contemporary fashion.

A favorite 1957 Norman Norell dress.The square neckline–embellished.

It’s a neckline very much like the one on this 1957 Norell dress, now owned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), a gift to the museum by Betty Furness in 1985. According to Niloo Paydar, the fashion and textile arts curator at the IMA, Norell used the vibrant floral fabric to make custom appliques that trim the square neckline on this cheerful dress. It reminds me of a dress I had in the third or fourth grade, lined in tulle fabric that made me itch. I wore it anyway. From the start, we learn that beauty often trumps comfort.

Join Indy’s essential group for people who love fashion.

I’ve had Norman Norell on the brain after using this photograph to make a brochure designed to draw new members to an IMA affiliate group. The special interest group is dubbed the Fashion Arts Society (FAS), but don’t let the name fool you; we aren’t a bunch of Ladies Who Lunch, but rather a diverse network of people who admire fashion and textiles so much that we want to help the IMA build its collection and create a better understanding of fashion’s global role in contemporary life and history. If you live in Indy and you’re interested in fashion, you should join. You’ll have fun, support the museum and make new friends. You need to be a member of the IMA first, and for another $50, you can become an FAS member. Check us out

Norman Norell French-inspired evening gownTaking lampshades to another level.

Another favorite Norell is this 1962 lampshade-shaped black evening gown made of silk crepe and Chantilly lace, trimmed in fox fur. A simple, straight-cut, floor-length skirt completes the outfit. This silhouette was made popular by the French couturier Paul Poiret around 1910 and was reintroduced in the 1930s by other French designers. This Norell was gifted to the museum by Mrs. Samuel C. Goldberg. “Norell’s understanding of design and his technical expertise made his ready-to-wear garments as fine as any made-to-order outfits,” says Paydar. “This rare and unusual dress embodies everything Norell represented.”

Norell was a Hoosier!

I took both photos at a 2012 IMA exhibit entitled American Legacy: Norell, Blass, Halston and Sprouse. All four designers share an Indiana connection of some sort. Norell was born in Noblesville and moved to Indianapolis when he was around five years old. Here, his family ran Harry Levinson, a well-known menswear store.

In the 1940s, Norell began offering couture quality and beauty to ordinary women, but he also dressed Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Lauren Bacall and other greats. In 1968, he became the first American designer to cash in on his name by launching a perfume. He died in 1972 after battling several health problems, including cancer and stroke.

I’m still learning about him, but from all accounts, Norell was a kind and gentle man who outfoxed European designers and allocated time to help students at Parsons School of Design and Pratt Institute, where he was educated. If you’re drawn to simple, practical elegance, you’ve met your match in Norman Norell. That’s all for now, about Mr. Norell.

What are you wearing this fall and winter? Send me a link or a photo on my Facebook page and let me see your favorite fall styles. I need your inspiration! The weather here in Indiana has been gray and damp, but it’s my favorite season for clothes.

I guess that’s the silver lining about living in a city where the sun only shines 186 days per year. Wow. That’s only half the time, isn’t it? Two people recently tried to persuade me of gray’s upside—a psychoanalyst who says Indiana’s fall and winters are good for her business, and an architect who designed the Cummins headquarters downtown. She says Indiana has a “beautiful silvery light” in the winter. I keep looking for that beautiful silvery light. I hope it’s sunny wherever you are!

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.