Mount Mary University Digital Collections

Adele Simpson

Adele Simpson (1903-1995) was born Adele Smithline in New York City. Her father was a tailor and she began designing clothes at a young age for herself and her older sisters. She attended Pratt Institute of Design and became an assistant designer at Ben Gershel’s Seventh Avenue ready-to-wear fashion house while still a teenager.  
In 1923 she took over from her older sister Anna as head dress designer at Gershel’s. During this period she became one of the highest-paid designers in the world. She married Wesley Simpson, a textile manufacturer, in 1927, and they had two children. Later she worked at Mary Lee Fashions, producing designs under her own name before buying the firm in 1949 and renaming it Adele Simpson Inc. 
Simpson’s style focused on the needs of her clientele: often slightly older women (including several first ladies and Hollywood stars) with busy, public lives encompassing careers, travel, and the need for independence in dressing themselves. Her designs were conservative without being old-fashioned, pretty, feminine, and most of all wearable. She was one of the first designers to include pants in her collections for women, she introduced dresses one could step into rather than pull over one’s head, and she developed coordinated outfits with pieces could be combined or removed to suit different needs throughout the day. Her practice of asking women what they liked and disliked about her clothes supported her designs’ commercial success. 
Simpson won many fashion awards, including the 1946 Neiman Marcus Award, the 1947 Coty American Fashion Critics Award, and the American Academy of Achievements Award. She also received the first Cotton Fashion Award from the National Cotton Council of America for her innovative use of cotton in cocktail dresses and evening gowns.  
Expanding the impact and awareness of American fashion, and especially of women’s roles in the fashion industry, was important to Simpson. In 1930 she co-founded Fashion Group International, an organization of women in fashion, along with Claire McCardell and several other prominent women in the industry. Like other designers represented in the Digital Fashion Archive (Bill Blass, Norman Norell, Gustave Tassell, Pauline Trigère), she was also a founding member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc., a not-for-profit trade association launched in 1962.  
In 1978 Simpson passed the title of official designer for her company to Donald Hobson. She retired completely in 1985 and died in 1995. Her daughter and son-in-law ran the business from 1985 until 1991, when they sold it to Barron Peters, a clothing company that later discontinued the Adele Simpson line and filed for bankruptcy.