Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Forgotten Designer Nelly de Grab

Nelly de Grab separates, 1955
Designer Nelly de Grab was born in Vienna in 1899 and married into a well-to-do Czechoslovakian family with roots in manufacturing.  Nelly always had a flair with fashion and dressed with panache and style.  When the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939, she was forced to flee with her husband and son.  The de Grabs smuggled out the family Stradivarius violin, which they sold to survive and make it to America.

Evening sweater and skirt, 1952
The family spent some time in Lisbon while waiting to emigrate to the U.S.  Nelly de Grab knew that she and her husband would need to work to support themselves, so she turned to fashion.  She became fascinated with the native Portuguese pleated and printed cotton fabrics and knew they would work beautifully for skirts.

Nelly de Grab separates in evening fabrics, 1954
After settling in New York, de Grab designed softly pleated cotton skirts based on the textiles she had seen in Portugal and took samples to the Peck & Peck store on 5th Avenue.  Buyer Fred Mayer was delighted with her skirts and placed the first order.  Nelly de Grab was in business.

Navy wool twin set and glazed cotton skirt, 1955
By 1955, Nelly de Grab was a large firm headquartered on Seventh Avenue in New York.  The company made separates that co-ordinated and could mix-and-match.  Many of de Grab's tops and skirts looked like dresses when worn together.  The designer brought versatility to evening wear by designing separates in fancy fabrics like taffeta, brocade and velvet.

Nelly de Grab continued to design separates up until her death in 1972.  Lowell Judson took over as designer for the firm after her death and the company stayed in business through at least 1976.  There is no media mention of the firm after that date.

Much of the information in this article was based on an interview with Nelly de Grab printed in the Anapolis Capital newspaper, August 16, 1952.