When Mrs. Obama wore a Norell dress recently, many current fashion writers latched onto the phrase "forgotten designer Norman Norell". If someone as successful, respected and honored as Norell is considered forgotten, then high end American boutiques of the 20th Century don’t stand a chance of being remembered. And that’s a shame. There really aren’t many custom salons left, although quite a few smaller boutique operations are still open.
I have had a number of later 1970s and 80s pieces come in from very good ladies boutiques and shops recently. But the most exciting acquisition has been a 1930s Silk Day Dress from Chez Ninon. Today, when remembered at all, this label is noted for being Jacqueline Kennedy’s source for American made copies of French designs. And, sadly, for creating the pink suit, a Chanel copy, she wore when JFK was assassinated. There is more to the story than this.
Chez Ninon was the creation and 40 year plus domain of Nona McAdoo Park and Sophie Meldrim Shonnard, although they apparently had a silent partner in Alisa Mellon Bruce, according to Bill Cunningham in Bill on Bill. As an exclusive salon, they counted many of the New York social elite as clients. Greater fame came with the First Lady’s business, but they were well known long before for their exquisite line-for-line custom copies of French couture dresses done in the same fabrics, trims and even buttons. These were not rip offs, but approved copies. They started the business in 1928, two well- connected society women who wanted to keep busy. In the 20s, they were located at 500 Madison Ave. In those early decades, they were " known as the shop for off-the-beaten-track Paris originals"(New York Fashion: the Evolution of American Style) including Babani and Schiaparelli. Jean Schumberger designed for them in the 40s. By 1960, they had moved to Park Ave., in the 480s. Elizabeth Corbett, a former model for the salon, continued the tradition of couture copies when she took over the reins in 1970. By the 1980s, she had moved the salon to the Ritz Towers.
From the The Milwaukee Journal of Nov 8, 1971:
“Chez Ninon was owned and run for some 40s years by Mrs. Nona Park and Mrs. Sophie Shonnaud. ... Miss Corbett now 31, explained she made her first buying trip to Europe in 1965 when Mrs. Park had a stroke and Mrs. Shonnard needed some assistance. …..... she [ Corbett] buys a total of about 50 designs and enough original fabric to make 4 copies, plus some additional material she feels will appeal to certain clients. When the collection is ready, it is shown in the salon at an invitation only opening and then every day thereafter at 3 pm".
Elizabeth Corbett retired in 1996, closing Chez Ninon.
Rare 1930s Silk Twill Print Dress from Chez Ninon
This day dress is from the earlier years. , c 1935 – 37. It’s a really fine raspberry silk twill with a refined pattern of bows in black and white. The edges are finished with a tiny rim of cream silk satin cording. The collar and sleeves are gathered in multiple rows of hand stitching. The piping motif is carried through in the belt as well. The hem is finished in wide scallops, edged in the satin faced and weighted to hang properly. The construction quality is superb. This is a high style dress, well enough regarded by the owner to have a small hole repaired in the finest reweaving I have ever seen. Reweaving this dense and fine a silk twill is extremely difficult.
Now available at Past Perfect Vintage