Vintage Spotlight

Vera Neumann: Mid-Century Textile Designer

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Vera Neumann, a visual artist turned textile designer, began designing textiles in 1946 after she and her husband, George Neumann founded Printex along with their partner Werner Hamm. They used a small silk-screening style printing machine to print the designs onto linen, which were then made into placemats. Hamm took the finished placemats to B. Altman & Company department stores for the company's initial sales. After World War II army surplus silk, which had been used for parachutes, became available at cheap prices and Printex began to buy it in bulk. They soon found themselves in the scarf business, making their products in their Manhattan apartment, a loft on 57th Street, where Vera and George handled the entire operation.

The "vera" signature trademark was first used in 1947 and by 1948, the business had grown beyond the loft and moved from Manhattan to Ossining, NY. The Neumans bought an old mansion and converted into a studio and factory. By the 1950s the business had once again grown and it was now necessary for Vera to employ a team of designers.  These designers were responsible for taking the original design, done by Vera herself in the form of a 36" scarf, and translating it into other products.

As many as 600 unique designs were developed per year by the team, many of which were printed in the factory right below them. Geometrics designs, specifically dots, were extremely popular; as were the bold floral prints. Many prints were done in bold, bright colors but many were also in black and white; all were copyrighted. The scarves were actually printed in Japan but Vera left nothing to chance, making a sample of each scarf in the New York factory and then sending it on to the factory in Japan along with the specific dye formulas.

In the 1960s a line of clothing was added to the scarves and household linens. Blouses and dresses were made from the Vera library of textile designs. The actual fabric for this clothing line was designed with the idea of the finished garment in mind. The early Vera clothing was made with either 100% cotton or 100% silk but later items were made from nylon and polyester. In 1974, Perry Ellis began to work for Vera as a merchandise manager.  He asked if he could submit designs for the clothing line and Vera encouraged him to do so; as she liked his work, he then became a full-time designer for the Vera line. In 1976 he was given his own division, Portfolio by Perry Ellis for Vera, which he designed for three years before starting his own company.

George Neumann died in the late 1960s and soon after Vera sold the Vera Companies to Manhattan Industries, one of the clothing manufacturing giants. She stayed on as the designer at the company, often working six days a week in Ossining while going into Manhattan only on Tuesdays to have her hair done and to attend meetings with her marketing staff.  Upon the sale of the Vera Companies to Manhattan Vera became the only woman to sit on their board; which had to conduct their board meetings on Tuesdays in order to accommodate Vera's long-standing schedule.

Vera worked nearly up to her death in 1993.  Vera scarves continued to be made after her death, and today the trademark is owned by The Vera Company of Atlanta, GA. In 2013 a new line of Vera licensed scarves was sold at Target stores

Tips on Dating Your Vintage Vera Scarves

Vera scarves are often fairly easy to put a rough date on as there were some quite obvious changes to the signature and logo mark throughout the years.  As with any vintage items, there will always be exceptions but this is a rough guide to the timeline of major changes.

  • 1947 - Mid 1950s: The early scarves were signed “vera” in a very small print in all lower case.

  • Late 1950s – Vera signature became capitalized. 

  • Early 1960s - The ladybug logo and a © copyright symbol (registered 1959) were added to the Vera. The signature and the ladybug logo were roughly the same sizes.

  • Mid to late 1960s - The ladybug was used less and the signature became larger. The ladybug was now much smaller than signature.

  • Early 1970s - The Vera signature continued to get larger and bolder; usually with no ladybug logo.

  • Mid-1970s - Ladybug logo occasionally present but disappears completely after 1976.

  • Late 1970s - Signature began to get smaller (no ladybug logo).

  • 1980s – Even smaller signature with a © copyright symbol.

For more examples of the various Vera makes and a comprehensive explanation of the dating visit the Vera Blog