Services were held Wednesday for Pearl Nipon, a fashion designer known for her feminine and ladylike designs. Nipon worked with her husband Albert, turning the Albert Nipon label into one of the preeminent dress brands of the Seventies and Eighties.
Nipon, 90, died Sunday of heart disease.
Services took place at Adath Israel, 250 North Highland Avenue in Merion Station, Pa.
A native of Philadelphia and a graduate of Overbrook High School, Nipon got her start in the business opening a women’s dress shop in Philadelphia with her sister, Dorothy. She met Albert in Atlantic City, when they were both with different dates, and they married in 1953.
In 1955, Albert left his accounting job at DuPont to manufacture maternity clothing that Nipon designed under the name, Ma Mère, which grew into a nationwide chain of more than 100 stores. She decided to design maternity clothes because she had to wear them “and they looked just terrible,” she told WWD in 1974. She came up with a one-piece maternity dress, which was innovative at the time, and the company became known as the “couture of the maternity industry.”
Nipon left the business to raise her children but her husband convinced her to make a comeback. Around 1972, when separates and pant suits were at their peak of popularity, the Nipons decided to focus on the dress, a business which eventually exploded for them.
Nipon was considered the catalyst in the business. “I can make everyone move. Everyone said I was crazy to go into dresses. There’s always been a dress business, but there haven’t been the right kind of dresses available. We took a stand on dresses, wovens and natural fibers,” she told WWD in 1974.
Saks Fifth Avenue was interested in Pearl Nipon’s designs, that were known for elegant collars and bows and asked her to design a line of about a dozen women’s dresses that were feminine and ladylike. Women such as Mary Tyler Moore, Barbara Walters and Rosalynn Carter were known to wear her designs. At its peak, Albert Nipon was generating $60 million in sales a year and employed some 600 people.
The dresses, which were sold at such stores as Saks, I. Magnin, Neiman Marcus, Bonwit Teller, Sakowitz and Lord & Taylor, featured intricate tucking and pleating, smocking, flounce, demure white collars, cuffs and large “pussycat” bows. The business eventually expanded to include Nipon Boutique, a dress collection at more modest prices, and Nipon Collectibles, which were separates.
Known for being strong minded, Nipon supervised design, but got involved in all aspects of the business, while Albert oversaw production and sales. The two played off each other and were regarded as a strong team. She would be the first to tell people that she and Albert were not all alike. “I’m gregarious and gung-ho. He’s shy and soft spoken,” she told WWD in 1974.
Her son, Larry, said Wednesday, “She really wasn’t a feminist, but she was definitely a progressive. She believed it was OK for a woman to be a woman in a professional workplace and dress feminine. Pearl often said, ‘Men don’t get it. We are not the weaker sex.'” He said his mother brought the best out in people and she made them work hard. “She loved a great debate. After an argument, she would say, ‘Larry, I would agree with you, but then we’d both be wrong.'”
In 1984, Albert was indicted for tax evasion and bribery and served in a federal penitentiary. Four years later, the company declared bankruptcy and was sold that year to Leslie Fay Co., which allowed the Nipons to continue running the design business.
Stan Herman, designer, said, “We started out around the same time. Pearl Nipon was a new breed of female designers that we had never seen before. She was probably one of the smartest designers of her time. She very much caught the trends and dressed the women of her time.” He said Nipon used feminine touches that were attractive to women searching for something different for themselves. “She was very conscious of the commercial aspect of fashion. Her clothes were good enough to be covered by the press,” he said.
In addition to her husband, Albert, and son, Larry, Nipon is survived by sons Leon and Andrew, and daughter, B.J. Nipon Spencer, as well as nine grandchildren.