VERA MAXWELL REMEMBERED
Byline: Janet Ozzard
NEW YORK — Vera Maxwell was a pioneer in the creation of comfortable and classic American sportswear.
“She was one of those American women, in the mold of Claire McCardell and Bonnie Cashin, who modeled her designs after her own life,” said Richard Martin, curator of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“She never forgot that women were going to be active and working, and she realized more than anyone else that air travel was going to be the quintessential experience of the late 20th century.”
Martin and a number of other people remembered Maxwell on Friday, when news of her death hit Seventh Avenue. Maxwell died Jan. 15 at her grandson’s home in Puerto Rico. She was 93.
A former ballet dancer who began working as a “showroom girl” at Linker & Klein on Seventh Avenue during the Depression, she gradually started sketching and producing her own looks. Soon she was selling her label in Lord & Taylor and Best & Co. One bestseller was what she called her “Einstein jacket,” made in 1937 and based on the boxy wool style favored by Albert Einstein.
In the Forties, she created practical and attractive designs despite wartime fabric restrictions. In 1947, she opened her designer sportswear house under the label Vera Maxwell Originals, and a WWD clipping from that year called her “the Lady of the Classics because of her dedication to great simplicity of line.”
Her clients included Princess Grace of Monaco, Martha Graham and Lillian Gish. She and Princess Grace became friends, and Maxwell often visited her in Monaco.
Maxwell was a pioneer with Ultrasuede, which fit into her dictum of easy and attractive clothes for women who worked, traveled and led active lives.
One of Maxwell’s time-saving travel designs was a six-piece ensemble that could fit into one carry-on bag and included a black stretch nylon top attached to a skirt of yellow Ultrasuede with a matching yellow Ultrasuede blazer, a yellow and black printed top and skirt and a yellow Ultrasuede jumpsuit. She introduced it in 1975.
Designer Bonnie Cashin, a contemporary of Maxwell’s, called her “a lovely person and a lady.”
“I knew her, although our paths went in very different directions,” said Cashin from her home here. “She was a classicist and had excellent taste.”
A retrospective of Maxwell’s designs was held in Washington’s Smithsonian Institution in 1970, and another at the Museum of the City of New York here in 1980 when a gallery was named for her.
Five years later, she announced her retirement and closed her Seventh Avenue showroom — but the following year, she was back designing a line of sportswear, dresses and coats for Peter Lynne, a division of Gulf Enterprises.
Surviving are her son, Dr. R. John Maxwell; a grandson, Douglas Maxwell; a granddaughter, Sarah Maxwell, and a great-granddaughter, Isabel Maxwell.
A private memorial service will be held in New York in the spring.