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Saks Windows Honor Sophie Gimbel

A quick tour of her impact on the industry




As it occasionally has done in the past, Saks Fifth Avenue created a window campaign not devoted to fashion merchandise.

Instead, in early January, the flagship’s windows along Fifth Avenue in New York – its “conduits to the world,” says senior vp Harry Cunningham – told a story about the company’s illustrious history as they celebrated Sophie Gimbel.

As before, with a window devoted to the AIDS quilt and one marking the anniversary of 9/11, Saks presented these windows as “a gift to New York,” according to Matt Read, vp, visual merchandising.

Gimbel was head custom designer at Saks for almost 40 years, from 1929 until the 1960s, leading the retailer’s exclusive Salon Moderne. When she took over the largely unsuccessful hall, she generated interest by designing costumes for Broadway shows. Soon, she was known for her contemporary and feminine styles, and the salon thrived.

Helen O’Hagan, a colleague and former Saks vp, said, “Sophie brought a feminine look for the fitted woman, both for day and evening clothes.”

In a time noted for detail, elegantly constructed clothes and a glamorous lifestyle, Gimbel’s philosophy was clear, “The American woman spends a lifetime keeping her figure. She deprives herself of many luscious tidbits to whittle down her waistline. Why should she sacrifice it?”


This was especially true after World War II, though Gimbel opposed the “New Look” – simple elegance and expensive fabrics, but practical and easy to wear. She’s credited with introducing culottes to the American market.

In 1947, Gimbel became the first American designer to be featured on the cover of Time magazine. (Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli had preceded her in 1934.) A true champion of American fashion, she dressed entertainers, public figures, ladies and politicians’ wives. In 1965, she designed the red coat and dress Lady Bird Johnson wore to her husband’s inauguration.

Saks installed the windows in collaboration with the Parsons School of Design, which is holding an exhibition of its collection of her works called “Sophie Gimbel, Fashioning American Couture” at its Aronson Galleries.

Saks’ visual merchandising team worked with the gallery’s curatorial staff to recreate the feeling of the Salon Moderne – a walk through fashion history for casual Fifth Avenue strollers and aspiring fashion designers. Students in Parsons’ couture techniques class interpreted the garments in their own work.

So once again, the style of Sophie Gimbel appears on the streets of New York, and not a moment too soon.




MasterClass: ‘Re-Sparkling’ Retail: Using Store Design to Build Trust, Faith and Brand Loyalty

HOW CAN WE EMPOWER and inspire senior leaders to see design as an investment for future retail growth? This session, led by retail design expert Ian Johnston from Quinine Design, explores how physical stores remain unmatched in the ability to build trust, faith, and loyalty with your customers, ultimately driving shareholder value.

Presented by:
Ian Johnston
Founder and Creative Director, Quinine Design

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