An absolutely stunning draped and molded dress of navy blue lightweight faille bearing a Ceil Chapman label. Features a wide waistband, pleated slim skirt, long sleeves with wrist buttons, gathered bust and sharp lapel collar. Suitable for a professional look at work or a chic cocktail party, this dress is truly an understated work of art.
Waist 28” snug
Hip up to 39”
Very good, wearable vintage condition. The back zipper has been replaced with a nylon one, but has been done well. There is some slight shoulder fade, and the label has been sewn in by hand, so there’s always a chance it’s not authentic. I believe it is, because the draping and structure is characteristic of Chapman’s work, and I’ve had other dresses by her that utilized this back zip that doesn’t go all the way to the top. But it’s priced as a very nice dress with some flaws just to be safe.
About the designer
If there’s one well-known name in mid-20th century evening wear, particularly in draping, it’s Ceil Chapman. She’s often been described as an engineer or architect of fabric, conforming it to a woman’s body to highlight not only its shape but to frame the face. Though she was skilled at translating the “new look” for an American ready-to-wear market, she never went to Paris shows, preferring to remain uninfluenced. Her work is legendary and still commands significant price tags. She was born Cecilia Mitchell in New York in 1900 and by 1915, her father had died, and she was working as a salesgirl. She and her sister Anna worked at a dry goods store in 1920, and by 1925 she was an assistant buyer for the store. In 1938 she married Samuel Chapman and by 1940, she and Samuel had gone into the dressmaking business together and they were doing quite well. They lived among motion picture executives. attorneys, and other fashion executives in New York’s Upper West Side. Initially, the dresses were labeled A Chapman Original’ or “Original Chapman Design”.
The 1950s was where she really hit her stride and the height of fame as a designer. She divorced from Samuel in 1950, though they continued to run the business together. It’s often said that she was Marilyn Monroe’s favorite designer, though that’s probably something of an overstatement. Legend has it in 1952 she walked into Chapman’s studio at 730 5th Avenue with a fistful of cash from her then husband Joe DiMaggio and bought several gowns, but as she generally preferred causal sportswear and most of her gowns were loaners from the studio, that's just hearsay.
For more on her life and work, check out my blog post here.