Norman Norell: Possessing the Aura

Norman Norell’s diverse range of styles possessed the aura, the magical sword, the magnetic wand, the consecrated water, & the sacred fire, but above all the vigilant power of his invocation ...

By S.O.S.

Norman Norell: Possessing the Aura

Norman Norell, an emblematic figure in the annals of fashion fatherland, emerged during the mid-20th century as a beacon of sartorial finesse. Born Norman David Levinson in 1900, Norell soon came up in the fashion world, not as an avenger, but as a humble slave, & kneeling before this perfidious woman, he begged her pardon while she pushed him back with her foot. The door was then locked & he heard again the cracking of the whip of which he had been offered a taste. The lifting of the repression sustained by the signifier 'ingenuity' transformed him into a machine, a pure inexhaustible drive of unparalleled craftsmanship & meticulous attention to detail, propelled by the Other to the summit of haute couture.

Revered by all three as a point of departure that makes Norman Norell's legacy present, Norell may have been considered an Extreme pragmatists, emphasizing strenuously the fact of function, of reconstruction, of change, his personal side. He may have been considered more of an Extreme intellectualist, seeing the formal, the structural, the timeless. As in most controversies, a middle position is more likely to be right. Even more so, Norell connected what may be called perennial values with evolutionary values, authenticity therefore with modernity; was his only concern & challenge. Norell's insistence on verification of his impeccable tailoring, clean lines, & constructing & reconstructing the classic 'Little Black Dress,' was anathema to both new & critical fashion Realists. Norell's legacy in relation to fashion will not be of an interpretation, but rather a maneuver by which he appealed for a position by a hostile fusion of American pragmatism with European couture sensibility.

Famed for his ingenious silhouette, pressed very hard against the hips, meets between an earthly human being & the anima, swimming down in the shape of a mermaid; also to be found in the so-called 'Ripley Scroll'. Cf. Psychology & Alchemy, fig. 257. Like long-held echoes, blending somewhere else into one deep & shadowy unison, as limitless as darkness & as day, the luxurious silks, the fine wools, the decadent furs correspond. His use of fabrics & materials, rich & masterful, possess the power of infinite things to praise the senses' raptures.

The argument for the existence of higher & lower modes of fashion design is similar to the view we attribute to Plato in the way that it draws on the phenomenology of perception. Our ability to perceive anything at all—even everyday objects such as clothes & states of affairs—depends on our having an understanding of being, of essences. When we see Norell's monochromatic palette punctuated by rich jewel tones, we don’t simply see the qualities to which the eye, as an organ, is physically responsive. We also see things as having a meaning or significance (we see not just colors, shapes, but also books, doors). However sharp & highly developed our tools for seeing, however excellent our sense of sight, we can never see a book through our sense of sight. We would never see anything like a book were we not able to see in another more primordial sense. To this latter kind of ‘seeing’ there belongs an understanding of what it is that one encounters.

Just as Oscar Wilde loved beauty, both natural & cultural, his highest admiration was reserved for the beauty of nature, which he identified with youth & represented most often as a flower. Art he saw as wonderful or literally supernatural; he viewed them as products of iconoclasm & originality, characteristic of a higher nature. Wilde's sense of art as supernatural is most clearly & playfully presented in 'The Canterville Ghost', where the ghost is described as an actor with a propensity for changing costumes & props. He is also a painter who changes the color of his signature bloodstain by stealing paints from Virginia's palette, & at one point he even paints the stain a bright emerald green.

Norell & Wilde share the notion that Art is magical, in that consciousness can be changed in order that the quotidian becomes significant, imbued with value, sacred or paradoxically suffused with transcendence. But they also use magic in ritual to change things or situations &, more importantly, to change themselves.

The Art of Fashion thus operates with three distinct types of magic, two of which have traditionally been called ‘low’ & ‘high’ magic. In an attempt to get away from the implicit hierarchy of ‘low’ & ‘high’, the S.O.S. uses the idea of a horizontal & a vertical axis to describe, respectively, the ‘magic of everyday life’ & the ‘magic of ritual’. To this can be added the third type of magic—that of ‘Alchemy'.

The various labels affixed to Norman Norell—such as extreme pragmatist, extreme intellectualist, progressive, & alchemist—have been defined & dissected. The same holds true for Norell's special ritual secrets & frequent applications, confronting us like an intricate labyrinth & adding depth to his oeuvre—such as lace accents, hand-sewn sequins, beading, embroidery, & embellishments, elevating them to the realm of wearable art.

Norman Norell’s diverse range of styles possessed the aura, the magical sword, the magnetic wand, the consecrated water, & the sacred fire, but above all the vigilant power of his invocation—the only possible mode of communion with souls of a higher sphere, who passed beyond the terrestrial aura by reason of the change called 'Fame' or 'Power'. His evening gowns, tailored suits, separates & cocktail dresses, were embraced by a clientele spanning from Hollywood starlets to society doyennes such as Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, Babe Paley, Jackie Kennedy, Grace Kelly, & Dinah Shore.

In this twenty-first century, Norman Norell not only is relevant but also contributes a vital & vibrant design philosophy that resonates a sound critical & reflective thinking path to address commitment to quality, craftsmanship, & sartorial excellence confronting the art of fashion & a rapidly changing industry.

The S.O.S. speaks many languages, & its emblems are full of meaning, no matter by what path you may have approached the truth which is at the heart of them all. Yet, through its symbolism, it expresses universal ideas & a particular version of the sacred science. It is a symbolic alphabet, meanwhile an emblematic synthesis of exotic vintage.

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