Sophie Gimbel—aka Sophie of Sakes—was an important mid-century American designer who is finally getting her due. Recently Parsons held an exhibition of her work and set up online resources for those of us who didn’t get a chance to see it. (Thanks to the wonderful blog Vintage Traveler for this link.) As head of the prestigious couture salon at Saks Fifth Avenue since 1931, Sophie introduced Parisian fashion to Americans. During the Second World War, she began to design all of the salon’s offerings. As a lover of the clearly accentuated waistline, Sophie Gimbel’s style philosophy fit right into the post war turn to more feminine fashions. As a sign of her prestige, she was even featured on the cover of Time in 1947.
But Sophie Gimbel hit a fashion wall in the 1960s. She found almost nothing to like about the mod style of the era, with short skirts, shapeless dresses, and elaborately patterned stockings. She also was dismayed by the disappearing boundaries between formal and leisure wear. In a bitter fashion diatribe published in 1965, she applauded workplaces that prohibited above the knee skirts and opined that “there should be a law against short shorts.”
Sophie Gimbel’s last big feature in Vogue was in 1961. The article, not surprisingly, was titled “I Don’t Go along with Fashion I Don’t Like.” It showed Gimbel in longish culottes and slim-waisted evening dresses, hardly cutting edge by then. Once Diana Vreeland took over as editor in 1963, the magazine was no longer interested in her.
Although Sophie of Saks continued to have her fans, fashion writers who loved her clothes sounded more and more defensive. “Sophie is maturity’s voice in the wilderness of youth,” wrote Enid Nemy of the New York Times about her fall 1968 collection. It turned out to be one of her last. The Saks salon closed the following year. Sophie Gimbel gave rising labor costs as the reason, but one wonders if it wasn’t the mini skirt that did her in.