Date of this Version
Silk Roads, Other Roads: Proceedings of the 8th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 26-28, 2002, Northampton, Massachusetts
Over 20 years ago, The Museum at FIT received an anonymous gift of approximately 165 small textile samples and 27 scarves from the company, Wesley Simpson Custom Fabrics, Inc. The textiles dating from the late 1930s through the 1940s were designed for moderately priced women’s apparel. Printed on rayon crepe grounds, they were typical of the period, loose painterly florals, paisleys, conversationals, and small geometric, abstract and stripe patterns on light-colored grounds or discharge printed on dark grounds. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Brooklyn Museum of Art also have substantial holdings of Wesley Simpson Custom Fabrics, and an examination of all three institutions allows for a fairly comprehensive picture of the company.
Fortuitously the textiles in the FIT collection were accompanied by a small archive of ads from newspapers and fashion magazines, promotional photographs and press clippings dating from 1944 to February 1949. What the press material revealed about the company was that spanning the immediate post-WWII period from 1945 to 1949, a concerted effort was made to bring the company’s name and its textiles to the attention of the American consumer. Promotional ads appeared in newspapers throughout the United States and Canada, linking the sale of Wesley Simpson Custom Fabrics with specific department stores. Ads appeared in The New York Sun, Indianapolis Star, the Atlanta Constitution, Los Angeles Examiner, the El Paso Dessert News, and The Gazette in Montreal—to name a few. Simpson’s strategy was to sell his textiles in one particular retail store in a given city. According to an industry publication, Retailing Home Furnishings, he had by March of 1947 a customer list of approximately 350 stores.
The company’s rayon textiles were priced to appeal to the moderate market and sold in the home-sewing departments of stores for $1.19 to $3.98 a yard. In comparison, Simpson’s printed silks were $7.95 to $9.98 a yard in 1946.
The press clippings offer an all too brief a glimpse into an American company. Where did Wesley Simpson Custom Fabrics, Inc. fit in the textile industry and where was his place between the manufacturers and converters of this period? More to the point, how long was the company in business? And what type of operation did Simpson run? Again the ads point the way, for they show an over-the-counter or retail business, selling yardage at economical prices, (as already mentioned), but there were also ads from Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Mademoiselle, Glamour, and American Fabrics, linking Simpson’s fabrics with many of the better American designers and dress houses, including Hattie Carnegie, Adrian, Tina Leser, Adele Simpson, Nettie Rosenstein, and Herbert Sondheim. There are other ads for a line of inexpensive furnishing fabrics that Simpson introduced in 1946. These were also sold by the yard, and as ready-made slipcovers, bedspreads and draperies for the newly emerging homeowner and her family.