Vera Maxwell, the indomitable designer who survived the harsh, competitive world of fashion for six decades by appealing to the practical needs of America's professional women, has died after a brief illness.
The sportswear doyenne was 93 and died Sunday at her grandson's home in Puerto Rico, it was reported Friday.
Mrs. Maxwell became famous for clothes that were casual, comfortable and classic. Her "weekend wardrobe" consisted of two jackets, two skirts and a pair of trousers, wraparound jersey blouse, riding jacket and fencing suit.
The pristine but elegant selection was designed to be mixed and matched so a client could anticipate any need regardless of unforeseen circumstances.
After her initial successes, Mrs. Maxwell found that by the 1960s changing tastes that led to radical outfits were cutting into her business.
"I had to go through most of my savings," she said on a visit to Los Angeles in 1979, while awaiting women to return to the small specialty shops that once filled their racks with her designs.
"These stores stuck by me," she recalled, saying that her clientele found they "had to look decent," despite trends.
The simplicity of her designs were in marked contrast to the flamboyance of her career.
Twice each year she would stay with Princess Grace and her family in Monaco (she and Grace Kelly had been friends since 1955 when the former actress was voted the woman who most exemplified the American look with her Maxwell wardrobe).
She also was a regular at the White House, designing for Rosalyn Carter and Pat Nixon.
Born Vera Huppe to Viennese parents, she studied ballet in New York and joined the Metropolitan Opera in 1919, dancing on that stage until her marriage to financier Raymond J. Maxwell in 1924.
She modeled briefly and started designing clothes for Adler & Adler in New York before founding Vera Maxwell Originals in 1947.
Her first collection featured after-ski clothes, tennis outfits and riding apparel. She gave her distinctly American look American names: "Daniel Boone" for Western wear, "Mark Twain," with calico pockets on linen or tweed. By the 1950s she also was designing evening wear.
Mrs. Maxwell won the Coty American Fashion Critics' Award in 1953 and was honored in 1970 with a retrospective exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution.
Until her retirement in 1985 she continued to produce the same tasteful suits, coats and dresses that had become her signature.
Her success, she always insisted, was based on a woman's need for singular reality. "The most fashionable women will always be the ones who know themselves."