A few weeks ago Betsy Reason tipped me off to a recent Vogue magazine article about Noblesville’s gift to the world of high fashion, Norman Norell.
That reminded me that, although I’ve written a fair amount about the Levinson family in the past, I’ve never devoted a column specifically to Norell. Since he would have turned 121 this week, this seems an appropriate time to honor him.
Norman Norell was born Norman David Levinson in Noblesville on April 20, 1900.
You could say the clothing trade was in his blood from the start.
His grandfather, Newman Levinson, sold clothes for men and boys on the courthouse square for over 40 years. Following Newman’s death in 1899, Newman’s son, Harry — Norell’s father — took over the family business.
In 1905, Harry sold the Noblesville store and began scouting locations for a hat store. The following year he leased a room in Indianapolis.
The family moved to Indianapolis in the fall of 1907, but Harry, his wife, Nettie, and sons, Frank and Norman, had so many friends and relatives in the Noblesville area, they continued to maintain close ties to Hamilton County.
Artistic by nature, young Norman had no interest in selling clothing like his father and grandfather. Instead, he traveled to New York to study fashion illustration and design, and adopted the catchier name, Norman Norell. (The “Nor” came from Norman and the “L” from Levinson.) 
After his graduation, he designed theatrical costumes for silent movies starring screen legends like Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino, and for Broadway productions such as the Ziegfeld Follies.
A stint working for a wholesale clothing manufacturer taught him the art of making non-theatrical attire for women and a job with Hattie Carnegie, the leading dress designer of that day, launched him on his career in the fashion industry.
Norell’s creations are often described as “timeless” and “elegant,” and critics have praised them for their simplicity, high quality construction and attention to detail.
The Vogue article that prompted this column focuses on Norell’s relationship to Marilyn Monroe, but he had many other equally famous female clients. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Lauren Bacall, Lena Horne and Lyn Revson, wife of the Revlon cosmetics founder, are just a few of them.
Norell’s classic designs continue to attract admirers even today. First Lady Michelle Obama wore a vintage 1950s Norell cocktail dress to a 2010 Christmas concert.
Dubbed the “Dean of American Fashion,” Norell was the first American designer to put his own name on a dress label, the first winner of Coty’s American Fashion Critics’ Award (the fashion industry’s “Oscar,”) and the first American fashion designer to market a namesake perfume (“Norell.”)
Despite his fame, Norell never forgot his Noblesville roots, and even celebrated them.
In 1962, Jim Neal noted in the Noblesville Daily Ledger that a Los Angeles newspaper column about Norell had referred to Noblesville as “another link in the chain of little-known places which have given us outstanding people.”
When Norell learned of Neal’s column, he penned a personal letter to Neal, saying he resented Noblesville being so lightly dismissed and he went on to share some “precious” memories of his time here.
He ended with “. . . my Noblesville is very important to me, whether Agnes McCoy (the L.A. columnist, whose name was actually “McCay.”) thinks so or not.”
Norell died in 1972 and is interred in the Levinson mausoleum in Noblesville’s Crownland Cemetery, along with his parents.
(By the way, the county’s latest state historical marker honors Norell. It was dedicated this week near the old Levinson home on Eighth Street, between Cherry and Maple Avenue.)
Note: Master Gardener Jeanette Daniels will be holding her usual plant sale over two weekends: April 30, May 1 and May 2, and May 7, 8 and 9. You can find her on the northeast corner of State Road 32 and Durbin Road from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears on Wednesdays in The Times. Contact her at younggardenerfriend@gmail.com