It always saddens me to find out that the old archives of some of our most famous clothing and textiles companies just disappeared or were thrown out then a company was sold or closed operations. In some cases, like White Stag, the families have kept things they felt were historically or nostalgically important, and some companies, like Sills Leathers (who made some of the best Bonnie Cashin things) donated their archives to museums. In so many cases though, everything went to the landfill.
But a success story in the archives department is the Vera Companies. Vera Neumann sold her company to Manhattan Industries after her husband’s death in the late 1960s, and in 1999 the company was bought by The Tog Shop, a company located in Georgia. With the purchase came the original paintings, drawings and collages by Vera Neumann that were adapted for the designs of Vera products. The Tog Shop company stored the archives in a warehouse, where they were “discovered” by a prospective employee, Susan Seid. She took the job at The Tog Shop with the understanding that she could relaunch the Vera line once the company’s finances improves. As luck would have it, Susan actually bought the Vera Company in 2005, and since then has worked to get the designs of Vera back onto products.
And she has done a good job of it. Clothing sporting Vera art are made and marketed through the Anthropologie stores. They also sell rugs and upholstered furniture that have Vera fabrics. Seid has also been successful in getting many of Vera’s designs for linens reproduced. Bardwill Linens has been making tablecloths, placemats, napkins and kitchen towels. Some of the designs appear to be adaptations of famous Vera artwork, like the butterfly scarf, but others are the original design as it was first manufactured by the Vera Company in the 1960s or 70s.
And that brings me to today’s topic: How can one be sure they are buying vintage Vera, and not new? It’s a problem I’d had in the back of my mind since someone (Becca??) mentioned she saw Vera linens at one of the close-out stores. I have nothing at all against the new items, it’s just I don’t want to be paying vintage prices for something I can pick up at TJ Maxx for $4.
Last week I did something I rarely do – I went shopping in a non-resale store. We were in a dire need of bath towels, one of the things I feel must be bought new. My search for towels made in the USA took me to several stores, and I ended up in Tuesday Morning, where I found not made in the USA towels, but a nice selection of the new Vera products. Though they are made in China, I bought several tea towels for research purposes.
The towel on the left was bought because I have the vintage version of it, and so I could make a very good study of the differences. The watermelon one (well, to be completely truthful, I bought two of these) I got because they will go so well with the vintage watermelon cocktail napkins I have.
Above I have the old and the new side by side, and the differences in size and color are pretty obvious. The Vera Company often made their items in more than one colorway, but I’m thinking that the new towel, on the right, is just an up-dated color scheme. Not only is the green brightened up, but the orange is toned down, as is the yellow. And the light orange is now a red.
The new towels are wider than the old. The new ones are about 20 inches wide, where as the vintage ones are closer to 16 inches. The designs are exactly the same, size-wise.
There is a pretty big difference in the fabric. The vintage towels are 100% linen, and the new ones are a 55% cotton, 45% linen blend. Note also the difference in the texture, with the older towel being woven with larger, thicker threads. The vintage towel is quite soft, but even after washing, the new one is quite stiff due to the paint used in the printing process.
Here are the labels and the signatures. The vintage towel does not have a ladybug, though I do have vintage Vera towels with a bug. And the label in the new towel is very shiny and new looking, whereas the vintage towel has a small cotton tag (not shown).
Here is a close-up with the vintage towel on the left and the new one on the right. As you can see, some of the detailing is omitted. Also, I’m sure this will lessen with repeated washings, but the new towels are slightly shiny.
They also had this set of cocktail napkins. Yes, I was tempted, but I decided to wait and see if I could find the vintage version. Since these are sneaky in-store snaps, I don’t show the details like I should have. These are 100% cotton, whereas my pink vintage ones are linen. The big difference that I noticed was in the overcast hemming. On the new napkins, the stitching seemed to be made with a shiny synthetic thread, whereas the vintage thread is matte, and is not as thick. The vintage edging:
Still, $10 is a great price if you don’t mind that these are new. I really do love them! Still, I am concerned that these will find their way into the vintage market. Hopefully we won’t get fooled!
And I never did find any towels that are USA made. Are there any companies still making towels and linens in the USA? I had to settle for the luxury towels, made in Portugal.