Born Vera Salaff in 1907, she was named for Russian novelist Vera Bashkirtseff, who also went by her first name.
Vera considered herself an artist from a young age. She was obsessed with brilliant colors and natural forms, rendering flowers, fireflies and ferns in pen, pencil or ink. She knew she wanted to attend art school, and after graduating from Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in 1928, she enrolled in life-drawing and illustration classes at the famed Traphagen School of Design. The curriculum emphasized the technical and marketing sides of the fashion industry.
In the early 1940s, Vera married George Neumann, an advertising executive who was from a prominent Hungarian textile family. Vera found in George a soul mate and the two became inseparable.
With Vera's creative talent and George's marketing expertise, a professional partnership was inevitable. George encouraged Vera to transfer her bold paintings to fabric, which could then be made into textiles.
The Neumanns built a silk screen just big enough to fit on their dining room table, and in 1942, the small printing company Printex was launched. Placemats and napkins were small enough to be printed on the tiny frame — each piece was silk-screened by hand and cured in the kitchen oven. The designs bore the “Vera” name and lent the look of an artist's canvas.
Word of the Neumann's studio spread to Rene Carrillo, the merchandising director of F. Schumacher & Co. So impressed with Vera's artistry and the company's high production standards, Carrillo committed to selling as much yardage as the couple could make. Schumacher supplied the fabric — 10,000 yards and Printex produced the screen printing. Vera's debut line, the Gold Coast collection, was introduced in 1947. It was her first licensing agreement and one of Schumacher's earliest collaborations with an outside designer.
World War II dried up the fabric supply and the couple was forced to get creative. Vera, searching for linen and cotton one day, came across excess parachute silk from an Army surplus store. She decided to use it as her new canvas and her scarf collection was born.
By the 1960s, Vera's designs were everywhere. For more than four decades her artwork brightened homes across America. Her greatest source of inspiration was travel. Her collections were typically themed to destinations.
Vera believed fine art should be accessible to everyone, that people should surround themselves with art — sleep under it, eat off it and wear it. She is credited with popularizing the trend for printed bed sheets; Yves St. Laurent and Bill Blass soon followed her lead.
People who remember Vera are thrilled to see her back in the limelight, and those who are new to her designs are readily embracing them along with the mid-century modern revival.
Vera's design assets and trademark were purchased by Susan Seid in 2005. Now known as The Vera Company, new licensees are producing contemporary apparel and home fashions featuring the artist's historic patterns.
Diminutive, five-foot-tall Vera was an unlikely pioneer, but no one could have summed up her legacy better than the designer: “Vera will be Vera forever.”