Pearl Nipon, the fashion designer behind the famous Albert Nipon label, died in Philadelphia on Sept. 2 of heart disease. She was 90.
Her oldest son, Larry, said about 50 percent of the people who offered him condolences referred to his mother with the same phrase: “She was a force of nature.”
“She was a force of nature. In places in the business world, she was known as a white tornado,” Larry Nipon said. “She had planned chaos around her, because she was very creative.”
With her husband, Albert, Pearl Nipon built the family business into an industry titan. She was credited with feminizing women’s clothing, spearheading a shift from pant suits to skirt sets. She believed that women didn’t need to dress like men to be treated as equals.
“There are three major factions in fashions,” Pearl Nipon told the Jewish Exponent in August 1981. “Visually the fabric is the most important. Then you look at the style; and finally the fit. … There is a generosity and loftiness about our designs that I can pick out from across a room. I guess you could say it’s a look of quality that stands out.”
“Pearl was not a feminist. She would not be part of the #MeToo movement. But she was progressive,” Larry Nipon said. “She said, ‘Men have it all wrong, we are not the weaker sex.’ And she proved that, but also made women comfortable with their own femininity.”
Nipon and her husband became so engrossed in work talk at home that they wouldn’t respond when Larry Nipon said “Mom” or “Dad.” As an experiment, he once referred to them by their first names and got an immediate response. And so “Albert” and “Pearl” they were.
Pearl Nipon expected excellence out of her employees, Larry Nipon said, because she pushed herself to be excellent, too, all the while balancing the responsibilities of motherhood.
She was known to start most sentences with, “I disagree.” She appreciated the intellectual merits of a spirited discussion, even when she couldn’t persuade her debate partner she was right. She carried that attitude to the business, where she often trusted her gut for big decisions.
“Someone said the definition of innovation is delivering to the customer what they don’t know they need. She was a master of that,” Larry Nipon said.
Pearl Nipon was active in the local Jewish community. In 1978, Pearl Nipon and her husband received the annual award of the Greater Philadelphia Council of American Jewish Congress, and in 1976 they were presented with the Super Achievers Award from the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.
She hosted the 1981 Federation Allied Jewish Appeal Women’s Division Daughters of Rachel luncheon.
In addition to Albert Nipon and Larry Nipon, Pearl Nipon is survived by children Leon, Andrew and B.J. Nipon Spencer, in addition to nine grandchildren.