I have had the pleasure of getting to know Mrs. Frances Rappaport. Born in Russia, Odessa in 1922, arriving in the United States at age five, she was the youngest child with six older brothers who cared for her. At age 40 after raising her own family she started a successful knitwear line called Francesca for Damon. Her husband, David Rappaport started and ran a exquisite neck wear line called Damon. Francesca became a highly successful career women in an era that was just beginning to come to terms with the idea of a strong, professional woman. Men traditionally still “brought home the bacon” and women typically stayed at home caring for the house and the children. Frances Rappaport, was at the forefront of the fashion world for over two decades.
Her ads were innovative and creative, shot all over the world. Bob Peak brought her illustrations to life with color. She and her husband, David, were avid travelers. A devoted wife to David and mother of three boys, Frances had always wanted to create something for herself, something that she could call her own. She had always loved fashion, and had an appreciation for quality and an eye for color, line, and texture. Without ever actually having had a single lesson in fashion designing, she had a remarkable knack for conveying her unique sense of style to as a designer. Most of her wardrobe was made up of her own creations! In Italy she met a manufacture who suggested that she should start designing. From then on she began to design, taking a big interest in her husbands business. Francesca for Damon was launched. It was an overnight success. Bergdorf Goodman was the first to carry her line. A canary yellow pantsuit, was bought by Lucille Ball at the height of her stardom.
Frances created over 100 designs in a given season, Francesca of Damon or Francesca di Damon became – “the house that made knits couturiere” – a multi-million dollar enterprise. Frances’s work was featured in all the leading fashion houses including Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, I. Magnin, Nordstrom, Bergdorf Goodman, and many specialty boutiques, from coast to coast.
In her Central Park apartment a large painting of her is highlighted. It was a gift to her, from an Italian manufacturer named Eti. Eti had asked her if she would wear one of his designs and she agreed. He took a snapshot of her wearing the dress and a stunning diamond necklace, which she recalled was her own.
Frances Rappaport changed the face of fashion for women in the 1960s and 1970s but she never let the demands of her business take away from her duties as Mrs. David Rappaport, wife and mother. “It sounds corny,” she once said in an interview with the New York World-Telegram …., “but we have great rapport.” She credits her business with bringing her family even closer together. “Even when you’d think we’d be relaxed and forgetting business,” she says, “it’s still shop talk and we love it.”
Francesca has Alzheimer’s now, but sing to her the songs from the past and her face lights up and you can see the women who helped changed fashion yet remembered that family always came first.
Happy Birthday and many more.