As Red Bone’s “Come and Get Your Love” played over the loudspeakers at the Oceanside Care Center on July 2, emcee Dave Patrick ran over to resident Adele Perlow and put the microphone up to her mouth as she threw her hands in the air.
“I think this party deserves special recognition,” she said. “I think we’ll all remember it.”
The Oceanside transplant might be right, because as the gold Mylar balloons above her head indicated, on that steamy, summer day Perlow had reached a milestone — she was turning 107.
This year marks Perlow’s third in the hamlet, more than a decade after she retired from the fashion industry in Brooklyn and Manhattan, according to her daughter, Carole Brinker Beil. Born Adele Wagner in 1911 — the youngest of four sisters — on the East Side, Beil said, her mother started her career as a fashion model before meeting her future husband, Jack — a women’s coat designer — at a photo shoot.
Afer they married, Perlow responded to a slump in her husband’s business by opening her own women’s wear shop in 1942 with her sister Etta on King’s Highway in Brooklyn, focusing on high-end women’s clothing. Beil was 8 at the time, she said.
“It was during the war,” she recounted, “and she and my aunt decided they wanted to make money.”
Perlow named the business Wellesley Shop after her dream school, Wellesley College in Massachusetts, which she was never able to attend. “She named it that because she didn’t go to college,” Beil said. “She finished high school, and she would have liked to have gone.”
Wellesley Shop carried clothing from a variety of high-end brands, such as Claire McArdle — one of the originators of American women’s sportswear in the 1940s and ’50s, some of whose works are currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art — as well as Anne Klein’s Junior Sophisticates line. Clientele included Fraydl Kotlar, Ralph Lauren’s mother, according to Beil.
“People looked for the best, and they got the best,” Perlow said. “We had very fine things to wear.”
She and her sister were respected for their quality fashions, and were asked to consult with clothing designers and manufacturers in Manhattan on which fashions they liked and didn’t like. “They really had great respect for my mother and my aunt for their taste,” Beil recalled.
Her mother, Beil said, continued to appreciate good clothing as she aged. “When I come to see my mother, she looks me up and down and she tells me immediately if she likes what I’m wearing or if she doesn’t,” she said. “It’s really incredible. She’s still who she was.”
Although Perlow’s memory of her past has eroded, what always remains is the pride she expressed in being a pioneer of the mid-century fine clothing industry. “The fact that we were recognized all over the world was very important,” she said. “God bless New York City fashion.”
Perlow’s and her husband’s work came with caveats, however, including long hours at the studio and shop. “I can’t tell you I liked it because I didn’t have any parents at home,” Beil said of their career choices, saying that she and her brother, Stephen, were mostly raised by housekeepers. “Six days a week the store was open. They worked very, very hard.”
Jack died in 1971. He was 67. Perlow and her sister continued to operate Wellesley until they closed the shop in 1982, after 40 years in business. Perlow continued to work in the industry, running a boutique at a beauty parlor on 1st Avenue near 63rd Street in Manhattan until the salon’s lease expired in the late 1990s.
Her children would continue in clothing: Beil worked as a children’s wear buyer and Stephen was president of the ladies division of Hart Schaffner Marx, a now-defunct tailored clothing manufacturer with roots dating back to 1887. Stephen died in 2016, Beil said. He had four children, and Beil had two. Perlow also has eight great-grandchildren.
Despite various oldies playing over the speakers, as Perlow spoke, she would frequently return to singing the refrain of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” a song, which also celebrated an important milestone on July Fourth, turning 100 years old. To her, it seemed to symbolize the chance for success with hard work this country gave her.
“She was really hot stuff,” her daughter recalled. “She was like no other mother.”