Though she fashioned America for more than 40 years, the name Sophie Gimbel is little known today. But Gimbel was once a champion of American couture, a designer herself and the director of Salon Moderne at Saks Fifth Avenue, an exclusive haute couture boutique. Not only did Gimbel create a name for herself with her work on the cover of Vogue, she was the first American designer to make the cover of Time magazine.
Not one to keep fashion accolades all to herself, she also helped introduce American style to the likes of icons such as Schiaparelli, Vionnet, Mainbocher, and Balenciaga.
So when you see Gimbel's name on the boutique restaurant on the second floor of Saks Fifth Avenue at the Mall at University Town Center, you'll now know who she is. I tapped Michael Kaufman, President of Fifth Dining at Saks, for a little more insight into this fashionable femme.
Tell us about this fashion icon…
Long before the advent of so many wonderful American fashion designers, there was a young woman with a sharp eye, profound creativity and a punchy wit. For more than 40 years, Sophie Gimbel presided over couture at Saks. At a time when the fashion world embraced Paris and Milan, and dismissed the U.S., Sophie always returned to New York to design with American style. She was a savvy businesswoman and an avid gardener, who even canned her own fruits and vegetables, and loved entertaining, embracing a simple style in all she did.
What would surprise us about Sophie?
She was the first American fashion designer, male or female, to grace the cover of Time magazine in 1947, her place in history as one of the greatest American fashion designers was secured.
How did the Sophie’s boutique restaurants come about?
The inspiration for Sophie’s at Saks Fifth Avenue is drawn [directly] from Gimbel. Sophie’s is a thoroughly modern interpretation of its muse: elegant, authentic, fresh, simple and surprising.
The Sophie’s concept evolved through a partnership between Saks Fifth Avenue and Fifth Dining. This includes New York City’s flagship store, which features the Café SFA and SnAKS restaurants, and Sophie’s at Saks Fifth Avenue in Chicago and now in Sarasota.
Tell us about the chef….
Executive chef Dianna MacPhee began her career as a sous chef under two famed and James Beard award‐winning chefs, Lydia Shire in Boston and Vitaly Paley in Portland, Oregon. Dianna returned east to be a senior chef at Harvard University, eventually heading south to Coral Gables where she served as the executive chef at Neiman Marcus. At Sophie’s, Dianna combines her passion for food and love for community as she plants roots in Sarasota.
Is there a signature menu item in each location? Something we should absolutely try?
Sarasota-inspired dishes including the grilled cobia from local waters with shaved vegetable salad, coriander and coconut ginger sauce. Other favorites include the crab cake served with a San Marzano tomato bisque and, for dessert, the coconut bread pudding. The beverage menu features seasonal cocktails and iced teas along with a carefully edited wine list with a selection of superb wines by the glass.