Rosamond Bernier was a world-renowned art lecturer who was a close friend to some of the most important artists of the twentieth century. When Henri Matisse, for example, was bedridden, he invited Ms. Bernier to his home to show her his new creations from miniature cut-outs. Picasso had urged her to travel to Barcelona and report on a collection of his early work. Her interviews regularly appeared on television, and in 1955 she had co-founded the art magazine L’OEIL, which featured the works of the masters of the School of Paris. Leonard Bernstein, a close friend, had proclaimed that she had a gift for instant communication, and she had lectured at the Louvre in Paris. She’d begun a career as a lecturer in 1971 and gave yearly sold-out lectures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ms. Bernier and Diana Vreeland, friends since the late 1940s through their connection working with Vogue¸ bonded “over little shots of vodka” in the 1970s when the world was behaving badly for them. In 1975 it was a wonderful world, when Ms. Bernier married the love of her life, New York Times art critic, John Russell. Ms. Bernier was a role model to women who had suffered personal and professional misfortunes; the feminist admired her comeback in middle age, taking charge of her life, and not becoming a victim. At her last lecture at the Met on March 13, 2008, Ms. Bernier said, “In a naughty world, the Metropolitan Museum has been an oasis of civility and civilization.”
Simply seeing Jackie Onassis at work was “a powerful image for the women’s movement and a sign of change.” In the summer of 1975, at the age of 46, Mrs. Onassis embarked on a 19 year editorial career and quickly earned the respect of her working women friends, in particular, Diana Vreeland and Rosamond Bernier. Ms. Vreeland would call Jackie every morning from home to discuss the latest extravaganza she was staging at the Costume Institute; they were inseparable in 1976 when Mrs. Onassis was editing a tie-book for The Glory of Russian Costume exhibit. When Mrs. Onassis left Viking, she encouraged Ms. Vreeland to collaborate with her at Doubleday on Allure, a celebration of photographs of beautiful women, and on the floor of Ms. Vreeland’s apartment they designed the pages. At Doubleday, Mrs. Onassis was promoted to senior editor and was very productive producing 10 to 12 books a year. Mrs. Onassis was a close and longtime friend of Rosamond Bernier and her husband, New York Times art critic John Russell, and they enjoyed many private dinner parties at home and collaborative business lunches at Les Pleiades, the long-gone art-world restaurant on East 76th Street. Mrs. Onassis died on May 19, 1994 at the age of 65.
When Ira Neimark took the reins as president of B Altman, his main charge was to “bring this grand old, conservative store into the mainstream of retailing” and in order to do that, he needed a team of experienced fashion merchants and a person to direct them. In 1971, in the newly created and powerful position of Fashion Director, Dawn Mello played a major role in turning B Altman around. Her influence reached from the look of the windows to floor displays, advertising, and buying and her good eye and instinct for talent identified new designers and trends. In 1975, Ms. Mello followed Ira Neimark across Fifth Avenue to Bergdorf Goodman where in her 14 year career she served as president from 1983 to 1989. Following Bergdorf Goodman, Ms. Mello joined the newly formed Gucci Group as Executive Vice President and Creative Director Worldwide. In 1994, she rejoined Bergdorf Goodman as President but this time in addition to fashion merchandising departments, all creative aspects of marketing were reporting to her. When Ms. Mello left Bergdorf Goodman in 1999, she started her own consulting company, Dawn Mello and Associates, and in 2007 she was a founding partner of The Atelier Fund, a fund that invests in early–stage fashion businesses. Throughout her career, Ms. Mellow has received numerous industry awards.
Estee Lauder was born Josephine Esther Mentzer in Corona, Queens. Growing up, she was more interested in her uncle’s work as a chemist than her family’s hardware store. She named one of her uncle’s chemical blends Super Rich All-Purpose Cream and sold it to friends. Her uncle, Dr. John Schotz, also made other products, such as Dr. Schotz’s Viennese Cream, which she sold to beauty salons, beach clubs and resorts. Founding the Estee Lauder Company in 1946, she later introduced the enormously popular bath oil and fragrance known as Youth Dew, and the first allergy tested, dermatologist-created cosmetic brand, Clinique. A perfectionist, Lauder kept a watchful eye on every aspect of her luxury brand, choosing pale turquoise for the packaging because it looked good in any color bathroom. Her instincts for promotion and marketing were just as keen, introducing the successful concept of “gift with purchase.” One of her most famous quotations was, “If I believe in something, I sell it, and sell it hard.”
Diane von Furstenberg
“The minute I knew I was going to be Egon’s wife, I decided to have a career. I wanted to be someone on my own, and not just a plain little girl who got married beyond her desserts,” said Princess Diane von Furstenberg. In 1970 with a $30,000 investment she launched her women’s design business and soon moved from Paris to New York and into the arms of New York society. Diana Vreeland declared the figure-flattering, knitted jersey wrap “Diane” dress “absolutely smashing.” Apparently women across the globe agreed. In 1973, the wrap dress was entered into the collection at the Metropolitan Museum and within five years, five million dresses were sold. In 1976, Ms. von Furstenberg bumped Gerald Ford from the November cover of Newsweek and was touted “the most marketable woman since Coco Chanel.” She re-launched her company in 1997 and re-introduced the wrap dress to a new generation of women. In 2009, Michelle Obama wore the signature chain link print wrap dress on The Official White House Christmas Card. A cultural phenomenon, the dress hangs in the Smithsonian Institute. Still looking for new challenges, Ms. von Furstenberg, 66, designed her first children’s collection for GapKids in 2012.
Missoni “elevated knitted clothes to a form of art” wrote Bernadine Morris of the New York Times in March 1979. By then, the company that was founded by Rosita and her husband, Ottavio (Tai) in 1953 was at the forefront of Italian fashion design, renowned internationally for the use of color, pattern, and the finest materials. Attention was first given to the brand in 1965 in articles written by the famous Italian fashion journalist, Anna Piaggi. But, it was Diana Vreeland’s enthusiasm for Missoni that launched them in the US and around the world. A Missioni boutique opened in Bloomingdales, and soon Missoni was receiving international design awards. Today, Missoni’s innovative and stylish designs are worn by Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lopez, Ashley Judd and Madonna and shoppers at discount chain Target. Missoni’s limited-designer collection for Target sold out in less than a day, a promotion that was supposed to last for six weeks. Rosita Missoni at 80 years old, looking for new challenges, is developing a Missoni hotel brand, while her daughters and granddaughter are expanding the fashion company into Asian markets, and revitalizing the lines for today’s younger market.
As an editor with Diplomat magazine, Deborah Turbeville was not getting the effects she wanted and was given permission to shoot her own pictures. “I went into a store, bought a camera, and the man loaded it for me,” Ms. Turbeville told The New York Times in 1977. With no formal training, it was her novice approach that became her greatest asset and she began to revolutionize fashion photography with her avant-garde style. Franca Sozzani, editor of Italian Vogue, summed up Ms. Turbeville’s work when he said, “Every detail is perfect and yet wrong at the same time.” She brought an “eeriness, shock and alienation” to the formerly refined and pretty business of selling clothes. The best examples are the 1975 controversial “Bathhouse” American Vogue photographs, and the “Woman in the Woods” series in 1977 for Italian Vogue. In 1979, Jackie Onassis, an editor at Doubleday, commissioned Ms. Turbeville to photography the unseen Versailles. Mrs. Onassis wanted the photographer to “conjure up what went on there, to evoke the feeling that there were ghosts and memories.” After two years of research and photographing, Ms. Turbeville captured the “haunting imagery” that Mrs. Onassis wanted, although the palace had been beautifully restored. Unseen Versailles has been described as “a pioneering breakthrough in photography” and, in 1981, it won the American Book Award. In 2011, at the age of 73, Ms. Turbeville published her first retrospective, The Fashion Pictures.
Katharine Sergeant Angell White joined the editorial staff of The New Yorker in 1925, six months after it was founded by Harold Ross, and she remained the only female editor for three decades. Within months, she and Ross established a professional relationship of complete equality, and, in addition to her responsibilities as fiction editor, White collaborated with Ross on every part of the magazine, becoming known as “the intellectual soul” of The New Yorker. In her role as editor, White was nurturing, and her influence helped shape the careers of emerging writers including Ogden Nash, Mary McCarthy, John Cheever, William Maxwell, Jean Stafford, John Updike, James Thurber, and her beloved husband, E.B. White. Reflecting on a first meeting with his wife at The New Yorker, White said: “I noted that she had a lot of black hair and the knack of making a young contributor feel at ease. I sat there peacefully gazing at the classic features of my future wife without – as usual – knowing what I was doing.”
A formidable woman, White graduated in 1914 fourth in her class from Bryn Mawr, where the feminist culture, propagated by M. Carey Thomas, president of the college, encouraged women to be “both economically and psychologically independent from her husband.” White’s marriage to Ernest Angell, a graduate of Harvard Law school, ended in 1929, the year she married E.B. White. Their bond was strong; devoted to each other forty-eight years. In 1938, when White needed a peaceful environment to write, they left New York and moved to their saltwater farm in Maine. Katharine, while sad to leave her life and work in Manhattan, gladly made the necessary adjustment for her husband: editing manuscripts, galleys and books sent by her secretary at The New Yorker. She also now had time to discover a passion for gardening and writing; between 1958 and 1970 Katharine penned fourteen gardening columns for The New Yorker and in 1979, two years after her death, E.B. White published the collection in a book, Onward and Upward in the Garden. In an interview with the New York Times to discuss the book, White talked about his wife, and the life they shared: “Every day, a few minutes before lunch, Katharine White would “go out among her borders,” as her husband told it. “She never dressed down for her gardens.” She might be wearing a tweed suit and Ferragamo pumps, and if it were muddy, she kicked off the shoes on coming back into the house. As for her attitude toward flowers, he said, “She didn’t mind a ruffled petunia, but never a ruffled snapdragon. She was not a ruffled girl herself.”
On the devastating shock of being fired as Vogue’s editor-in-chief in 1971, Diana Vreeland mused “I was only 70. What was I supposed to do, retire?” Instead, she embarked on a final act career as Special Consultant to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Fitting her last great hurrah, Vreeland leaned in with conviction. She drew on her 40 years of experience as a fashion editor, knowledge of fashion history dating back to her childhood, and personal friendships with the most gifted designers of the mid-twentieth century. Now, instead of being confined to a magazine format, her talents were unleashed on a dramatic stage appropriate for her imagination and vision. Vreeland’s glamour, passion, and genius for style revitalized the established institution and the blockbuster exhibits drew unprecedented surges in attendance. Today, at any given moment, there are at least a dozen museums around the world offering major fashion displays and the Costume Institute’s gala preview balls are still the Party of the Year. Vreeland loved to quote someone who said: “I shall die very young. Whether I am 70 or 80 or 90, I shall die very young.” Diana Vreeland died August 22, 1989 at the age of 86