Maybe you’ve heard of the CFDA, New York Fashion Week, The Met Ball, or Battle of Versailles? What about Eleanor Lambert? As a fashion professional all I do is owed to Eleanor. What a woman! She blazed a path for American Fashion to be what it is today (truly) and for women to thrive in a male dominated world of PR, negotiations, and big city politics.
A blog post hardly gives this amazing woman justice but she is such an important part of fashion history that I hope this entices you enough to delve further into the unforgettable career of Ms. Lambert. So, who is Eleanor and what drove her to her success? She’s a Hoosier and we are a determined group of people.
Thanks to Kat Burkhart of the Crawfordsville District Public Library (who lent me the most beautiful portraits of Ms. Lambert for FNO 2012 and came in support), I was proud to find out more of Ms. Lambert’s early years being born in Crawfordsville, Indiana in 1903, attending Crawfordsville High School, and even finding out she went by the nickname of “Skeet” back then.
Ms. Lambert went onto attend Herron School of Art and the Chicago Art Institute to study fashion. Initially studying to be a Sculptor, she decided to go to New York and there landed her first job with a Manhattan advertising firm. Here she initiated publicity programs for book publishers, art galleries and artists. She was involved in the opening and was the original Press Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art in the early 1930s and was involved with founding the Museum of Modern Art. She represented such American Artists as Thomas Benton, Walt Kuhn, Jackson Pollack, John Curry, George Bellows, Jacob Epstein and Isamu Noguchi. She helped establish the American Art Dealers Association and represented it in its early years. (Thanks CFDA.com written by John Tiffany)
Believing that fashion is art and should be presented as such, Ms. Lambert used her strong PR reputation to represent many American fashion designers. As Press Director of the New York Dress Institute, Ms. Lambert created a semi-annual Fashion Press Week (now known as NYFW) in New York to put American fashion in display for the country and later the world.
THE defining moment in American fashion history was created and brought to life by Ms. Lambert – the legendary Battle of Versailles 1973. American and European designers went head to head in a battle of fashion that everyone thought was a shoe-in for the Europeans. But American designers, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Stephen Burrows, Halston, and Ann Klein had a different agenda and astounded the international fashion elite.
Conceiving the Met Ball in 1948, creating the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) in 1962, appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to National Council on the Arts of the National Endowment for the Arts in 1965, originating and conducing The Coty Awards, the preeminent fashion honor from 1943-1968, founding and coordinating of the International Best Dressed Poll, recognized as the authoritative annual record of contemporary taste in dress since 1941 (she handed custodial duties of the list to Vanity Fair shortly before her death in 2003), were just a few of the other contributions for which she was noted.
Ms. Lambert lived to be 100 years young. Her obituary in the New York Times is one of a queen – and that she was. Author, John Tiffany, was lucky enough to have worked for Ms. Lambert and has written the best account of her life and career in “Eleanor Lambert – Still Here”. What I wouldn’t give to have been in his shoes and hear this powerhouse of fashion speak in her own words about her life. And maybe a few tidbits of juicy insider’s knowledge that didn’t become public. She makes me so proud to be a part of the fashion community here and know that what we are establishing now will help others to come. Road trip to Crawfordsville anyone?
To learn more about Eleanor here are a few resources: