Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Eleanor Lambert

In Memoriam. 10/8/03 - New York lost another, true legend early yesterday when the great doyenne, the founder really of fashion PR, Eleanor Lambert, passed away peacefully in her sleep. Eleanor celebrated her 100th birthday last August 11th at her Fifth Avenue apartment surrounded by scores of friends both new and old.

Although she had got noticeably frail in the past few months, Eleanor still went to work everyday and often out to lunch, as well as dinner in the evenings. Up until last year she traveled to Europe several times a year, and always once to Germany to take special treatments to assure her youth. Assured she was, for a very long time. She loved her work and had only just closed her office a few weeks before, although she did not quit, keeping five clients.

A little girl (she was no more than 5’2,” if that) from Crawfordsville, Indiana, the New York life was her dream for as far back as she could remember. She came to the Big Town at the beginning of the Depression and got her first toe-hold in her profession promoting art galleries who each paid her $25 a week for her efforts. Her first foray took her to the desk of the famed editor of the Pulitzer paper, Herbert Bayard Swope of the New York World. She proposed contributing a column on art galleries and the art world and he agreed.

In 1940, at the onset of the Second World War and the closing down of the Paris fashion houses, she invented the International Best Dressed List to promote fashion in America. For decades thereafter, the Best Dressed List was a household phrase in America, and women competed tenaciously to be on the List (some men too).

On her birthday, her grandson Moses Berkson showed a clip of a documentary he’s making of his grandmother’s highly esteemed life and career. In an interview she said that she had been drawn to New York from girlhood because it was “a city of ideas,” reiterating that “if you have an idea, you can always find someone in New York who will be interested in it.” (And if you couldn’t find someone for that idea, you could always “get another idea,” she added.)

Unlike most people in her (or any) profession, she never, ever, tired of her work. It was always a mission, and always accomplished. I met her only fifteen years ago, and after that she called me personally dozens of times to pitch an idea for a client. These calls were always followed by luncheon or dinner meetings of introduction and discussions to benefit everybody involved.

She was never high pressure, but had what they used to call stick-to-it-iveness. Matter of fact, gentle-voiced, always obliging with assistance, she was always generous (and sympathetic, never intolerant) in her recollections of the paths she crossed with the rich and the famous down throughout the 20th Century. She was a One And Only, patrician in her American Midwest demeanor, a solid gold example of How It’s Done, and we won’t ever see the likes of Eleanor Lambert again. May we all be as blessed.