The Godmother of the Fashion Mafia

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Let’s look back at Eleanor Lambert, ace publicist, society woman, and the creator of New York Fashion Week, which starts tomorrow. “Press Week,” as Lambert called it when it began in 1943, redirected sartorial attention toward American fashion, inviting journalists to cover New York designs in lieu of their traditional travel to France, then occupied by Germany.

Lambert also created the International Best Dressed List, which grew to be such a powerhouse that she bequeathed it to Vanity Fair, where it still runs, when she retired at 99. The initial coverage of the list is breathless, almost frenetic, not unlike a sports report. Said the New York Times: “The Duchesses of Windsor and Kent today wrested the title of world’s best dressed woman away from Mme. Anténor Patiño, the ‘Tin Princess’ whose husband is heir to one of the world’s biggest fortunes, a poll of Parisian dressmakers showed.… A new challenger, Mrs. James H. R. Cromwell, the former Doris Duke, appeared in the list in fourth place.… The war has failed to dim feminine enthusiasm for pretty dresses or to affect good taste, and the French dressmakers polled in the annual championship of style concluded that, war or no war, women are better dressed today than at any time in history.” Can’t you just hear the cagematch bells?

Here’s a VF profile of her from 2004; it includes the phrase “my Paris house,” three countesses, gold fillings turned into earrings, and Lambert divorcing her husband because (among other reasons!) he voided a check intended to pay for her yacht. It is glamorous and gossipy and high-falutin’; give it a go.

Fashions of the Future image via The Public Domain Review