Mastermind behind fashion calendar that ruled New York style
Ruth Finley, businesswoman. Born: 14 January 1920 in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Died: 25 August 2018 in New York City, aged 98.
Ruth Finley, who brought order to the fashion world for nearly 70 years by publishing a biweekly calendar that mapped out the schedules of designers’ shows in New York City and helped them avoid conflicts with rivals, died last Saturday in Manhattan. She was 98.
Her son, Larry Lein, said the cause was respiratory failure.
With its pink pages and darker pink (or red) covers, Finley’s Fashion Calendar was the essential guide to the showrooms, department stores, theatres and lofts where designers long introduced new collections. Decades later, as New York Fashion Week transformed and consolidated the industry, she was still at work, scheduling the hundreds of shows that were staged at Bryant Park and Lincoln Centre. “There was nothing like the calendar before Ruth,” designer Stan Herman said. “It was the bible.”
Finley worked, sometimes alone and sometimes with a small staff, largely from a spare bedroom in her Manhattan apartment. She negotiated the schedules by telephone with scores of designers, crafting her chart of dates and time slots into pages filled with single-spaced listings that had one major goal: maximise the designers’ audiences to their shows.
“She was an apolitical democratic source who was trusted by everybody,” Lein said. “She could stand up for a brandnew designer who wanted a date as much as Calvin Klein did. So she would shift Calvin Klein by a half-hour and he’d say, ‘Sure’.” But woe to the designers who did not inform Finley of their plans.
Norman Norell, one of the great US designers, went rogue in the late 1940s, scheduling a black-tie event without consulting Finley – only to discover that his plans clashed with another designer’s. Norell canceled his show. “After that,” Finley proudly told the website Quartz in 2014, “he wouldn’t even let his secretary call us to check his date. He used to call me himself.”
A diminutive, fashionable woman – but not one to splurge on designer clothing – Finley was more than a doyenne of listings. She became a mother figure and a confessor to designers, a presence at their shows into her ninetiess and a regular at the social events she also listed. “There wasn’t a designer who didn’t talk to Ruth, and there wasn’t a designer Ruth didn’t advise,” Steven Kolb, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), the industry trade group, said. “Everyone went to Ruth.”
Herman, the designer, said, “She was strong-willed, humane and stuck to her vision.”
Finley was born Ruth Faith Finberg in 1920. Her father, Joseph, emigrated from Russia at 14 and became a dentist. Her mother, Anna Finberg, was a housewife. Growing up in Haverhill, young Ruth wanted to go to college and run a business – ambitions that were approved by her father but frowned upon by her mother. She fulfilled her first wish, studying journalism at Simmons College in Boston. In the summers she worked as a reporter for the Boston Herald and New York Herald Tribune.
The idea for the Fashion Calendar came to her during a visit to Manhattan while she was still at Simmons. She listened as two friends, both fashion writers, lamented that Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman had scheduled events at the same time. The inspiration percolated for a few years, and in 1945 she started her business in a rundown apartment she shared with her secretary.
“Atnight,weusedtogotothe theatre to usher to make extra money,” Finley told Vogue in 2016. “She and I were selling a service, which is a difficult thing; we had to prove how important it was to become part of the Fashion Calendar.”
Her publication — coloured pink so it would be easily noticed on a busy person’s cluttered desk – quickly became a must-read and a must-buy. In recent years, Lein said, it had close to 1,000 subscribers, among them designers, public relations firms and members of the news media, who paid upward of $475 a year. She also charged fees to non-subscribers to list events and to subscribers after they had listed four events.
In 2014, she sold the Fashion Calendar to the CFDA and became a consultant. Soon after the deal, the council stopped printing the calendar on paper and turned it into a digital-only service.
Finley is the subject of a forthcoming documentary directed by Christian Bruun, who followed her to fashion shows and showrooms.
“We would have morning coffee together, often in her apartment, talking about fashion and the next steps for the film,” Bruun said. “She was endlessly curious and interested in life.”
In addition to Lein, Finley is survived by two other sons, Joseph and Jim Green. Her marriage to Hank Green ended in divorce. Her second husband, Irving Lein, a women’s sportswear manufacturer, died in 1959, leaving her a widow to raise her sons, take active roles in the PTA and run her business. “She had more energy at 90 than I did at 50,” Larry Lein said of his mother.
Thatvitality–combinedwith a serendipitous idea – turned her into a star to designers like Donna Karan. “She’s the only constant in the industry,” Karan said in 2007. “God bless anyone who can keep the industry together.” RICHARD SANDOMIR