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Reflections

'When my first husband died, it was front-page news in Vienna.'

December 20, 1987

She was a syndicated fashion columnist in the roaring '20s in Europe, owned a posh dress salon in Manhattan for nearly 35 years, and has recently published her first book at the age of "80-ish." Inez Exton has lived several lives since her childhood days in Vienna. Once married to a high official in the Austrian government, she and her first husband moved in Europe's society circles in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The political unrest in the late '30s in Europe coincided with her amicable divorce, and she moved to New York, where her older sister already lived. There she opened a small salon in mid-town Manhattan, where she sold her own designs. The salon's clients included Eartha Kitt, Ingrid Bergman, and women from the Rockefeller, DuPont and Roosevelt families. The salon prospered for many years, and during that time she married her second husband. With the gradual decline of haute couture , she was finally forced to close in 1973. After a severe mugging on a New York street in 1975, Exton was left paralyzed for a year-and-a-half. It was during that time, when she was confined to a wheelchair, that she began writing again. Her writings were mini-pep talks, inspirational messages to herself, which she has put together in her book, "The Alphabet For Positive Living." She moved to the Pacific Beach area in 1979 to retire and live quietly. Exton turns coy when asked her exact age, saying only, "I'm a classic." She was interviewed by Times staff writer Kathie Bozanich and photographed by Times staff photographer Barbara Martin.

\f7 When I was young, I was expected by my family to become a schoolteacher. My mother died when I was 6, and she would have liked it. She was made a schoolteacher in the public school system in Vienna by a special decree from the late emperor, Franz Joseph. I come from a strange, maverick family.

There is only thing in my life that I am really proud of. When I was 11 years old, I wanted to go to the prep school but my marks were so bad. I found someone to teach me Latin. As an 11-year-old girl, I took one year's worth of Latin in six or seven weeks.

It was a good lesson for my later life--that even if it was difficult, and it usually was difficult, I tried it anyway. I loved the challenge.

My first husband, he was my education. He had a spark of genius in him. He made labor laws, and he was not a lawyer. He was an art historian, but he never studied art. I got all this education by traveling with him as his wife, to all the beautiful conventions. I met the people a person usually meets if he or she belongs to the "inner circle."

At 22, you are not too interested in politics but you are interested in the gadgets, and the receptions, all the glamorous people, glamorous things.

Being exposed to all this, it spoiled my taste forever. Something must have value, it must never be flash-in-the-pan, but if you have an idea be not afraid to make it. If the others say, "What is this?" I say, "Never mind, you'll like it in a year or two." I work that way.

I am still a landmark in Vienna of sorts. The newspaper articles I wrote and articles written about me can still be found in the library there. When my first husband died, it was front-page news there, and Vienna is not a hick town; it is terribly sophisticated.

Then Hitler brought me to New York. I had two loves: languages and clothes. I couldn't afford good clothes, for we were a poor branch of a rich family. I did not want clothes bought for me, I wanted to make them myself. So this is how I started in my fashion career.

When I had a client, I had a client for life. My clients were kind to me. There were a lot of different temperaments I had to deal with, but I enjoyed my clients.

I consider age to be irrelevant. There are some very young people who are incredibly old in thinking, and some very old people who never grew up. I tried to grow up. I accept that life has changes.

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