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Eleanor Lambert, 100; Publicist Championed U.S. Fashion Scene

October 08, 2003|From Associated Press

NEW YORK — Eleanor Lambert, the publicist who helped put American designers alongside their Paris counterparts on the fashion map, died Tuesday. She was 100.

Lambert died at her Manhattan home after a brief illness, according to assistant Stephen Nix.

In her decades-long career, Lambert presided over the International Best-Dressed List and helped create many of America's most important fashion institutions, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute and the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

Lambert was a tireless arbiter of style, phoning from an elegant desk in her midtown Manhattan office to make genteel pitches about the industry's next big thing. Even after she closed her office in her late 90s, she continued to spread the word of American designers from her majestic Fifth Avenue apartment.

In 1943, she organized fashion shows so that the press could preview designer collections all in one venue, the precursor to today's New York Fashion Week.

Sixty years later, she could still be found at a Fashion Week showing in September, the month after her 100th birthday. And she dismissed discussions of her age-related eye trouble with the comment: "It's such a bore."

As early as the prewar years, Lambert challenged the prevailing view that the source of fashion was Paris. Starting in an era when American designers worked in the back rooms of the fashion district, she helped make such masters as Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein and Halston known to millions.

"She's certainly one of the pioneers of opening American fashion to the world," De la Renta told Women's Wear Daily some years ago. "Her sense of vitality never ceased to amaze me. Eleanor was always a very strong person and once she was convinced about something, it was difficult to change her mind."

Along with the International Best-Dressed List, the influential yearly tally of taste that began in 1940, she reigned over the former Coty Awards, called the fashion equivalent of the Oscar.

But Lambert was more than the voice of the fashion industry. Always forward-thinking, she mentored young designers and other hopefuls who regularly streamed to her apartment seeking advice. When one fledgling fashion reporter was taken under Lambert's wing, she introduced her to important industry players and added: "She is green. We must cultivate her."

Indeed, Lambert never lost her down-to-earth charm. "She treats New York like a small town," Forbes magazine proclaimed in 1991. "She is -- and this is almost unheard of in her trade -- genuinely loved and respected both by clients and the fashion media. The reason is really quite simple: Where fashion is concerned, she is Lambert."

The daughter of a circus advance man, Lambert was born in Crawfordsville, Ind. on Aug. 10, 1903. She arrived in Manhattan in her 20s with a few dollars and the encouragement of her mother. She first persuaded artists to let her represent them, then shifted to the fashion world.

Lambert was married to Seymour Berkson, head of International News Service and publisher of the New York Journal-American, who died in 1959.

She is survived by a son, poet Bill Berkson, and a grandson, Moses Berkson, a photographer.

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