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Lenore Benson, 80; Former Executive Director of Fashion Group International

September 25, 2004|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Lenore Benson, a former executive director of Fashion Group International, a 6,000-member organization that promotes women in fashion and provides educational and networking activities, has died. She was 80.

Benson died Sept. 1 at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center of acute pancreatic disease, longtime friend James Watterson told The Times.

The Fashion Group is best known for the slide show it hosts twice each year featuring the latest styles from the runways of France, Italy and New York for an audience of several thousand in New York City.

When the group was founded in 1930, charter members included movie costumer Edith Head, hat designer Lilly Dache and Vogue magazine Editor Edna Woolman Chase. Eleanor Roosevelt, whose husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was then the governor of New York, was also a founding member.

Benson served as the group's director from 1984 to 1993 and introduced the annual "Night of Stars" awards dinner in 1983 to honor designers, retailers and style makers. Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel and Donna Karan, among others, have received the award. She was also instrumental in inviting the first men to join Fashion Group in 1981.

"Lenore was the ultimate professional, but she was never driven," said Watterson, a marketing and public relations consultant in Los Angeles and a member of Fashion Group since 1981. "She was a very gracious woman. It was almost an old-fashioned quality, although she wasn't old-fashioned at all."

Benson remained an active member until her death.

Most recently, she worked on an ongoing archival project. More than 600,000 slides, dating from the 1950s, have been cataloged so far; when completed, the collection will be housed in the New York Public Library.

Born in Cleveland and raised in Minneapolis, Benson moved to New York City in 1947 and worked as the director of fashion promotion for the now-defunct store Franklin Simon.

In 1955, she became the marketing director of Mademoiselle magazine and later worked at Harper's Bazaar and Vogue magazines until she was named director of Fashion Group.

She never married and has no survivors. A memorial service is planned for late October in New York City.

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