The Ruth Finley Collection
I see Ruth Finley often, and every time I walk into her apartment or talk to her on the phone she is sitting in front of her agenda marking down dates on her calendar. “I’ll mark it down in my book,” is her usual response to any question about my, or anyone else’s, schedule. It makes sense: for a woman who founded, negotiated, and published the Fashion Calendar for almost 70 years, Finley spent most of her professional life in front of a calendar, so it’s only natural that thinking about dates and times is embedded into her persona.
From 1945-2014, Ruth Finley published the Fashion Calendar, an integral informational and logistical service for the American fashion industry. Widely known by those working within the fashion industry in the United States and abroad, the Fashion Calendar established and maintained the American fashion schedule as well as the official timetable of New York Fashion Week (NYFW) for seven decades, and continues to this day under the auspices of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. First run from Finley’s home office with a very small team, the Fashion Calendar became the standard industry publication for fashion dates at a time when there was little cohesion or structure among the manufacturers of Seventh Avenue.
As a fashion and textile historian who works closely with the Fashion Calendar archive, I am exceedingly privileged to not only have access to a previously un-investigated source that is so rich with information, but to be able to interact with the maker of the archive herself. I find myself in an interesting position, as most historians don’t have the chance to interact with the lives and documents of living people. I am in the situation of being able to approach the source through my own historical and theoretical lenses as well as through the prism of Finley’s memory and experience. This enables the archive to be continuously dynamic, since Finley’s knowledge about American fashion history is vast and mostly based on experience.
I was first exposed to the Ruth Finley Collection in my capacity as writer and producer of the forthcoming fashion documentary Ruth Finley’s Fashion Calendar. My early research on the Fashion Calendar and the making of the documentary film led to my current research, titled “In American Fashion: the Culture, Labor, and Economy of the American Post-War Garment Industry,” on the interactions of the American fashion industry with global industrial trade, labor, gender, economy, and culture. The film places Finley and her significant contribution to the fashion industry within the context and history of the American fashion system and investigates the contemporary transitions the industry faces. Although the Fashion Calendar proved to be an important tool in my research for the film, it was not until I found myself in front of a vast collection of pink paper for almost three months that I understood the extent of its richness.
The Fashion Calendar debuted as a clearinghouse for fashion information; however, over time the publication became the foremost authority on the scheduling of fashion and social events in New York. Much of the same audience that attended fashion shows and fashion events also attended the various social and promotional events, so it became important for Finley to understand the audience for each event and advise event organizers on the ideal date and time and often the location for hosting an event in order to maximize attendance and exposure. As an important point of intersection for all facets of the industry, the fashion show provides a moment of transition for a collection from the backrooms of its creation to the public sphere of its consumption. The success or failure of a given show can determine much of a company’s fortunes. The Fashion Calendar, therefore became more than just a service to the industry; it was a necessary element of its flourishing and continuation.
The disjointed nature of the American fashion industry in the mid-twentieth century enabled an independent outsider to provide the service of maintaining the “official” schedule. In Paris, London, and Italy (Rome, Florence, and later Milan), the governing bodies that organize the respective European fashion industries are tied to government ministries and are organized by centralized institutions. The Chambre Syndicale de la Haute-Couture Parisienne, most notably, set the model for governing its national industry, with a top-down approach and very strict rules limiting participation. Such governing bodies continue to schedule their semi-annual fashion shows.
In America, manufacturers often showed their collections at hotels, in their showrooms, or in rented spaces all over New York City. Finley was instrumental in the logistical maneuvering that enabled maximum attendance for fashion shows, by endeavoring to eliminate conflicts. With the significant growth of the American fashion industry in the 1970s and its continued expansion through the 1990s, 7th on Sixth not only provided a centralized location, but further cemented NYFW as an arena for American design and validated the American industry. From the beginnings of 7th on Sixth, and as it evolved into Olympus Fashion Week and then Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, the CFDA and later IMG entrusted the Fashion Calendar to continue organizing the schedule of NYFW, which allowed Finley to pivot into the position of the arbiter of the “official” schedule.
After the CFDA acquired the Fashion Calendar and Finley closed up her office, she was left with an almost full run of the Fashion Calendar dating back as early as 1945, since it was standard practice for her to keep an “office copy” of each issue. She often left pencil markings to make edits or revisions for the next issue. Initially, the Fashion Calendar was published weekly, and in the late 1970s, it was published bi-weekly. Usually not more than twelve pages (printed at first on a mimeograph) and stapled, the Calendars were designed to be disposable, brightly colored (in order to be easily recognizable on a paper-piled desk), and to not take up much space. The archive that Finley was left with at the closing of her office comprised over twenty-five linear feet of documents, which she eventually donated to Special Collections at the Library at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Finley’s archive lives with that of her mentor Eleanor Lambert, as well as many of her contemporaries, both designers and those in the backrooms of Seventh Avenue.
The Ruth Finley Collection provides an almost complete running list of all New York fashion, beauty, bridal, garment, and other industry events since 1945. This allows for numerous research approaches using this single source. The Calendar serves as an excellent means to track the activities of designers and fashion houses over time, both domestically and internationally. As one of the very few industry sources other than magazines dating back to World War II, the early Calendars reflect the impact of the war on the American economy and manufacturing sector, and, as mentioned above, of the later formalization and consolidation of American fashion, among many other important market shifts.
An interesting insight into the commercial and professional networks of the American fashion industry prior to the founding of the CFDA (which was established by Eleanor Lambert in 1962) are provided by the changes that occurred over time in relation to Press Week and its participants. It is well documented that Eleanor Lambert started Press Week, the precursor to NYFW, in 1938, and that it brought together the seasonal presentations of the domestic American designers who were part of the New York Dress Institute (NYDI). Other groups also organized shows, such as the Fashion Originators Guild of America (FOGA), who Finley describes as the “volume people,” despite the name of their association. In the late 1950s we can track the transferal of the NYDI shows to being organized as “Eleanor Lambert’s Press Week” and later as “American Designer Showings,” while Mildred Sullivan scooped up the “Press-Week” moniker for her group of mass-market brands. Many of the most notable American designers, such as Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Bill Blass, Oleg Cassini, Oscar de la Renta, and many more, were affiliated or worked with Lambert as their publicist.
As the singular source for this data, the Fashion Calendar assembles information that would otherwise have to be gleaned from numerous disparate sources. My research also uses the Collection as a cross-sectional tool for understanding the goings on, conflicts, and participants of select periods. The Fashion Calendar is a distinct and interesting window looking onto the history of American fashion, providing insight into how members working in the fashion industry interacted, illuminating the types of promotional events, openings and marketing collaborations in which they participated, and the culture within fashion at any given time. Additionally, the collection includes the issues of Fashion International (FI), which was a trend forecasting and fashion report newsletter published by the Fashion Calendar as a supplement starting in 1976.
Finley had numerous freelance editors working with her, attending all the shows and interpreting seasonal trends. The “Designers to Watch” section often featured designers in the early stage of their careers, many names who did not make it to the pages of Vogue as well as a number who did. Eventually, into the 1990s and early 2000s, FI reported from every show in Fashion Week diaries, and reprinted comments from famous fashion commentators, such as Tim Blanks and Bill Cunningham, jotted down en route between shows. But the arrival of the internet and the explosion of fashion content, together with the emergence of bloggers, spelled the end for FI, which ceased publication in 2008.
Currently, within the global fashion system, we are observing a potentially seismic shift in the function of the fashion show and the ways consumers purchase clothes. Mainstream designers and brands are now beginning to experiment with showing their collections off the official fashion calendar, as well as departing from the concept of seasonal collections. Although this experimentation with function and format is significant, a listing in the August 8, 1994 issue of Fashion Calendar attests to similar rumbles twenty years ago.
A year following the organization of 7th on Sixth, Martin Margiela, for his Autumn/Winter 1994 collection, staged six fashion shows taking place simultaneously at six different boutiques that sold his collection around the world as a way to subvert the traditional schedule. In New York, the collection was presented at the iconic Charivari boutique on 57th Street. The boutiques already had the deliveries for that season, meaning all the clothes shown were ready for purchase. In many cases, models were cast from the street specifically to reflect the clients of each city. The shows were open to the public and aimed to re-conceptualize the relationship between the designer and the client. This experimentation worked to “break the fashion system where a designer's ideas are often watered down by buyers and served up to the public six months after their conception.” Interestingly, even this iconoclastic show was listed in the Fashion Calendar, the publication that helped establish the very system it rebelled against, underscoring the notion that being listed in the Calendar remained essential for exposure.
Without a fashion show or presentation, a designer’s collection will likely never enter public consciousness. This need for exposure makes the Fashion Calendar a central point where information about events and initiatives in the fashion world coexist. Ruth Finley’s Fashion Calendar was a constant, independent, and centripetal organizing force for the American fashion industry from its earliest years. The personal tone of Finley’s interactions with her subscribers and her propensity to be the industry’s consummate problem-solver made her a key figure in the American fashion system, highlighting the important but often neglected impact of female fashion executives. With the formalization of Fashion Week in New York, Fashion Calendar became the “official” calendar, guaranteeing its place in the city’s fashion history.
The Fashion Calendar helped form the fashion community of New York and reflected its democratic spirit back onto itself. The publication printed listings advertised by subscribers for subscribers, but also allowed outsiders, domestic and foreign, to place single listings aimed at accessing the Calendar’s readership. Over time the Calendar helped form a community for the American industry in which established members intermingled with newcomers. Finley’s democratic approach helped create a sense of participatory openness in the American fashion industry that persists.
As a running list of fashion shows, presentations, promotional initiatives, panels, and educational and charitable programs, the Fashion Calendar’s strength is in its comprehensiveness. Although there are some issues missing from the archive, there is barely a fashion event in the past seventy years that was not listed within its pages. Finley’s principal contribution was her role as the doyenne and organizing force of the Calendar, but she has also played a remarkable role in ensuring the preservation of her life’s work, making her living archive one of the most dynamic possible sources for learning about New York fashion and its history.
 Light Cone Pictures, Ruth Finley’s Fashion Calendar, directed by Christian D. Bruun, (forthcoming), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4033630/?ref_=fn_tt_tt_6
 IMG (International Management Group) now known as WME-IMG (William Morris Endeavor and Silver Lake Partners acquired IMG in 2013) is a private company that purchased 7th on Sixth from CFDA and continues to produce the semi-annual fashion week events in New York and in other cities around the world.
 Karen Trivette, Special Collections at the Fashion Institute of Technology, in discussion with the author, 2016.
 See Tim Blanks, “How to fix the Fashion System,” The Business of Fashion, [Online].
8 February 2016, https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/opinion/the-roundtable-fixing-the-fashion-system; Imran Amed, “Demna Gvasalia Reveals Vetements' Plan to Disrupt the Fashion System,” The Business of Fashion. [Online], 5 February, 2016, Available: https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/intelligence/demna-gvasalia-reveals-vetements-plan-to-disrupt-the-fashion-system; Véronique Hyland, “The CFDA Agrees: New York Fashion Week Needs to Change,” The Cut : New York Magazine, [Online], 3 March, 2016, available from: http://nymag.com/thecut/2016/03/cfda-report-new-york-fashion-week-changes.html; CFDA, “The Results Are In: Examining the Future of Fashion Week,” [Online] 3 March, 2016, Executive Summary, accessed 3 March, 2016, http://cfda.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/CFDA-Main-Article-VF.pdf.
 Ruth Finley, listing for Martin Margiela, Fashion Calendar, 8 August, 1994, p. 10, the Ruth Finley Collection, Special Collections, The Fashion Institute of Technology.
 The traditional system requires showing samples of a collection a season in advance.
 Suzy Menkes, “Martin Margiela,” The New York Times, [online] 6 September, 1994, http://www.nytimes.com/1994/09/06/style/06iht-fmargiela.html?pagewanted=print