I was pleasantly surprised to find the Women in New York Fashion: Twentieth Century Retail Mavens symposium on Eventbrite.
The general public’s knowledge of fashion is solely focused on the designers and the celebrities who wear their designs. As talented and fascinating as these designers are, there’s a group of people responsible for placing them in the spotlight—buyers, marketers and publicists.
Moreover, many of the current designers are well-known because of the established heritage of the fashion houses they worked for. Preserving the history of brands—their founders and their successors; their business partners; their personal and professional connections; etc.—has been made possible by institutions such as the The Costume Institute at The Met, Fashion Institute of Technology, and, of course, Parsons School of Design.
As any marketer will ask—what is a brand without a story?
The symposium highlighted several women who were responsible for ultimately shaping buyer and consumer experiences in fashion retail as we know it today. Geraldine Stutz, former president at Henri Bendel, was Parsons’ central focus—they recently completed three years of research on Stutz, made possible by the Geraldine Stutz Trust—but other female presidents at Lord & Taylor or Bonwit Teller were also influential in their own right.
Some historians may try to discredit these women because of how they landed their positions—mostly made possible by their powerful husbands—but considering the time period, how else were women supposed to start their careers? Although the fashion industry served as a professional space predominantly for women, being a woman who wanted to work a real career outside of the home still carried a weight of controversy.
Men may have placed , but it is women like Hortense Odlum, Dorothy Shaver and Geraldine Stutz who left lasting impacts and legacies in the fashion industry for future industry professionals to follow.
If you’re interested in learning more about what was discussed, I took a few notes—they may not be the most organized, but if you’re looking for names to know and fun facts about women in New York fashion, hopefully this will satiate your curiosity.