(b. 3 August 1921 or 1923 in New York City; d. 19 March 1974 in New York City), fashion designer whose well-tailored and interchangeable sportswear elevated that look as high style and complemented the status of the social change of women during the 1960s.
Klein was born Hannah Golofsky, one of three daughters of Morris, a businessman, and Esther Golofsky, a housewife. Klein was small-boned and petite (five feet, three inches), with a strong sense of style and sophistication. By the time she was fifteen, she was already selling freelance sketches to wholesale garment manufacturers. She studied fine arts and drawing at the Girls' Commercial High School in Brooklyn, New York, and at Traphagen School of Fashion.
Even as a teenager she never cared for garments that were then available for short, small-boned women. In later interviews, Klein described how such garments appeared too "cutesy" and often were "smothered in rhinestones and ruffles." She simply could not walk into a department store that sold expensive dresses and buy something that would fit her without elaborate and expensive alterations. Her subsequent career first revolutionized the garment industry with respect to petite women and then invented well-tailored and interchangeable sportswear for American women of all sizes.
The major influence on Klein was another petite designer, the legendary Parisian Coco Chanel. Chanel was the first designer to adapt the traditional garments of men (shirts, jackets, trousers, and suits) for women. From the 1920s through the 1940s, the American designer Claire McCardell employed Chanel's ideas in designs for taller, sophisticated Hollywood actresses, most notably Greta Garbo and Katharine Hepburn. Anne Klein adapted Chanel's ideas as well as the well-tailored construction and crisp silhouette of Parisian couture. She brought elegant sophistication to what came to be called "junior" size clothing.
Klein sketched and designed for various wholesale dress manufacturers through 1948. That year she was the head designer for Junior Sophisticates, owned by Ben Klein. They married in 1948 and had no children. She caused a revolution in stylizing the small, or junior-size, American woman with a wardrobe that became known as "sports-wear." Until 1965 when she left the firm, Klein's designs for Junior Sophisticates created an unprecedentedly flexible wardrobe that provided comfort and style. Clients could wear blazers, trousers, and coordinated separates. Affordable everyday garments could be remixed for evening occasions without the runaway prices of haute couture. After divorcing Ben Klein in 1958, Klein married Matthew ("Chip") Rubenstein in 1963; they had no children. He persuaded her to open a freelance design studio. She did in 1965, and Anne Klein and Company continued her mixand-match sportswear for women of all sizes. Her collections combined her designs for various manufacturers, and then those garments were sold in over 3,500 stores nationwide.
The first Anne Klein and Company collection became a stunning success, and the company was immediately launched to critical praise and with high profits. For this 1965 fall collection she combined unexpected pairings of cloth fabrics with leather and suede garments for Mallory, a woman's wear manufacturer. Silk culottes were matched with suede blazers dyed in shockingly bright colors. Waists were low and often belted, and skirts were pleated or slightly flared. "We're looking for a truly American look," she explained to the store buyers. "I'm getting sort of fed up with the American look coming from abroad." American West skirt silhouettes were transformed into full-length suede coats. Levi designs were changed into leather pants dyed in bright yellows, pinks, and greens. A soft white crepe shirt was matched with bell-bottom suede pants laced up the back. Always interested in the complete look, Klein also designed the shoes made by Palizzio.
Klein was also an inventor, and she patented innovative garments. For her spring 1965 collection, she showed the "raincape," manufactured by Dolphin Rainwear. This tent-like garment covered the body from the top of the head to the knee. For the 1966 collection, she devised a special girdle to be worn under Mary Quaint's miniskirts. That year she also invented snaps for doll clothes and children's wear. With various assistants (especially Donna Karan, who became a designer in her own right), Anne Klein and Company wholesaled complete looks, from shoes to dresses to coats to accessories for women. Among Klein's retail clients from 1966 through 1969 were firms that wanted her crisp sportswear look to revitalize tired and out-of-date wardrobe lines. Charles Revson had her firm refreshen his Evan Picone and Dynasty collections. Similarly, Klein's company updated Pierre Cardin coats.
In 1966 the company began redesigning various projects beyond fashion. Prompted by her husband's interest in shopping bags and boxes, her firm devised a new shirt box with exterior floral patterns and filled with variously colored and patterned tissue paper. The new design allowed shirt patterns to stand out. Fieldcrest asked Klein in 1966 to redesign towels. Elaborate towel borders were moved so that when towels were displayed on a store rack the design could be seen. By 1968 her company was redesigning automobile and airplane interiors.
Klein was also continuously involved with the fashion world. For the 1966 through 1969 seasons, her fall collections combined garments in suede and leather for Mallory with that company's knitwear. Over these garments, Modelia coats were shown. In 1967 she designed a gray thigh-length suede tunic to be worn over tight brown leather pants. Klein called the pants "Little Johns." That year she also showed knee socks with short leather pantsuits and side-wrapped leather skirts with a high-rising midriff and a calf-length hem. From 1966 through the early 1970s Anne Klein and Company designed the Danskin line of tights and tops for women and children. In 1968 the firm branched out to design menswear for Hadley, including day to evening sweaters and straight-leg and bell-bottom trousers and knickers. That year Klein told a reporter that the firm's goal was to provide clothing that was simple and chic as well as diverse yet matchable.
Klein's sportswear—fashion in parts—mixed and matched garments for day or night while remaining simplified with expert tailoring. From Mallory leathers to Gant knitwear to Blousecraft garments, Anne Klein and Company created during the 1960s a flexible wardrobe at affordable prices. With four other American designers in 1973, the sportswear look was seen in Paris and created a style revolution in Europe.
Klein won the prestigious Coty Fashion Award in 1955 and 1971, and she was elected to the Coty Fashion Hall of Fame in 1971. After Klein's death from cancer in 1974, Anne Klein and Company continued her legacy: to create for the no-nonsense American woman perfected designs in sportswear that combined evening wear chic with day wear comfort. Her mix-and-match concept became a fixture during the 1960s for women of all sizes. "I've tried to clothe a woman so life is a little freer for her," she said in 1968, "so her clothes can be an enjoyment, not a drag." Klein's garments complemented the social revolution of 1960s American women, whose diversified lives were clothed in a sophisticated yet practical comfort and style.
There is no biography of Klein. The Fashion Institute of Technology's exhibition catalogue 50 Years of American Women in Fashion (1981) includes her designs. Also see Caroline R. Milbank, New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style (1989). An obituary is in the New York Times (20 Mar. 1974).
Patrick S. Smith
"Klein, Anne." Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Thematic Series: The 1960s. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/klein-anne
"Klein, Anne." Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Thematic Series: The 1960s. . Retrieved March 19, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/klein-anne
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