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Klein, Anne (1923–1974)

Klein, Anne (1923–1974)

American fashion designer. Name variations: Hannah Golofski or Golofsky. Born Hannah Golofsky (also seen as Golofski) on August 3, 1923, in Brooklyn, New York; died on March 19, 1974; daughter of Morris Golofsky (owner of a fleet of cabs) and Esther Golofsky; married Ben Klein (divorced); married Matthew Rubinstein (a businessman), in 1963; no children.

Known as the mother of contemporary American style, designer Anne Klein reinvented the sportswear popularized by designers like Claire McCardell and Clare Potter in the 1930s and 1940s and brought it into the ranks of high fashion. Creating a simple "programmed wardrobe," consisting of blazers, skirts, pants, blouses, and sweaters that could be combined in a variety of different outfits, she led the way into the contemporary mode of dressing. "She always thought it through from the woman's point of view," said her close friend Edie Locke , a television fashion producer and onetime editor-in-chief of Mademoiselle. "Like, 'Am I going to wear this? If I buy it, will it go with the other things?' Today that seems normal, everyday kind of stuff, but it wasn't then." In 1974, at the height of her success, Klein would enter the hospital for what appeared to be a virus but it turned out to be cancer. Her death, at age 51, was a shock to all who knew her, and a particular loss to the fashion world.

Klein, known as Annie to her friends, was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1923, the daughter of Russian immigrants. Her father worked as a taxi driver when he first came to the United States, but he eventually acquired a fleet of cabs and then a garage. Klein was perhaps most influenced by her mother Esther, an extraordinary seamstress who transposed the fashions she saw in store windows into clothing for Anne and her three sisters. At age 15, Klein began working as a free-lance sketcher on Seventh Avenue in New York's fashion district. Her first full time job was with Varden Petites, where she updated their matronly image into something decidedly more chic. Klein, a small and elegant

woman herself—and somewhat shy—was a hard taskmaster, even in the early days of her career. Award-winning designer Bill Blass, who assisted Klein at Varden for a year and then was fired, remembered that she kept extraordinary hours that did not much appeal to a bachelor just out of the army. "She was the perfectionist of all time," he said. "She was never satisfied and had a tendency to fit and fit and refit." Blass worked with Klein again in November 1973, when they both participated in the highly successful Versailles fashion show, which included designers Halston, Oscar de la Renta, and Stephen Burrows.

In 1948, Anne and her first husband Ben Klein started a firm called Junior Sophisticates, which specialized in updated, sleek styles for the smaller woman. "She was incredible to work with—her mind was always going," recalled Jerry Feder, who then assisted Klein. "There were times I felt like walking out—she was so demanding. But you just had to respect that woman. I didn't know how much I'd learned until I left her." Klein stayed on at Junior Sophisticates, even after her divorce from Ben Klein, but left in 1965 to open the Anne Klein Studio on West 57th Street. Three years later, she and her second husband Matthew "Chip" Rubinstein, along with Gunther Oppenheim and Sanford Smith, formed Anne Klein and Company, which began as a sportswear house but gradually expanded to include perfume, scarves, jewelry, handbags and belts, sleepwear, perfume, and menswear. The company went international in 1973, forming an alliance with Takihyo of Nagoya, a 200-year-old Japanese firm. Donna Karan , who had assisted Klein for nine months back at Junior Sophisticates, rejoined the designer in 1971 and co-designed what turned out to be Klein's last collection. She considered Klein both a teacher and a friend. "To watch Annie work was a trip in itself. She wouldn't ask anyone to do things she wouldn't do herself, including sweeping the floors."

Chip Rubinstein, Klein's husband for 12 years, claimed that in addition to being a perfectionist, his wife was an ever-flowing fountain of ideas. "An avid sketcher, she carried a voluminous bag filled with zillions of sheets of paper. She'd even sketch on the streets if she got an idea." Others who knew the designer speak of her almost childlike curiosity and her ability to draw inspiration from the most mundane items. "I remember going into the bathroom with her," recalled Klein's niece Barbara Waldman , who worked with her aunt from 1968 to 1974 as a salesperson and then in the design studio, "the one by the freight elevator; she never used the smart one by the showroom. We were standing washing our hands, and she picked up this old bar of soap, which was cracked and grimed with dirt, and took it off to the Xerox machine to make copies of it. Later it became a pattern on a fabric for a blouse."

Klein's concepts and philosophy of fashion are more popular than ever. Her label, designed by Louis Dell' Olio until 1993, when Richard Tyler took over, continues to flourish, and her influence is seen in the contemporary clothing lines of Calvin Klein (no relation), Ralph Lauren, and, of course, Donna Karan. "Anne allowed American women to find their own identity in dressing," explained designer Hazel Haire , who worked with Klein in the 1960s. "She offered them the comfort that didn't exist in fashion then. She gave them quality clothes that weren't available to women in the medium price range. And she taught them to recognize quality." Bernadine Morris , senior fashion writer for The New York Times, summed up Klein's contribution in simpler terms. "Clothes were loony," she said. "Anne instinctively understood it was time for a nice blazer."

sources:

Brampton, Sally. "The House That Anne Built," in Harper's Bazaar. November 1993. No. 3384, pp. 190–194.

"Memories of Anne Klein," in The Star-Ledger [Newark, NJ]. March 9, 1975.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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