Obituaries

Ruth Finley, put fashion shows on a schedule, dies at 98

Ms. Finley’s calendar helped designers avoid conflicts with rivals’ New York shows.
New York Times/FILE 2014
Ms. Finley’s calendar helped designers avoid conflicts with rivals’ New York shows.

NEW YORK — Ruth Finley, who brought order to the fashion world for nearly 70 years by publishing a biweekly calendar that mapped out the schedules of designers’ shows in New York City and helped them avoid conflicts with rivals, died Aug. 25 in Manhattan. She was 98.

Her son Larry Lein said the cause was respiratory failure.

With its pink pages and darker pink (or red) covers, Finley’s Fashion Calendar was the essential guide to the showrooms, department stores, theaters, and lofts where designers long introduced new collections. Decades later, as New York Fashion Week transformed and consolidated the industry, she was still at work, scheduling the hundreds of shows that were staged at Bryant Park and Lincoln Center.

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“There was nothing like the calendar before Ruth,” designer Stan Herman said in a telephone interview. “It was the bible.”

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Ms. Finley worked, sometimes alone and sometimes with a small staff, largely from a spare bedroom in her Manhattan apartment. She negotiated the schedules by telephone with scores of designers, crafting her checkerboard of dates and time slots into pages filled with single-spaced listings that had one major goal: maximize the designers’ audiences to their shows.

“She was an apolitical democratic source who was trusted by everybody,” Lein said. “She could stand up for a brand-new designer who wanted a date as much as Calvin Klein did. So she would shift Calvin Klein by a half-hour and he’d say, ‘Sure.’ ”

But woe to the designers who did not inform Ms. Finley of their plans.

Norman Norell, one of the great American designers, went rogue once in the late 1940s, scheduling a black-tie evening event without consulting Ms. Finley — only to discover that his plans clashed with another designer’s. Norell canceled his show.

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“After that,” Ms. Finley proudly told the website Quartz in 2014, “he wouldn’t even let his secretary call us to check his date. He used to call me himself.”

A diminutive, fashionable woman — but not one to splurge on designer clothing — Ms. Finley was more than a doyenne of listings. She became a mother figure and a confessor to designers, a presence at their shows into her 90s and a regular at the social events and benefits that she also listed.

“There wasn’t a designer who didn’t talk to Ruth, and there wasn’t a designer Ruth didn’t advise,” said Steven Kolb, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the industry trade group, in a telephone interview. “Everyone went to Ruth.”

Herman, the designer, said, “She was strong-willed, humane, and stuck to her vision.”

Ms. Finley was born Ruth Faith Finberg on Jan. 14, 1920, in Haverhill, Mass.. Her father, Joseph, emigrated from Russia at 14 and became a dentist. Her mother, Anna (Monoson) Finberg, was a homemaker. Growing up in Haverhill, young Ruth wanted to go to college and run a business, ambitions that were approved by her father but frowned upon by her mother. She fulfilled her first wish, studying journalism at Simmons College in Boston. In the summers she worked as a reporter for The Boston Herald and The New York Herald Tribune.

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The idea for the Fashion Calendar came to her during a visit to Manhattan while she was still at Simmons. She listened as two friends, both fashion writers, lamented that Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman had scheduled events at the same time. The inspiration percolated for a few years, and in 1945 she started her business in a rundown $55-a-month apartment near the “21” Club that she shared with her secretary.

“At night, we used to go to the theater to usher to make extra money,” Ms. Finley told Vogue magazine in 2016. “She and I were selling a service, which is a difficult thing; we had to prove how important it was to become part of the Fashion Calendar.”

Her publication — colored pink so that it would be easily noticed on a busy person’s cluttered desk — quickly became a must-read and a must-buy. In recent years, Lein said, it had close to 1,000 subscribers, among them designers, public relations firms, and members of the news media, who paid upward of $475 a year. She also charged fees to nonsubscribers to list events and to subscribers after they had listed four events.

In 2014, she sold the Fashion Calendar to the fashion designers’ council and became a consultant.

“We wanted to buy it for a very long time — longer than she was willing to consider us,” Kolb said.

Soon after the deal, the council stopped printing the calendar on paper and turned it into a digital-only service.

Ms. Finley is the subject of a forthcoming documentary directed by Christian Bruun, who followed her to fashion shows and showrooms.

“We would have morning coffee together often in her apartment, talking about fashion and the next steps for the film,” Bruun said in an e-mail. “She was endlessly curious and interested in life.”

In addition to Lein, Ms. Finley leaves two other sons, Joseph and Jim Green; nine grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Her marriage to Hank Green ended in divorce. Her second husband, Irving Lein, a women’s sportswear manufacturer, died in 1959, leaving her a widow to raise her sons, take active roles in the PTA, and run her business.

“She had more energy at 90 than I did at 50,” Larry Lein said of his mother.

That vitality — combined with a serendipitous idea — turned her into a star to designers like Donna Karan.

“She’s the only constant in the industry,” Karan told The New York Times in 2007. “God bless anyone who can keep the industry together.”