Back when John Tiffany was in high school, he was researching the 1973 Battle of Versailles fashion show for a speechwriting project, and someone suggested he call Eleanor Lambert, the legendary publicist who organized it.
“She answered the phone, gave me a quote, and wished me luck,” he says.
When he moved to New York in 1995, she hired him as one of her assistants, and he had free access to her files, rich with celeb photos and news clippings about the Versailles show, Fashion Week, the March of Dimes, the Coty Awards, the Best Dressed List (which Vanity Fair now oversees), and the Council of Fashion Designers of America, all of which she founded. (She also found time to get her hair done every morning.) “I was probably the first person ever to look through those files,” John says. “I found unopened phone bills from the late ’30s.”
Miss Lambert died in 2003, at 100 years old. Much of those archives—the materials about the Coty Awards and the CFDA— ended up at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art but were recently transferred to FIT’s Special Collections department.
And John wrote a book about her. “Eleanor Lambert: Still Here” is a 320-page coffee-table number out Sept. 7 from Pointed Leaf Press. The book covers her youth, her litany of achievements, and the countless designers who owe her big time for their success.
“People told her she was an amateur for thinking that American fashion was just as good as European fashion,” John says. “Nowadays, most people in the world have an American aesthetic—we’re not matchy-matchy, we all wear separates—which she first believed in in the mid-’30s.”