A Date with Ruth Finley: 65 Years of the Fashion Calendar

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Photo: Patrick McMullan
Ruth Finley

Fashion Week is a fickle mistress by nature, a force of change with new trends, new designers, and even new venues emerging each season. But there’s been one constant amidst all the frenzy: the telltale pink Fashion Calendar.

From editors to buyers to designers, everyone turns to Ruth Finley’s guide of events, both during collections and off season. For 65 years she’s kept the industry in line and was recently honored by the National Arts Club with a Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement.

We caught up with Finley (who wore navy Carolina Herrera and pearls) to find out how she figured out her life plan as a young girl.

Tell us about your life before the Fashion Calendar. I’m from Haverhill, Massachusetts. At the age of 11, I decided I wanted to go to a college where they send students out to work in a certain field. So I went to my dad’s office—he was a dentist—and told him I wanted to be a journalist, I wanted to go to New York, I wanted to get married, and I wanted to work and have a family. And continue working while I had a family too. He said, “OK, but let’s not tell your mother just yet. She’ll worry.” So, I went to Simmons College at age 16 and worked for the Boston Herald as a food columnist. After two summers, I came to New York, fell in love with the city, and knew that as soon as I graduated, I’d have to go [there]. I finally told my mother, and she said she’d worry but I promised to be careful.

How did you come up with the concept of the calendar? Some fashion people I knew were complaining that they had to be at an event at Bergdorf’s and another at Saks at the same time. I said to myself, ‘There should be a clearinghouse to avoid that.’ So I started it! I borrowed $1,000 from my old college roommate—who had married very well—and found an apartment with my new roommate, Gladys Hoover, on 52nd Street, across from 21, that was $55 per month. It was good enough to live in and serve as an office. But then we found out it had bedbugs—I didn’t even know what they were!

Did you tell your mother? No!

What happened next? We had to educate people. There were so many stores in New York—60 or 70—and they all did fashion shows. Stores did the shows because designers didn’t use their names on the labels. Then, in the ’50s, one of the top PR people in New York, Eleanor Lambert, started a Fashion Press Week and we got very involved. But we still had to educate people on the importance of clearing dates. At first [designer] Norman Norell didn’t think he had to clear anything and was very disappointed with a poorly attended show. From then on, he called me personally to clear the dates.

Did anything like that happen again? Several years ago, Oscar de la Renta had reserved a theater for his show, and it was at the same time as Bill Blass. I was able to get Bill Blass to change his time.

How has the Fashion Calendar changed over the years? First, we typed it with stencils and ran it off on a mimeograph, then we did it with an electric typewriter, and then we got one of the first computers to come out, but it was enormous and made a lot of noise. The first Fashion Calendar only had about six listings.

fashion calendar

Photo courtesy of Fashion Calendar

The Fashion Calendar in 1963, left, and today.

Do you attend a lot of the events you list? I have attended as many as 12 events in one day, which was this past September. I definitely would not consider myself a homebody.

What about your life outside of work? I had three children, all boys, and I was very active in their raising. Now I have nine grandchildren.

Do you ever go on vacation? Oh, yes! I have a vacation home in Killington, Vermont. My family goes on vacation together every Christmas, all 17 of us.

Do you use a Blackberry or Filofax? I have a Blackberry. 

What’s the first thing you read in the morning? Women’s Wear Daily!  (laughs)

What did you think when you first heard you were receiving a Medal of Honor? I guess the first thing I thought was that I hoped all my children would be there.

Are you planning to publish anything else, like a memoir? I’m thinking about it.