Ruth Finley: mother, grandmother, businesswoman, golfer, fashion historian, keeper of the calendar, 2014 CFDA Award winner and the Fairest Woman in Fashion. For 65 years, Ms. Finley has overseen New York’s Fashion Calendar — advising, befriending and emerging and established designers while mediating the time slot competition. She is one of the few people today who has worked with past and present industry leaders ranging from Eleanor Lambert and Eugenia Sheppard to Diane Von Furstenberg and Michael Kors to Alexander Wang and Tory Burch.
How did you come to start the Fashion Calendar? What year was it?
It began when I was still in college. I met two fashion editors who complained they were invited to Bergdorf Goodman and Saks for events at the same time the next day. That sparked the idea – there needed to be a clearinghouse for the fashion schedule.
What were some of your first challenges?
Our main challenge was how would we get people to pay for a service that was intangible?
What were the early days at Fashion Calendar like?
At the beginning, we did not make enough money to get by. My roommate was my secretary. We paid $55 a month for a furnished apartment with bedbugs on 52nd Street, across the street from the 21 Club. We ushered in a theatre at night for extra money and had fun doing it. Our job was to take people to their seats. We got a $10 tip to give a better seat. Then, we would stay until end of show and push the seats up.
Did women work in those days?
Women weren’t supposed to work. When I was 11, I told my father that I was going to go to a college where they sent students out to work. My specialty was journalism and I got a job on New York Herald Tribune working with the food editors. That is where I met the legendary Eugenia Sheppard and switched to fashion. She and Eleanor Lambert were my mentors.
Who were some of the designers you dealt with?
In the early days, designers called Fashion Calendar directly. I dealt very closely with Bill Blass, James Galanos, and Norman Norell.
How do you keep all the fashion shows straight and all the designers in line?
Basically, everything is on the computer and in my head. We don’t publish anything until it is ok’d by PR. Since the beginning, designers have respected our position in the industry. It started with Norell – he did not think he had to clear his date with us. One season, he ran into a big conflict when he did not do it and after that he called me personally for every fashion show.
Is it easier to schedule Bridal Fashion Week and work with those designers?
Not really because its such a short week. Designers are always vying for time slots.
What was it like working with the venerable Eleanor Lambert?
We were good friends and we used to talk 2-3 times a week. She checked out what she was doing with me. We were very friendly and she helped a lot of people. Very often she would take designers she believed in who did not have money.
What do you think about the shows being in Brooklyn?
Personally, I don’t see any reason to drive to Brooklyn. At this point, a lot of people are tired of Lincoln Center. A number of people Kors, DVF, left Lincoln Center but, Carolina Herrera stayed. So, it will be interesting to see what happens next season.
How did it feel to receive the CFDA Award? We heard you received a standing ovation.
It was very exciting. So many people were there whom I worked with over the years. A lot of my family was there. My grandchildren came for the reception afterwards. I have 10 grandchildren and 1 great grandson. I did not expect the standing ovation particularly with so many famous people there.
What is your secret to staying on top?
Personal relationships are key. Always have somebody in the office to answer the phone. If I see something I don’t like, I get right on it.