Remembering a Fashion Industry Pioneer

Ruth Finley ’41 (1920–2018) put everyone in the New York fashion world in their place—literally—and leaves behind an extraordinary legacy.

Ruth Finley ’41 was the doyenne of the New York Fashion Week schedule for over 70 years and the ultimate fashion industry insider. As publisher and editor of Fashion Calendar, the trade journal and single clearinghouse for logistical information about the fashion industry and NYFW, Finley was a pivotal figure in the development and organization of the American fashion system.

As the arbiter and distributor of fashion dates and information within the community, her professional ascent in an era when women were discouraged from leading careers, reflected her and the Fashion Calendar’s centrality and unique position. Her personal and democratic approach in maneuvering and scheduling an ever-expanding industry enabled her to pursue her commitment to supporting young and emerging designers by making room for their work among the icons of American design. Finley was recognized as a leading, and much beloved, fashion executive by her peers and by many notable organizations, including the Council of Fashion Designers of America. That helped her to galvanize the charitable support of the American fashion industry towards the wider community with organizations such as Citymeals on Wheels.

Finley’s singular contribution to the development and history of American fashion is further enhanced by the thoughtful preservation of her life’s work. The archive of Finley’s publications is unequalled and invaluable to the study of American fashion history and culture, labor and women. Her legacy, however, transcends her professional accomplishments, as her enthusiasm for life and optimistic outlook made her an exceptional woman, mother, and friend. Finley’s dedication to education and the mentorship she provided impacted the lives of many. My work with Ruth transformed into a wonderful friendship, and learning from her has been enriching in a myriad of ways. Her strength, resilience and humility will continue to inspire all who learn about her truly sensational life.

Natalie Nudell is a historian and curator of fashion and textiles, and an instructor in the History of Art Department at the Fashion Institute of Technology-SUNY in New York City. She wrote and produced the forthcoming feature documentary Calendar Girl (2019) about Ruth Finley and the Fashion Calendar, and her scholarly contributions include the essay, “Ruth Finley’s Fashion Calendar” in The Hidden History of American Fashion edited by Nancy Deihl (Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2018).

A special video tribute to Ruth Finley ’41 produced for the 2014 Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards.