Fashion historian, author and lecturer John A. Tiffany was mentored early in his career by working for Eleanor Lambert, who is considered THE pioneer of public relations, as well as credited with many monumental events and organizations still in place today, such as the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). A true visionary who led a fascinating life and incredibly long, fruitful career, Miss Lambert’s story has never been told before, until now, with Tiffany’s first book, Eleanor Lambert: STILL HERE. Fashion Pulse Daily was honored to interview John A. Tiffany about the experience of writing the book, and his personal interactions with Miss Lambert. Read below for a look into the life of a legend; although she has been gone since 2003, her legacy continues on in print form, thanks to John A. Tiffany.
FPD: What was the main catalyst that drove you to write “Eleanor Lambert: Still Here”?
JT: “I first started working for Miss Lambert, I was familiar with MANY of the things she did or so I thought… but as time went on I discovered more and more of the things she created, people she discovered and talent she nurtured and things she represented. I had a passion to let people know all the things that she did! I think the final straw was when my friend — celebrity photographer Karl Giant said (for the 100th time) you have got to write these things down! My friend Jessie Barth always says “John, you have to tell the story of our pioneer!””
FPD: Miss Lambert was obviously way ahead of her time and an incredible visionary in the realm of public relations; her decades-long career and reaching the ripe age of 100 is such a feat in itself. Working alongside her in the 1990s, what do you see as some of the reasons that can attest to her success?
JT: “Miss Lambert actually didn’t believe in luck; she believed in destiny and she believed in hard work! I have always had incredible bosses – all successful ad hard working, but Miss Lambert really was he hardest working person I ever worked for – she didn’t waste time – she was very focused and very busy, I always felt that she had a lot of ideas brewing in her mind. She totally knew who she was, she had no doubts about what she wanted to do — and what she was going to do and she kept doing it until she achieved it. She was very focused.”
[A young Eleanor Lambert]
FPD: A quote from your book, that quotes Miss Lambert, “You must always be alert and see the things right in front of you that are not done and should be done.” Such simple, yet sound advice! Could you give an example of something like this that you recall happened while working with her?
JT: “Well of course that applied to the great things she created such as the Costume Institute which she helped start in the 1930s and the Costume Institute Gala which she started in 1948, or creating the first Fashion Week in 1943 or the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 1962; but also it referred to people – fashion designers or interior designers or any of her clients! She liked to work with people – she wasn’t a big fan of big corporations. She was always looking for new talent – people who needed her help and of course if she liked them she would help them – whether or not they could afford it! She was always going to see a new designer somewhere. I recall she was always interested in helping people out, she could get anyone and I mean ANYONE on the phone in minutes – making connections, she would and all parties would be the better for it. Miss Lambert would consider that being alert — helping people who needed it!”
FPD: If there is one thing that Miss Lambert could go down in the history books for, what would you think her most significant contribution to fashion should be noted as (or what she would most likely want it to be)?
JT: “For sure, the Versailles Exhibition of 1973 – the contest — disguised as a fashion show between France & the USA. With the French audience proclaiming America the hands-down winner. It came to be this legendary event – although the night itself was not as legendary then as it is now, it started a chain-reaction. It really put American fashion on the map – it put America in the same league as the French & Italians. It had been what Miss Lambert had originally tried to do – put American fashion in the same league as French. She was laughed at when she originally had this idea in the 1930s — when she told her friend Diana Vreeland in the 1930s, she laughed and said: “oh Eleanor, you are such an amateur!”
Also, I would also have to say Miss Lambert’s creation of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, because it was the first time that designers themselves came together. To be a member you have to be a designer, in creating the Council, Miss Lambert let designers lead themselves as opposed the the manufacturers who controlled everything.
And finally the creation of fashion week, the first fashion week was in New York and then later Paris, Rome, Milan and London asked Miss Lambert to help them create their own fashion weeks. I always say that Miss Lambert created a cultural moment… That moment before a fashion show begins… The lights go down and the room is dark, and there is that moment we all sit and wonder what is new? what is next? it’s our collective excitement and anticipation, and then fashion marches in… she created the runway and she created that week.”
FPD: Was there a different way that Miss Lambert would go about achieving press for her art clients versus the fashion ones?
JT: “Miss Lambert sought to showcase talented people, whether they were artists, fashion designers, interior designers or hair stylists! She thought that talented people needed to be promoted and that is what she did. She was always open to new ideas.”
FPD: Another quote, “I am not the news,” seemed to be one of Miss Lambert’s mantras and although she was well-loved and respected, kept the focus away from her and directly to her clients. Do you think that nowadays in the world of publicity this concept has for the most part, been lost?
JT: “Yes! I don’t say that it is right or wrong, but that concept doesn’t really apply anymore. It’s tricky — might be hard to explain to your clients why you are getting publicity and they are not!”
FPD: “Since “I am not the news” was so much a part of Miss Lambert, what was the process like when compiling information postmortem, about Miss Lambert’s accomplishments and life?”
JT: “Well, I went through the files when I worked for Miss Lambert in 1995. When she closed her office at age 99, they went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, then later, FIT. The files – Miss Lambert’s archives were still pretty much how I remember them from 1995. I knew Miss Lambert’s story very well and have been putting things together for the last 16 years!”
FPD: Miss Lambert certainly had a signature style with her turbans, jewelry, and furs; do you think to become an icon, one must always have distinct fashion traits such as these?
JT: “Miss Lambert used to say; “Get your looks and stick with it!” Again, I think she really knew who she was, she knew how she wanted to live and she enjoyed putting her look together each day! I always say she looked like an Empress, she had impeccable manners, but underneath she was a rebel! I think it is best to always try to look your best!”
FPD: Since she died in 2003, what do you think Miss Lambert would have thought of social media? Do you think she would have adapted to this new world, or stuck to a more traditional public relations approach?
JT: “Miss Lambert certainly didn’t love computers – she liked her typewriter – HOWEVER, she would have loved how there are more ways to reach people and get the word out! So, she would have been very interested to learn more, read more and have lunch with bloggers and connect them with others — and of course pitch a a few story ideas too!!!”
FPD: What is the best advice you can give to aspiring publicists, or those who want to just break into the fashion industry in general?
JT: “Learn everything you can! I always meet people who want to get into fashion or PR and I ask them if they have a subscription to Vogue… And they don’t! It’s $12 a year, you should subscribe to every magazine you can afford. You should know who writes what and what they are writing! Of course, they should read blogs too. But you need to know what is happening! That is a good place to start….”
Eleanor Lambert: STILL HERE by John Tiffany is available for $59.95 at Amazon.com