item 89 - Mollie Parnis interview, 1982 June 2

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Reference code

US NNFIT SC.FITA.3.20.4.9.1.89

Title

Mollie Parnis interview, 1982 June 2

Date(s)

  • 1982 June 02 (Creation)

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item

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Original media: 1 audio cassette

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Name of creator

(1899 March 18-1992)

Biographical history

Brooklyn-born ready-to-wear and boutique designer for women’s clothes, Mollie Parnis was born in 1899 as Sara Rosen Parnis to a poor immigrant family. She started working at the age of 8 years old and briefly studied law at Hunter College before beginning her career in fashion. In 1928, Parnis began as a saleswoman in a showroom of a blouse manufacturer, but soon moved on to designing. In 1933, Parnis opened her own business with her husband Leon Livingston. In the 1940s, she launched her own label.

Parnis’s clothes were feminine, accentuating waistlines with full skirts. She became known for her understated, conservative, well-tailored dresses and suits in luxurious looking fabrics. She designed for several first ladies, including Mamie Eisenhower and Betty Ford, and always kept her prices in the moderate range. Parnis stayed in business throughout the 1980s, closing her salon in 1984. She published a book, ‘Fashion: The Inside Story" and started up an at-home business concentrating on loungewear. in 1985.

Name of creator

(1924-1995)

Biographical history

"Mildred Finger Haines ... helped shape fashion tastes for four decades as a top buyer for department stores and a consultant to clothes makers and retailers.... From the late 1940's through the late 1960's, Mrs. Haines, known throughout her career as Mildred Finger, was a buyer of ready-to-wear at Macy's, Ohrbach's and Bergdorf Goodman, and was one of New York City's most often cited taste makers. At Bergdorf's, in particular, she was noted for bringing European styles to American consumers. She later became Vice President of Charles of the Ritz, headed fashion merchandising for Yves St. Laurent and became an independent consultant, with clients like the Limited and Arthur D. Little. Suffering from multiple sclerosis, she retired in 1986. In succeeding years, she frequently contributed her knowledge of the fashion industry to the oral history projects of the American Jewish Committee and the Fashion Institute of Technology...." New York Times Obituary, 1995

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This interview opens with Mollie Parnis talking about her latest project, a prize for three young journalists that she began in memory of her son. She then segues into the origins of her company and her early biography. She commenced her career by designing blouses after being frustrated at the quality of the designs while working in a design showroom on Madison Avenue. The Parnis-Livingston company began in a studio Seventh Avenue about five-years after Mollie Parnis and Leon Livingston married in 1930, with Mollie designing and Leon managing the business needs. After her husband died in 1960 she closed the business for three-months. Diana Vreeland convinced Mollie to stay open by putting two of her sketches in Harper’s Bazaar. The name of the business remained Parnis-Livingston until 1970 when it changed to Mollie Parnis. She now has three divisions: Mollie Parnis, Inc.; Mollie Parnis Studio; and Mollie Parnis at Home. Upon success, she began doing philanthropic work, including a grant foundation called “Mollie Parnis Dress up Your Neighborhood”; scholarships at FIT and Parsons; and the aforementioned journalistic prizes. Topics touched on include: the impersonalization of the current fashion industry; her friendship with various First Ladies, including Mamie Eisenhower, Lady Bird Johnson, and Nancy Reagan; how the changes in the industry have necessitated changes in her business-model, including the prevalence of licensing from designers in the 1980s.

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  • Legacy audio ID no: AOH112
  • Legacy transcription ID no: T18

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