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Alexander, John White (07 October 1856–31 May 1915), artist, was born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, the son of John Alexander and Fanny Smith. Alexander’s father died soon after his birth, and his mother died when he was five years old. Sent to live with his maternal grandparents, Alexander left school at the age of twelve to work as a messenger for the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company in Pittsburgh. Colonel Edward Jay Allen, an official of the firm, was impressed by a sketch done by Alexander. Allen eventually adopted Alexander....

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Aronson, Boris ( October 1900–16 November 1980), scene and costume designer, was born in Kiev, Russia, the son of Solomon Aronson, the chief rabbi of Kiev, and Deborah Turfsky. By the age of eight he was exhibiting astonishing artistic talent and went on to study art in Kiev, Moscow, and Paris....

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See Bendel, Henri

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Bendel, Henri (22 January 1868–22 March 1936), and Henri Bendel (22 January 1868–22 March 1936), fashion designer and entrepreneur, , was born Henri Willis Bendel in Vermillionville (renamed Lafayette in 1884 after the Marquis de Lafayette), in southwest Louisiana to William Louis Bendel, purported to have been a former British Naval officer,and Marie Plonsky, born in the German states. They arrived in Louisiana before the Civil War and opened a dry goods store. His father died in 1874; four years later his mother married Benjamin Falk, a Russian-born dry goods merchant, when Henri was ten years old. His mother, a successful businesswoman, ran a furniture store, a dry goods store, a drugstore and a funeral parlor. His stepfather was one of the most successful businessmen in late 19 ...

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Blass, Bill (22 June 1922–12 June 2002), fashion designer, branding innovator, and philanthropist, was born William Ralph Blass in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His father, Ralph Aldrich Blass, was a traveling hardware salesman, and his mother, Ethyl Keyser, was a dressmaker who worked from their home. Although his sister, Virginia (Gina), was just two years older than he, they were never close. When Blass was barely five years old, his father committed suicide at home, which Blass later assumed to be from manic-depression, although his mother never discussed the family trauma with her children. His mother did not remarry, and the family struggled during the Depression years on her income from a small annuity, rent from a lakeside cabin, and dressmaking....

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Bresci, Gaetano (11 November 1869–22 May 1901), silk weaver and regicide, was born in Coiano, Italy, the son of Gaspero Bresci, a peasant/artisan, and Maddalena Godi. At age eleven Bresci was apprenticed to learn the art of silk weaving; he later attended a Sunday school to acquire a specialized trade. While still a youth, Gaetano participated in an anarchist group. First arrested for disturbing the peace in 1892, he was subsequently confined to the penal island of Lampedusa for more than a year for his role in organizing a strike. Now identified as a “dangerous anarchist,” Bresci had difficulty securing employment....

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Bulova, Arde (24 October 1889–19 March 1958), businessman, was born in New York City, the son of Joseph Bulova and Bertha Eisner. His father emigrated to New York from Bohemia and in 1873 started a small jewelry manufacturing business that eventually became the Bulova Watch Company. Bulova attended school in New York and in 1905 began working as a salesman for his father’s company. The family business prospered and in 1911 was incorporated, with the father as president and the son as vice president and treasurer. The firm was reincorporated in 1923 as the Bulova Watch Company, Inc. Bulova became chairman of the board in 1930, a position he held until his death in 1958....

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Pierre Cartier. With wife Elma Rumsey and daughter, 1926. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-124396.

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Cartier, Pierre (1878–27 October 1964), jeweler, was born Pierre-Camille Cartier in France, the son of Louis-François-Alfred Cartier, also a jeweler; his mother's name is unknown. Pierre Cartier's grandfather Louis-François Cartier (1819–1904) founded Cartier, the renowned jewelry company, in Paris in 1847. Early on, Pierre Cartier and his brothers Louis-Joseph and Jacques-Théodule worked in the family business. Cartier's original clientele included French royalty as well as a burgeoning upper middle class, soon complemented by international customers traveling through the country. Aristocrats from all over Europe and Russia as well as wealthy Americans such as ...

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Cornell, Joseph (24 December 1903–29 December 1972), artist and designer, was born Joseph I. Cornell, Jr., in South Nyack, New York, the son of Joseph I. Cornell, a traveling salesman of woolen goods, and Helen Ten Broeck Storms Cornell. Although Joseph Jr. was the sixth male in his father's family to bear the name, he was never told what his middle initial stood for, and he dropped both the I. and the Jr. as an adult. Joseph Sr. had come from a family of modest means; his wife's family, whose ancestors included Dutch families of colonial New York and New Jersey, was wealthy and socially prominent. Joseph Sr.'s income, combined with his wife's modest inheritance, allowed them to establish a comfortable upper-middle-class household for their family, which also included three younger children. High culture was not emphasized, however; instead of visiting museums and attending the opera and symphony, the Cornells often took their children to New York City, just across the river from their home, to attend vaudeville shows, amusement parks, and penny arcades....

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Ellis, Perry (03 March 1940–30 May 1986), fashion designer, was born Perry Edwin Ellis in Portsmouth, Virginia, the son of Edwin L. Ellis, the owner of a fuel company, and Winifred Alene Roundtree. Ellis grew up in neighboring Churchland. By his own account, he was interested in fabric and color as a child and often peeked into his mother’s copies of ...

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Halston (23 April 1932–26 March 1990), milliner and fashion designer, was born Roy Halston Frowick in Des Moines, Iowa, the son of an accountant and a homemaker (names unknown). (The name Halston came from his maternal grandfather, Halston Holmes.) Halston spent his boyhood in Iowa. His first design was a red hat and veil he created for his mother to wear on Easter Sunday 1945 to the Central Presbyterian Church in Des Moines. After World War II the family moved to Evansville, Indiana, where as a teenager, Halston was known as the best dresser at Bosse High School. Following high school Halston attended Indiana University but left two years later for the Art Institute of Chicago. Halston attended the Art Institute for only two semesters and did not graduate....

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Nikolais, Alwin (25 November 1910–08 May 1993), choreographer, designer, and composer, was born in Southington, Connecticut, the son of John Nikolais and Martha Heinrich. From an early age he studied music. During his high school years he was an organ accompanist for silent films at the Westport Movie House. In 1929 he graduated from Lewis High School in Southington....

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Orry-Kelly (31 December 1897–26 February 1964), costume designer, was born Orry George Kelly in Kiama, New South Wales, Australia, the son of William George Kelly, a tailor, and Florence Evalean Purdue. After studying art in Australia and working briefly as a banker, Orry-Kelly immigrated to New York City in 1923, hoping to become an actor. In the mid-1920s he waited tables and worked as a clerk, acting only on occasion. He did, however, find work painting for scenic studios, decorating apartments, and designing silent film titles. It was in New York that he received his entrée into the career—as a costume designer—that would dominate his professional life. In the late 1920s he began designing costumes, and occasionally scenery, for Broadway productions, including ...

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Rosenstein, Nettie (26 September 1893–15 March 1980), fashion designer, was born in Vienna, Austria, the daughter of Joseph Rosencrans, a dry-goods merchant, and Sarah Hoffman. The family emigrated to the United States in 1899 and established a dry-goods shop in New York City at Lenox Avenue and 117th Street. Playing in the shop, Nettie began to sew her own doll clothes and fell in love with fabric while still very young. By the time she was eleven she was ambitiously making garments for people. To use her mother’s sewing machine, however, she had to stand, being unable as yet to reach the foot pedal while sitting down....

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Stetson, John Batterson (05 May 1830–18 February 1906), hat manufacturer and philanthropist, was born in Orange, New Jersey, the son of Stephen Stetson, a hatter, and Susan Batterson. Like several of his brothers, Stetson learned the hat trade at an early age as an apprentice in his father’s shop. The long hours necessary to acquire and perfect the craft kept Stetson from receiving much formal education, but his mother taught him to read and write using the Bible and newspapers....

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Swan, Timothy (23 July 1758–23 July 1842), hat maker and composer, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of William Swan, a goldsmith, and Levina Keyes. By age eleven he was apprenticed to a merchant in nearby Marlborough then moved to Groton, Massachusetts, to assist his brother in the same business. There he attended a singing school for three weeks in 1774. This experience, some fife instruction during a brief army stint in Cambridge later that year, and an article on music that he read in the 1797 ...

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Tiffany, Charles Lewis (15 February 1812–18 February 1902), jewelry merchant, was born in Killingly, Windham County, Connecticut, the son of Comfort Tiffany, a manufacturer, and Chloe Draper. He attended a local country school in Danielsonville and later spent two years at the Plainfield (Connecticut) Academy. When Charles was fifteen, his father, a pioneer cotton goods manufacturer, made him the manager of a general store near the family’s mill. Tiffany worked in the store for the next ten years, during which time he acquired additional schooling at odd intervals. He eventually joined his father in the office of his firm, now known as C. Tiffany & Son, and faced a seemingly secure future as a member of the increasingly prosperous operation....