Eleanor Lambert’s life and legacy touched the lives of many people, in and out of the fashion community. From fashion editors to designers to retailers to those of us who attend fashion weeks around the world, we all owe a great debt to this great fashion revolutionary.
Audrey Smaltz has had a wide and varied career in fashion. From being one of the few African American working models in the 1960s to fashion editorial duties at Ebony Magazine to creating the first ground crew for New York Fashion Week, Audrey Smaltz has always been and still is a force to be reckoned with.
Audrey Smaltz took time out of her very busy schedule to speak with Fashion Reverie about her relationship with Eleanor Lambert. Always candid and to the point, Audrey Smaltz in revealing detail relates Eleanor Lambert’s inclusive approach to beauty and style.
Fashion Reverie: How did you get to know Eleanor Lambert?
Audrey Smaltz: I knew Eleanor well during the 1970s. I was the fashion editor for Ebony Magazine from 1970 to 1977, and I was also the fashion director and commentator for the Ebony Fashion Fair fashion show that traveled all over the US. But, I knew of Eleanor because of the many hats she wore well before my jobs with Ebony Magazine and Ebony Fashion Fair. Eleanor started the International Best Dressed List, the Coty Awards, the CFDA, and was an incredible fashion publicist to such renowned designers as Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Halston, and many others.
I believe the first time I got to know Eleanor up close and personal was when I served on the committee for the Coty Awards. At that time, a group of fashion editors selected the Coty Award winners, and since Eleanor Lambert conceived and created the Coty Awards, I got to know her better through that endeavor.
Eleanor sought out anyone who could give her clients or her many endeavors publicity. So, you could say Eleanor sought me out and got to know me.
Audrey Smaltz: There is a particular incident that comes to mind. In 1973 I was on the committee for the Coty Awards and we had a meeting the Plaza Hotel. Bernadine Morris of the New York Times was the chairperson of the Coty Awards that year suggested I perform commentary duties for the awards that year. Now, this was a role I was very accomplished at because of my years commentating for the Ebony Fashion Fair fashion show. I had no commentary notes written down because I like things to be spontaneous and organic, which made Eleanor very nervous. Anyway, I was a big success; even Barbara Walters came over and congratulated me.
Eleanor was so appreciative of my effort that she sent me a case of Bordeaux wine. Eleanor had lots of charm and she could get you do anything. She had that kind of charm.
FR: Could you talk about how Eleanor always helped you acquire garments for shoots when you were the executive fashion editor at Ebony Magazine?
Audrey Smaltz: Ebony Magazine was not known as a fashion magazine and in the 1970s some fashion designers were not that open to lending out garments to a black publication. In fact, some designers would insist that we shoot the photo editorials in their showroom. They would not let us take the garments to our studio and shoot the clothes. However, if I was having this kind of challenge, I could call on Eleanor and she made sure that her clients gave us garments from their current collections to photograph.
Eleanor Lambert was very instrumental in opening those fashion doors for us at Ebony Magazine. She was out every night at events and parties promoting her clients and she would always ask me to come along to those events, which turned out to be great networking opportunities.
FR: Obviously, Eleanor Lambert respected you and embraced you.
Audrey Smaltz: Yes, she did. She liked that I was very honest with her and always told her what was on my mind. I never minced words. If I felt that more black models and designers should be included in an event or a runway show, I would say so. She really respected honesty. And I totally respected her.
FR: Could you talk about how Eleanor Lambert helped open doors for models of color?
Audrey Smaltz: When I first began my professional relationship with Eleanor she wasn’t using a lot of black models. That changed over time. And I would like to think that maybe I had a little something to do with that. (At the Grande Divertissement à Versailles, which was spearheaded by Eleanor Lambert, the American designers used a total of 12 black models, at the insistence of Eleanor Lambert.)
FR: Many people thought that Eleanor Lambert was a difficult woman, what is your opinion?
Audrey Smaltz: I had a great relationship with Eleanor and I didn’t witness that aspect of her personality. She demanded the best and some people may consider that hard to take in a woman, but if you are going to work in the fashion industry and be taken seriously, you have to aim for excellence. And that is what she did.
FR: What do you think is Eleanor Lambert’s legacy?
Audrey Smaltz: Well, there are so many things. Eleanor started the International Best Dressed List which still comes out in Vanity Fair. And, she also created the Coty Awards. However, I believe the creation of the CFDA is her legacy.
Audrey Smaltz: I like to do live auctions. That said; I am a celebrity auctioneer for the Fredrick Douglas Dinner that will be held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel for the Urban League on May 16. I have started writing my autobiography. And the Ground Crew is still active; we just finished Bridal Week.