Frances Stein, a Fashion Force at Several Companies, Dies at 83

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Frances Stein, who was a fashion editor, a fashion muse and a designer for Halston and Calvin Klein before helping to revive the house of Chanel, died on June 6 at her apartment in Paris. She was 83.

Her brother, Mark Patiky, confirmed the death but did not specify a cause.

Halston praised her editorial eye. So did Mr. Klein, who also likened her to a young Katharine Hepburn, but who cooled on her when a tabloid writer described his collections as being designed by “Calvin Stein.” Diana Vreeland, who gave Ms. Stein her first job in fashion, as the hat editor of Harper’s Bazaar, thought she had pizazz.

“Frances was one of those iconic fashion editors,” said André Leon Talley, the longtime Vogue editor, “with impeccable style and a certain mystique and as intimidating as polished granite. One of the sacred monsters of that time. She wore cashmere as if it were sable.”

She also had a temper. As a young editor, she was known to throw things — including coffee and scissors — if displeased.

Ms. Stein came of age in an era when fashion divas were encouraged to run amok, but also when American style was newly ascendant. Buoyed by the gains of second-wave feminism, women were striding to work in pants, jackets and sweaters, supple styles that matched their newfound economic, social and sexual mobility. Ms. Stein was among those who taught them how to dress.

She was a student at Smith College and had just returned from her junior year in Paris when Mrs. Vreeland, who was then the fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar, interviewed her. (Mrs. Vreeland’s exaggerated personality and hyperbolic pronouncements were the model for a generation of editors.)

“The first thing Vreeland did was grab my hair and say, ‘That’s Russian hair,’” Ms. Stein told W magazine in 2005. “She hired me on the spot and sent a memo around saying that a girl with great hair had arrived. People were expecting Rapunzel.” (She did have terrific hair, colleagues recalled.)

As the millinery editor, Ms. Stein covered the man then known as Roy Halston Frowick, who was making hats at Bergdorf Goodman. When he went out on his own in 1968, he asked Ms. Stein to be one of his partners. She was among his intimate circle, along with the jewelry designer Elsa Peretti and the model and actress Marisa Berenson, about whom she said, in her W interview: “We jingled, we swathed, we went to the London flea market five times a year. We looked like we’d walked out of the Carpathian Mountains.”

As a fashion editor at Vogue, she covered Mr. Klein, an intimate relationship that helped the young designer find an audience for his modern style. Mr. Klein and Ms. Stein had a similar aesthetic, an affinity for the muted tones — beige, sand, taupe and brown — that defined Mr. Klein’s collections, and he hired her to be one of his designers.

That affinity may have led to their parting. She told W that when The Daily News suggested his collection be called “Calvin Stein,” he fired her.

“We were very much on the same wavelength,” Mr. Klein said in a phone interview. “She had an opinion and a point of view, and her choice of clothes was always right on.”

By the late 1970s, Ms. Stein was designing accessories and some separates for Chanel, which had floundered after the death of its founder, Coco Chanel, in 1971. Ms. Stein’s modern takes on Chanel classics — her soft leather bags, ballet flats and cashmere sweaters — helped turn the company’s fortunes around.

So, too, did the designs of Karl Lagerfeld, who was hired soon after Ms. Stein to design ready-to-wear and couture. The two had an icy relationship. Mr. Lagerfeld complained of her behavior; he also said that her designs were muddying his vision for the company.

“I like some of her little cashmeres, and I don’t mind her doing all that duty-free jewelry,” Mr. Lagerfeld told Women’s Wear Daily in 1985.

Ms. Stein may not have been a fan of Mr. Lagerfeld’s work, either. “I made the mistake once of asking her if she had designed these pull-on boots,” said Jill Kargman, the author and star of the television comedy series “Odd Mom Out,” who became close with Ms. Stein when Ms. Kargman’s father, Arie Kopelman, was president of Chanel.

“They were sort of rounded and flat, and it turned out Karl had designed them,” Ms. Kargman said. “Anyway, they were not her style, which was more classic. She looked me dead in the eye and flared her nostrils and said, ‘I do not design hooves.’”



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