Hattie Carnegie was a clothing and jewelry designer based in the United States during the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. She was born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary in 1889 as Henrietta Kanengeiser.

Their family moved to the USA and changed their name to Carnegie. Hattie was the second oldest of seven children. Her father was an artist and tailor and was thought have introduced her to the world of fashion. At the age of 15, she began work in Macy's New York department store, making hats.

Five years later, in 1909 she opened a shop on East Tenth Street in New York called Carnegie - Ladies Hatter. The shop was successful, and within a few years she moved to the tony Upper West Side, where she took up dress design. However, she never learned to sew. A friend explained that "Hattie couldn't sew a fine seam, but she had a feeling about clothes and a personality to convey her ideas to the people who were to work them out." She changed the name of her business in 1914 to Hattie Carnegie, Inc., and by the 1920s was the toast of the fashion world from her new location in the Upper East Side.

Carnegie's expensive original designer clothes were out of reach for many Americans, but this did not limit her influence on American design. Hers were among some of the most widely copied designs by popularly priced designers. As the decade wore on, Carnegie added a modestly priced, ready-to-wear line in 1928 of clothing that proved to be the most lucrative of her enterprises. She made her modestly priced clothes more available to the average consumer by permitting some department stores to carry the new line, breaking from her usual practice of selling her clothes at her own shop. This practice secured her influence over both haute couture and popular wear.

Between the two World Wars, she imported many designs from French couturiers and much of her success lay in her ability to translate French fashion sense into American taste.

She was widely influential among other designers, like Norman Norell, Pauline Trigere, Gustave Tassell, James Galanos, Travis Banton, Jean Louis and Claire McCardell, and employed all the following people at various times.

She also took on some of the most famous American fashion designers of the twentieth century, such as Norman Norell, Pauline Trigere and James Galanos; for nearly a decade, the made-to-order department was headed by Pauline Fairfax Potter.

During the 30's and 40's Carnegie's name was synonymous with smart conventional suits and dresses. Her tailored suits in grey worsted with straight skirts, tidy collars and jeweled buttons and her neat black dresses became status symbols for American women. Inspired by haute couture, Carnegie avoided any extravagance in her designs.

Many hats designed by Hattie Carnegie were seen in classic movies of the 40's. She was a very innovative milliner.

In 1947, Life Magazine declared Hattie Carnegie to be the "undisputed leader" of American fashion, with more than 100 stores selling her product and her label being the keenest sign of prestige in American clothing.

She was famous for a shade of blue, which became "Carnegie blue" and also favoured black. At her salon in New York, a lady could purchase a complete outfit, including accessories such as hats, gloves, lingerie and even costume jewellery. She became a highly visible designer during World War II when the unavailability of French clothes thrust her own designs into the spotlight, along with American textile companies which she patronized.

Hattie Carnegie designed the Women's Army Corps (WAC) uniform in 1950. They were adopted for wear on New Year's Day 1951. June 1 1952 Hattie received the Congressional Medal of Freedom[citation needed] for the WAC uniform design and for her many other charitable and patriotic contributions. The WAC design was so timelessly elegant that it was still in use for women's U.S. Army uniforms in 1968.

Hattie Carnegie died in 1956; the fashion empire she had built survived into the 1970s, but in 1965 the custom salon was closed and the company concentrated on wholesale businesses. The informal youth culture of the 1960s and 1970s was ill-suited to the type of clothing and client that had made Hattie Carnegie's reputation. The strength of her personal identification with the company made it difficult for it to succeed without her, and it quickly lost ground to the younger desginers who emerged in the 1960s.

The Look

Carnegie's belief in simplicity fit perfectly with the streamlining of 1930s design. She believed that "simple, beautiful clothes … enhance the charm of the woman who wears them. If you have a dress that is too often admired, be suspicious of it." The dress, she insisted, must fit and not overpower the woman who wears it. She was unabashedly devoted to Paris fashion and made regular buying trips throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Yet while she was a self-declared Francophile, she adapted French style to American tastes by offering a blend of style and comfort that suited many fashion-conscious Americans who still wanted their clothes to have a French flair. The Carnegie customer, whatever her age, seems to have been neither girlish nor matronly, but possessed of a certain decorousness. Even the casual clothing in the Spectator Sportswear and Jeunes Filles ready-to-wear departments was elegant rather than playful. The Carnegie Suit, usually an ensemble with dressmaker details in luxury fabrics, traditionally opened her seasonal showings. She often stressed the importance of black as a wardrobe basic, both for day and evening, but was also famous for a shade known as "Carnegie blue." Perhaps Carnegie's preference for 18th-century furnishings in her home relates to the devotion of formality so clearly expressed in her business.

Who Wears It

Joan Crawford and the Duchess of Windsor


1928 Hattie Carnegie (W)
Carnegie Pink
Golden Lotus
(all in the 1940's)
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