Designer Profile: Talent, Determination and the Love of a Mother
Posted on January 30 2019
For months I have been planning to interview our designer, Celeste (who also happens to be my gorgeous mother) for a proper designer profile. I anticipated hearing about fabrics, colours and seasons... but instead, discovered a story about talent, determination, respect, loyalty and love.
Celeste's design career actually started in 1956, when at 5 years old, she sketched her first bride. At 6, she was given a Singer Sewing Machine, which she promptly used to sew clothes for her dolls. And at only 16, she was commissioned by a bride to design and create her Wedding Gown.
But when did she know? Celeste credits Murray Phillips, an art teacher at Newtown High School. At 15, she took her first required Art Class creating a sculpture from a bar of soap. Recognizing Celeste’s artistic and creative ability along with her love of sewing, Mr. Murray encouraged her to pursue her passions.
Celeste graduated from Manhattan’s High School of Fashion Industries completing 4 years of technical studies in 2 years. Upon graduation in 1969, she was accepted to the famed Parson’s School of Design in New York with a full scholarship.
With access to the family archives, I recently discovered her school portfolio... so much of which is still relevant today!
Celeste was married 2 weeks before graduation, but it didn't help her career. In 1973, married women weren't easily hired for fear they would leave to have babies.
Being in the right place at the right time, she interviewed with Ronnie Gross, CEO of Quote Me Inc. He took a chance on this young designer and hired her as an assistant for this multi-label business. Shortly after, the childrenswear designer resigned and Celeste asked for the position… she was promoted and her design career began.
With a job she loved, motherhood was her next adventure… but Celeste faced an unthinkable tragedy. Her husband Gregory was diagnosed with a rare disease and at 26, Celeste was left widowed and 5 months pregnant with me.
The industry was known for harsh attitudes towards women, but Celeste's talents and reputation led the way. After I was born, the president of a competitor, Sting Bee, offered Celeste the position of designer for the girl’s and preteen collections. After much deliberation, she decided that being able to take care of herself, and me, was the most important thing and she accepted with a flexible schedule and a crib in her design studio.
During the rise of the designer jeans phenomenon, Celeste was hired by the CEO of Puritan Industries, Carl Rosen, to design and help launch the Calvin Klein Childrenswear Collection (they owned the Calvin Klein Jeans license at the time).
The Collection started with jeans and t-shirts… but inspired by her toddler at home and at an executive’s request to market to the littlest customers, she got creative. With scraps of denim, a sketch and pattern, the first denim diaper cover was born. Celeste presented her full concept with handmade packaging to Calvin himself for approval. Her creation went into production and was featured on the front page of the NY Times and in other publications. (Also featured below 30 years later on her granddaughter!)
Fashion in the 80s was a time of concord flights and parties at Studio 54... but when I ask Celeste about the highlight of her career, it has nothing to do with glitz and glamour, but the people she worked for who believed in her and supported her.
Being at the height of her career, just shy of 30, didn’t guarantee happiness. The travel and long hours kept her away from me. I was fortunate to have loving grandparents to care for me, but when I started calling them "Mommy and Daddy", she resigned to Carl Rosen.
It’s at this moment that she teared up and said, “This was the highlight of my career”. Carl wouldn't accept it. He offered her as much time as she needed, but with one caveat: "You have to call me every Friday afternoon to tell me how you and Amanda are doing".
"It was intensely high pressure and you were only as good as your last collection. And here a man who was considered one of the 'toughest' wouldn't accept losing me. It was unheard of in the garment industry. I'm grateful for the influential people who have believed in me and shaped my career. It progressed the way it was meant to be." She returned to Calvin Klein after spending the summer with me, to continue what she loved doing.
Since, Celeste has designed private label collections for Men, Women, Juniors & Children for clients including Henri Bendel, Ann Taylor, J Crew and Saks Fifth Avenue and was President of Design for Toppy Int'l in New York. As with the crib in her studio, she still managed to do it all... school holidays were spent on business trips to London, Paris and Milan!
After an hour, I realised that I hadn’t asked her about MyTwirl. She smiled and told me how this project has brought her full circle.
"Amanda, you used to cry when I put you in jeans, you just wanted to wear a twirly dress, and so does your daughter! I get to relive a bit of your childhood through MyTwirl. It brings me joy and inspiration to design for my granddaughter and see my career come back to Childrenswear where I began."
Thank you, Mommy, for sharing your gifts with the world, for your loyalty, unfaltering determination, love and devotion. You are an inspiration and model of strength to me, your granddaughter and to all of the little girls who get to wear your beautiful creations.