Who knew that New York’s fashion world revolved around a small office on the sixth floor of a commercial/residential apartment building on Manhattan’s East 87th Street?
Louisiana native and LSU graduate Mary Myers Hackley did.
For 13 years, Hackley worked as the right arm, sometimes literally, for Ruth Finley, whose Fashion Calendar scheduled every fashion event in the city. If you wanted to host a runway show, beauty product launch, gallery opening, etc., at the top of your to-do list better be “Call Ruth.” And that included “Ralph, Oscar, Diane and Betsey,” fashion icon or newbie. If you didn’t know the drill, you quickly learned it.
The new documentary “Calendar Girl” (Amazon Prime Video, Apple+) shadows the petite yet powerful Finley, who founded and helmed her Fashion Calendar for more than 70 years. Hackley, now 47, was one of the 90-minute film’s associate producers.
“I did everything from coordinating shoots to carrying camera equipment, whatever they needed,” she said of her umbrella producer title.
Hackley’s also in front of the camera often in the documentary, whether it’s walking viewers through the Fashion Calendar’s operations or walking into yet another Fashion Week show with her fearless leader.
“Right before Fashion Week, our busiest time, the phone is ringing off the hook,” Hackley explains in the documentary. “People scheduling, people wanting the calendar, wanting to know locations. It was very hectic.”
With a staff of three (plus freelancers during peak times), the Fashion Calendar published biweekly while a second publication, Fashion International, went to press four or five times a year. Hackley edited the calendar and did some photography and writing for the second magazine.
“As things went on and Fashion Week grew, we ended up closing that (Fashion International). We just couldn’t do it anymore,” Hackley said.
During her tenure at the calendar, Fashion Week doubled in size, with 400-plus shows a season, twice a year.
“We also listed all the bridal shows twice a year and the menswear and any beauty product launch, opening, party, name it, we were publishing it and scheduling it,” she added.
Although eventually the Fashion Calendar moved online as well (with daily updates), the print version which Finley formulated back in 1945 continued in its nearly original form — a typed listing of events by day, time, location and designer copied onto sheets of thick pink paper, collated, placed in envelopes and mailed to subscribers.
“So you could find it on your desk, if it was messy,” Finley says matter-of-factly. “Some people call it the pink bible.”
And it worked, assuring that no two similar events overlapped, the designers’ spots were allocated fairly, and the shows would go on.
When Fashion Week arrived, Finley used her own “pink bible” to map out her day, often guided arm-in-arm by Hackley, who just tried to keep up. The “Energizer bunny” that Finley was, eight to 10 runway shows was just a typical day out of the office. She liked to coordinate her outfit(s) to the particular designer’s show she would be attending.
Her young protégé learned the industry along the way.
“I liked fashion but that wasn’t something I was seeking out,” Hackley said. “It was funny, because I took a fashion course when I was at LSU that had a field trip to New York and I went on that field trip not knowing that several years later — we had met designers and went to designers’ showrooms and met all these people in the industry — that I would be working with these people.”
With a degree in history and minors in theater and photography, Hackley worked as a freelance writer/photographer in Baton Rouge for a while after graduation.
Seeking more job opportunities, she and a couple of friends moved to New York in 2001.
A couple of months into work at a forensic accounting firm, Hackley saw an ad in The New York Times “for like administration, some editorial work for a small fashion publication; must like cats,” she said. “I’m like OK, I think I fit the bill.”
She started at the Fashion Calendar in January 2002. Her new assignment was within walking distance from her apartment, a huge bonus in NYC.
“She was a great boss, so kind,” Hackley described the inimitable Finley. “She never raised her voice; she was kind of someone you wanted to work for. A sweet, pleasant person.
“She taught me how to stay positive, be frugal, don’t waste … and oh, I learned to take my tea with no sugar,” Hackley quipped.
She tells stories of her aging, but still feisty boss.
“We were at a fashion show having a glass of Champagne. Ruth didn’t finish hers so she just took it with her,” Hackley recalled. “She walked home drinking the Champagne. I told her that was an open container and she could get in trouble. She didn’t care.
“There was one time on the subway when I almost lost her. She was walking ahead to the car, and I realized I didn’t have any rides left on my card. I didn’t want to lose her; she’s like tiny in stature, so I jumped the gate.”
At 95, Finley sold her Fashion Calendar empire to the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Hackley stayed on for two years, the first for the transition and the second in the CFDA’s finance department.
In 2016, Hackley moved back to Baton Rouge. She now edits the LSU Law Journal.
Finley died Aug. 15, 2018. She was 98.
“She was pretty amazing. I miss her,” Hackley said, voice cracking.