“Beauty is my Business!” Hattie Carnegie-1942
Hattie Carnegie (1889 -1956) was born in Vienna, Austria. Her name was Henrietta Kanengeiser. In 1900, she immigrated to the United States, and settled with her family in New York City. By the time she was 20 she had adopted “Carnegie” as her last name after Andrew Carnegie who was, at the time, the richest person in America. As a teenager Henrietta worked at Macy’s as a salesgirl, she became a student of women’s clothing and her job in the hat department earned her the nickname “Hattie.”
In 1909 Hattie opened her first shop with her friend, seamstress Rose Roth; Carnegie-Ladies Hatter. Initially Roth developed the dressmaking side of the business while Hattie focus on the hat design. In 1919 Carnegie bought Roth’s share of the business, taking over the clothing design. This was the beginning of Hattie Carnegie Inc. which would lead to a chain of exclusive boutiques across the United States and eventually an $8 million fashion empire.
Carnegie’s designs,whether it was hats, clothing, or jewelry, were coveted by Hollywood stars and celebrities including; Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Fontaine, Lucille Ball, and Joan Crawford. Carnegie had an inherent instinct for American women would desire. She flew to Paris on a regular basis to research the latest French fashion; returning home to adapt the look to meet American sensibilities.
Despite the depression of the 1930’s Carnegie’s business thrived as she continued to add more departments to her store; it was said that a lady could be dressed from “Hat to hem” at Hattie Carnegie. By the 1940s Carnegie’s store was actually a department store; it included a handbag department, where a customer could order a specific bag to match an outfit, the fur salon, a millinery department with a ready-to-wear hat section, a costume jewelry department, an antique furniture and glass department, a cosmetics department and ready-to-wear designs from other design houses.
By 1940, Carnegie’s operation was so large that it employed over 1000 workers. Most of them worked in the manufacturing of her ready-to-wear lines, but her custom shop continued to be the foundation of her business and reputation. Carnegie became known as a woman of taste, and she was so renowned that she was often featured in her own ads.
During the 1950s, Carnegie continued to make the types of clothes that women across the country had come to expect from her chic but conventional dresses and suits. She especially liked the little black dress, and was known for using a particular shade of blue; “Carnegie Blue.” She continued to make hats, accessories and jewelry. Carnegie also produced ballgowns at this time, often adapted from the French couturiers.
Hattie Carnegie died in 1956. Although the business remained open after her death much of the desirability of the label lay in the woman herself and eventually the label lost its appeal. The Custom Salon was closed in 1965 with the company continuing to produce jewelry, hats and accessories until 1976 when the business closed for good. Hattie Carnegie’s jewelry is highly prized and collectible today.