Every time I hear the name “Carnegie,” the famous hall in New York City comes to mind. Andrew Carnegie was like the Paul McCartney of the steel industry, dominating it in the late 19th century in North America, tattooing his name on many decadent buildings, schools, and libraries. Shamefully, when I first heard of Hattie Carnegie I automatically assumed she must have been related to him, since everything else famous with that name seemed to be.
Off to Google I went, anticipating that Hattie was a fancy heiress gone fashion designer à la Stella McCartney, only to be proven I had it all wrong. Hattie Carnegie wasn’t related to Andrew Carnegie; in fact, not only was that not her real name, but she wasn’t even American. Henriette Kanengeiser emigrated from Austria to New York in 1886. En route, she asked around to find out who the most successful person in America was, and upon arrival started her own fashion line under a new name. She morphed into the pseudonym in order to tap into the power and success of the Carnegie name. Whether or not the name gifted her with special powers I’m not sure, but either way Hattie Carnegie was pretty magical. Here is why:
1. Carnegie was a wonderful fashion designer without actually sewing anything. In 1909 she opened a little hat shop in New York, and her first clothing collection was established in 1918. Carnegie was the first fashion house to sell ready-to-wear lines as a high-end luxury. Although unable to even hem a dress, she was brilliant at envisioning clothing and accessories and would work together with others to create her pieces.
2. By the 1920s, Hattie Carnegie Inc. branched quickly with hats, accessories, and jewelry, selling pieces that were directly bought from Paris couturiers. Americans could buy Chanel in New York rather than having to travel halfway across the globe.