In honor of the late Charles Kleibacker, here is an interview with him that originally appeared in Threads issue 135.
When I think of the best of American couture, I think of Charles Kleibacker. I first heard him talk at a fashion symposium years ago, and he (and his bias-cut garments) were treated with a respect bordering on the reverential. Recently, while researching vintage clothing in Columbus, Ohio, I met up with him, and we spent a fascinating day poring over a number of vintage couture garments in his incredible collection.
A Little Background…
Born in 1921, Charles Kleibacker was known as the “Master of the Bias.” His elegant garments remain a testament to the delicate balance he achieved between brilliantly calculated bias designs, fluid fabrics, and the female form. Before he dedicated his life to fashion, Kleibacker received a degree in journalism from the University of Notre Dame. Starting out in the couture business, Kleibacker employed the Paris-trained Madame Burg, and under her expert guidance, he learned the techniques of working with fabric on the bias.
Kleibacker then moved to Paris where he served as an assistant in the House of Lanvin in Paris under the great Spanish couturier Castillo. In 1958, it was back to New York where he designed for the house of Nettie Rosenstein.
In 1960, Kleibacker opened his own studio in Manhattan. His clients included the country’s finest department stores, and his private customers included Pat Nixon (when she was First Lady), Happy Rockefeller, Diahann Carroll, Gertrude Lawrence, and Ellin Berlin.
In 1983, Kleibacker began a collaboration with Ohio State University, which grew to include a position as Designer-in-Residence, as well as Director and Curator of the world-class Historic Costume and Textiles Collection at the College of Human Ecology. He is currently Adjunct Curator of Design at the…