Friday, May 2, 2014

Hattie Carnegie - A Trailblazer in American Fashion

By Anita Soots, owner of SpanishTulip

Hattie Carnegie was a fashion revolutionary truly ahead of her time.  She was born Henrietta Kanengeiser in Austria-Hungary March 15, 1886.  After immigrating 1n 1889,  at age 13, to the U.S., she anglicized her last name to Carnegie apparently in honor of Andrew Carnegie whom she greatly admired.  She also began going by Hattie, an apt nickname, since she became a top milliner in New York City.

Photo courtesy of*

Though she couldn't sketch, cut or sew a single stitch, Hattie quickly rose to be both a major trendsetter and respected voice in fashion.  One of her innovations was the introduction of a ready-to-wear line. One of the first designers to do so, her business continued to thrive even during the depression, since her fashions were more affordable than the made-to-order pieces by other designers.

In 1939 Hattie Carnegie introduced costume jewelry to coordinate with her already well-known and loved clothing lines. Her jewelry encompassed many styles and today Hattie Carnegie pieces are much sought after by collectors. 

Green Glass Buddha Earrings.1956 Judysgems2
One of her most collectable lines are the fantastical figurals, which are depictions of objects, people or animals. The Oriental series showcased whimsical figures such as a genie riding a magic carpet. Adorable, often cartoonish rhinestone-encrusted animals were also popular.  

There are also many classic rhinestone pieces, of which the demi- parures and parures, sets of two or three or more matching pieces, are highly sought after.   

Turquoise Rhinestones Brooch and Earrings Set, 1950s
Spanish Tulip

High quality rhinestones, enameling, design, and craftsmanship characterize all Hattie Carnegie jewelry.  Many talented jewelry designers worked under the Hattie Carnegie name, including Kenneth Jay Lane, Norman Norell, and Nadine Effront. 

Much of Hattie Carnegie costume jewelry is signed.  The most common mark found is “Hattie Carnegie” in script in an oval cartouche soldered to the back of a piece
Examples of authentic Carnegie marks,
click for larger view
of jewelry.  “Carnegie” in script can also be found, although it tends to be more rare.  “HC” in a diamond in an oval frame is a very early and sought after mark.  “Hattie Carnegie” on a hangtag is a mark, which dates to the 1970’s. While this jewelry is still collectible, it does not command the same prices as the earlier pieces.  There are also some later pieces that are marked with both a designer’s name and “for Hattie Carnegie”, notably:  Yves Saint Laurent, Anne Klein, and Valentino.

Famous Lion Brooch with Orb, 1950s

Hattie Carnegie passed away in 1956 just shy of her 70th birthday.  This tiny, 4’10” woman left a mark on the fashion world that will not quickly be forgotten.   Today we have the privilege to collect, own and love some of the incredible pieces for which she was responsible.

This article features three of my favorite Hattie Carnegie pieces.  They epitomize the styles for which Hattie Carnegie was so well known.   They are all available for sale on Etsy by members of the Vintage Jewelry Sellers Team.

Enter the World of Hattie Carnegie

*  is the only website dedicated to the life, legacy and memory of the 1920's to the 1950's Fashion Editor Hattie Carnegie.  Questions or comments regarding Hattie Carnegie and/or her website are welcome.

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