Eugenia Sheppard, whose down-to-earth commentary on fashion and focus on fashion designers changed the way fashion was covered, died of cancer Nov. 11 in New York. She was in her 80s.
In her easy writing style in articles and columns for more than 40 years she made fashion accessible to everyone, often revealing much about the clothes through the women who wore them. And at a time when stores were far more interested in promoting their own names than in recognizing design talent, Miss Sheppard spotlighted the designers in her columns and in free-lance magazine articles.
"The first time I ever saw my name in the paper was in her column," said designer Mollie Parnis, adding, "She was the first one to treat designers like celebrities. She made the average woman feel toward a designer like an audience to an actor."
She worked briefly for the trade paper Women's Wear Daily until she became an assistant to Katherine Vincent at the old New York Herald Tribune in 1940; she was appointed fashion editor of the paper in 1947. Two years later, she initiated a daily woman's page and in 1956 began the column for which she was best known, "Inside Fashion."
In 1966, when the Tribune became the World Journal Tribune, she became that paper's women's editor until the paper folded. In 1968 she was named society editor of the New York Post.
Her columns, which at one time were carried in 100 papers, including The Washington Post, were informative, often witty, sometimes stern, but never harsh. She continued to attend shows and write about them as her eyes began to fail in the past 15 years. She wrote her last column on Saturday.
"It was extraordinary," said Adolfo. "She could come to my shows and assimilate it all to perfection in her column, even though she didn't see it so well."
"I tend to think of people as characters in novels," Miss Sheppard once told Women's Wear Daily. "I was always more interested in the people who were designing the clothes and wearing them than the clothes themselves."
Those designers whose quick ascent she monitored in her column no doubt prompted her to write the novel "Skyrocket" in collaboration with Earl Blackwell, president of Celebrity Service. She collaborated with him on another novel, "Crystal Clear," as well.
She and Blackwell were inseparable in the last 15 years, living in the same apartment house, looking after each other, dancing together at every gala event in Washington as well as New York and Europe, welcome and comfortable guests at the events she wrote about. "She always had a flair of making the most innocuous event sound glamorous, and people would think they missed something important," said Parnis.
Miss Shepperd, who was born near Columbus, Ohio, revealed little of her personal life, never telling her age, and never telling even her closest friends that she had a left a son in Ohio with her mother when she moved to New York to find a job. Apparently her mother was so attached to the child that when Miss Sheppard was established enough to have the boy with her, her mother couldn't bear to part with him.
After graduating from Bryn Mawr in 1921, she married Samuel Black. That marriage ended in divorce as did her marriage to Preston Wolfe. Her third husband, Walter Millis, died in 1968.
Though she was tiny, never weighing more than 90 pounds, she was feisty and energetic, and never wanted to appear fragile. She was fiercely opposed to being sick, never complained, and pulled away angrily when anyone took her arm crossing the street. She shrugged off any indication that she was getting old. And she never let on that she had cancer.