In New Fashion Documentary Calendar Girl, the Life and Legacy of the Late Ruth Finley Take Center Stage

Calendar Girl is not just a paean to Finley, it’s evidence of the warp-speed acceleration of the industry and its need to do away with the way things were. By the film’s end, the year is 2014 and it’s not 20 shows a week, it’s more like 200. CEO of the CFDA Steven Kolb weaves in and out of Calendar Girl explaining the need to push Fashion Calendar into the digital age; he sits next to Finley in the CFDA’s slick USM Haller furnished HQ, which is a stark contrast with his own paper and memento-filled office. As Kolb speaks, he pantomimes a push to emphasize to Finley his intentions. Finley is understandably resistant to the transition.

Tea Fashion Calendar’s change of hands represented the digitization of the calendar along with a more curated group of listed designers. By the 2010s, American labels were skipping New York in favor of LA and Paris and not seen in the film is the totally digital live-streamed shows popular during the height of the pandemic. The more nimble CFDA can adapt to these changes; at the close of the film, much of Finley’s Fashion Calendar processes were analogous, done with pen, paper, and white-out; index cards with schedule changes were stacked in a shoebox for record keeping.

Calendar Girl ends with Finley’s 95th birthday. Her family has gathered for a cake and candles celebration and Kolb is among the well-wishers singing happy birthday. Finley would pass three years later but in the film’s final credits it’s stated that the CFDA retains an element of pink in its design of the schedule, a wink to Finley.

In commemoration of Finley, a copy of Fashion Calender was on display at the September 2018 collections during New York Fashion Week.Noam Galai

Thought in her lifetime Finley was reluctant to take Fashion Calendar into the digital world, she now has some help. Since wrapping the documentary, Nudell has undertaken a massive digitization project; by 2023, she anticipates, every calendar ever will be available to the public, free of charge.

“During the time we were filming, Ruth had donated her entire collection to Special Collections and College Archives at the Gladys Marcus Library at FIT,” explains Nudell, an adjunct professor at the college. “We visited and filmed the collection once it was donated and Ruth had mentioned to me that she really wanted it to be available to students and the public. That planted the seed.”

In the spirit of Ruth’s democratic dealings, the files will be available to everyone in an open-source database. “We want users to be able to search for BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ designers, women, immigrants, and other under-represented groups to pull out as much information as possible from the immense amount of data,” says Nudell.

Bruun describes flipping through a copy of Fashion Calendar and seeing “the constellation of designers who made up each season. One can experience and imagine how the settings for the industry grew from department store seasonal shows at hotels or restaurants to larger and larger venues such as Bryant Park and Lincoln Center,” he says. For historians and fashion lovers alike, this is a goldmine.

Starting Tuesday, March 8, watch Calendar Girl here.

“The Ruth Finley Collection: Digitizing 70 Years of the Fashion Calendar” is funded by a “Hidden Collections” grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) which is made possible with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and is expected to launch in 2023.

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