Edith Raymond Locke: “She wrote of her long struggle to maintain Madamoiselle’s intellectual heft and ‘smart girl’ DNA.”

From a New York Times obit by Penelope Green on Mademoiselle magazine editor Edith Raymond Locke:

Edith Raymond Locke, who fled Nazi-occupied Vienna at 18 and rose to become a longtime editor of Mademoiselle magazine, where she worked with photographers like Arthur Elgort and mentored designers like Ralph Lauren, Betsey Johnson and Donna Karan, died on Aug. 23 at her home in Thousand Oaks, Calif. She was 99. . . .

In the youthquake 1960s and beyond, Ms. Locke was a booster of young designers, models and photographers. . . .

Edith Rosenberg Laub was born on Aug. 3, 1921, in Vienna. . . .She was a popular, bright student, a favorite of her school’s principal, for whom she would memorize pages of Goethe to recite. She tutored her classmates in Latin, math and German. But after Hitler’s troops marched into Vienna in March 1938, Edith and the other Jewish students were ejected from the school. Her friends announced that they would no longer speak to her.

Herman Laub was fired from his job. Nazis appeared at their apartment door to rifle through their belongings (at one point confiscating German translations of Sinclair Lewis and Upton Sinclair as “communist literature”) or to force Edith and her mother to perform humiliating tasks, like washing the floor of a Nazi Party office.

Edith left Vienna for New York City in April 1939, arriving on the British ocean liner Aquitania. She was 18, spoke no English and was alone. Her parents were unable to get visas to the United States, which maintained strict quotas for European immigrants; they spent the war years in England.

Edith Laub lived with relatives in Brooklyn; worked in a toothpaste factory, among other jobs; and learned English at night school. A secretarial job at Harper’s Bazaar magazine led to an assistant editor position at Junior Bazaar, a competitor to Mademoiselle.

Working for the Abbott Kimball Company, an advertising agency, she wrote a regular newsletter about fashion. It was sharp enough to catch the attention of Betsy Blackwell, the editor in chief at Mademoiselle, who hired her in the early 1950s.

Mademoiselle, or Millie as it was nicknamed, was devoted to fashion and beauty but also to literature. It published the work of James Baldwin, William Faulkner, Jane Bowles, Truman Capote and Carson McCullers, among many other authors.

It was known, too, for its guest editor competition, when college juniors were invited to edit the magazine’s August issue and were put up at the Barbizon Hotel, then a residential hotel for women. (Sylvia Plath was chosen in 1952, and rendered her darkening summer there in her novel, “The Bell Jar.”)

As a fashion editor, Ms. Locke set photo shoots in exotic locales, working with tourist offices that were eager to attract Americans. She photographed models in the Canary Islands (one, memorably, on a pregnant camel), Corsica, Sicily, Greece and, much later, the Caribbean, where she met her future husband, Ralph Locke, a travel agent who was managing the Buccaneer, a resort in St. Croix.

Ms. Locke became editor of Mademoiselle in 1971, when Ms. Blackwell retired. It was still a time when fashion editors wielded enormous influence. The eccentric and hortatory Diana Vreeland had just been fired from Vogue, yet her persona was much imitated. By all accounts, Ms. Locke was, by contrast, more cheerleader than dictator. She let her editors have their heads.

In a memoir Ms. Locke was working on at her death, she wrote of her long struggle to maintain the magazine’s intellectual heft and “smart girl” DNA.

One of her first issues as editor was devoted to female sexuality, with contributions from Henry Miller, Germaine Greer and John Updike. “Hooray for you,” wrote one delighted reader.

Alexander Liberman, editorial director of Condé Nast, the parent company, was unmoved. He found Mademoiselle’s features “depressing and heavy,” she wrote, and wanted a “lighter and sexier” magazine. In 1979, he ordered Ms. Locke to kill the guest editor program, and he fired her the following year. (Mademoiselle ceased publication in 2001.)

In 2016, Ms. Locke told an interviewer that what she loved most about working at Mademoiselle was “making it more inclusive, by diligently balancing content between fashion-beauty, how-to features and intellectually stimulating articles. Feeding the brain!”. . .

“Her big phrase was carpe diem,” her daughter Katie Aviv said. “That was her signoff, every email, every note or phone call.” Ms. Locke wore a silver bangle inscribed with those words and gave them to dear friends, like the actress Ali MacGraw (a Mademoiselle guest editor in 1959).

“She was completely present, with studied opinions, compassionate,” Ms. MacGraw said in a phone interview. “Her values were superb and rare in the fashion business, where there’s a tendency to drink the Kool-Aid and lose track of reality. She loved the business, and she succeeded in it without losing the whole human being that she was.”

Penelope Green is a feature writer in the Style department. She has been a reporter for the Home section, editor of Styles of The Times, an early iteration of Style, and a story editor at The New York Times Magazine.


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