Edie Locke liked to sign off every e-mail, and end every phone call, with the words inscribed on her silver bangle: carpe diem. The motto was apt. At the age of 18, she had escaped Nazi-occupied Vienna where, as a Jew, she had been obliged to scrub the floors of the local SS headquarters. Arriving in New York in 1939 with no English, she initially packed toothbrushes in a factory in Brooklyn but later rose to renown as a journalist in the world of high fashion.
For 30 years Locke was a quasi-mother figure to designers such as the young Ralph Lauren and a shy Donna Karan, championing their creativity through the pages of Mademoiselle, the Condé Nast magazine for women, known for short as “Millie”.
If prone to favor the color pink, Mademoiselle also offered its 18 to 35-year-old readers fuel for the mind. Articles on “Romantic Fashions for Spring” would run alongside features exploring Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas or the writing of William Faulkner.
The target market was young women with aspirations to write the Great American Novel yet with a taste for glamour and accessible mid-range fashion. The magazine was the first of its kind to print the price of clothing.
By the 1950s, while Locke was editing the fashion pages, the acme of the Mademoiselle experience for its readers was winning a place on its summer guest-editorship program, a month of writing, cocktail parties and trips to the United Nations headquarters, culminating with the “Mademoiselle Makeover” at Saks department store.
The target market was young women with aspirations to write the Great American Novel yet with a taste for glamour.
A young Sylvia Plath was asked to interview the novelist Elizabeth Bowen for Mademoiselle while a guest editor at the magazine in 1953. She had previously won the magazine’s fiction contest — and $500 — for her short story “Sunday at the Mintons.” The internship precipitated a mental health crisis, and Plath drew on the experience at Mademoiselle, rendered as the New York magazine Ladies’ Day in her novel The Bell Jar (1963).
The vision of the first editor, Betsy Blackwell, was for a magazine to “nourish young women inside and out,” said Locke. Yet by 1971, when she became Mademoiselle’s editor-in-chief, Condé Nast executives wanted to play down the magazine’s intellectual content, in favor of “lighter, sexier” articles.
Locke refused point blank: “Never in a million years would Mademoiselle go in the Cosmopolitan direction. We’re just not that kind of magazine,” she said.
Gravelly-voiced, and avid for new ideas, she had wide-ranging cultural interests including music, contemporary British painters and theater. She hired Joyce Carol Oates to review books, Andy Warhol to provide sketches, and Truman Capote to write short stories, and asked Germaine Greer and John Updike to write about female sexuality.
Locke cut a dashing figure, with a quirky style strong on chunky bracelets and necklaces that was a far remove from the pearl-chokered chic of Blackwell. Occasionally she wore a necklace made of forks from the Crillon Hotel and bent into shape by her husband.
The counsel she dispensed from the magazine’s dark green and pink editorial conference room was kind but always practical: “Try it on, sit down, cross your legs, look in the mirror, be realistic,” she advised women trying on their first mini-skirt.
Locke hired Joyce Carol Oates to review books, Andy Warhol to provide sketches, and Truman Capote to write short stories.
In 1980 she was fired by the editorial director of Condé Nast for refusing to take Mademoiselle downmarket. It eventually shut down in 2001. Months after Locke’s departure the magazine had printed a guide to vibrators.
The resilient Locke did not look back: within a year of losing her post as editor, she was thriving as a producer and co-host of groundbreaking television shows with a focus on fashion and high-profile guests including Calvin Klein and Oscar de la Renta.
Edith Rosenberg Laub, “Edie”, was born in Vienna in 1921 to Herman, a buyer at a department store, and Dora (née Hochberg), a housewife. She memorized reams of Goethe to recite to her school principal, and was shocked when the schoolmates she had considered friends thrust open the windows as the Nazis invaded Vienna in 1938 to shout, “It stinks of Jews in here”.
Her father lost his job and Locke had to leave her school, where she had tutored her peers in Latin, math and German. In an unpublished memoir, she wrote that she had never forgotten the “thumping boots” of the Nazi soldiers marching down her street.
She was shocked when schoolmates she considered friends thrust open the windows to shout, “It stinks of Jews in here.”
In April 1939 after receiving a visa for the US, and with the equivalent of only $5 in her pocket, she traveled by train to Cherbourg and thence to New York aboard the Aquitania ocean liner. Settling with relations in Brooklyn, she attended evening classes to learn English and get rid of her “atrocious German accent”. A friend would hold tissue paper in front of her mouth as she practiced pronouncing words in English containing “wh” and “th” sounds: if she said them correctly the tissue would not move. It worked.
A job at an underwear factory lasted a day because Locke couldn’t operate the sewing machines correctly but by 1945 she had talked her way into working as an assistant in advertising at Harper’s Bazaar.
A transfer to a short-lived magazine titled Junior Bazaar saw Locke covering weekend photo shoots to which no other editors wanted to travel. In 1947 she joined Abbott Kimball, the fashion advertising agency, and wrote a regular newsletter on fashion for its clients. This caught the eye of Blackwell, the editor of Mademoiselle, who promptly offered Locke a job as assistant fashion editor.
Often Locke was dispatched overseas for fashion shoots, including a memorable occasion involving a model riding a pregnant camel in the Canary Islands. While on a shoot in St Croix in the Virgin Islands she met the travel agent Ralph Locke, manager of the Buccaneer Hotel. They married in 1963 and had a daughter, Katie Aviv, a former fashion PR who is now a producer of film trailers.
After leaving Mademoiselle, Locke presented and produced the Edie Raymond Locke Show on the USA network, a half-hour program exploring finance for women as well as interior decor, fashion and beauty. She also co-hosted and produced a cable television show called You and interviewed major American designers for the talk show Attitudes.
In 1994 Locke and her husband moved to Los Angeles to be closer to their daughter and her family. Into her eighties, she would fly to New York to support Ralph Lauren at his catwalk collections, describing his work as “perfection”.
She would advise those seeking an entrée into fashion journalism to “take any kind of job, clerical or secretarial, to get your foot in the door. It won’t take long for talent to be noticed.”
“Edie always managed to be at one with whatever generation she was around. She had the ability to inspire and encourage all kinds of people irrespective of their background and had a real presence,” said the photographer, filmmaker and writer, Nick Danziger, who had known Locke through his family.
As she drew close to her 100th year, her zest for life was undiminished: as her hearing failed, Locke mastered the art of the emoji on her iPhone, and read books, recommended by her daughter, exploring racial tensions in America.
Edith Raymond Locke, journalist, was born on August 3, 1921. She died on August 23, 2020, aged 99