Fashion and Gadfly archivist Steven Mark Klein dies at 70
Elise By Olsen had made a name for herself at 15 as one of the youngest magazine editors in the world, having already produced two-print periodical series on culture and fashion from her bedroom in Oslo. One day in 2015, she received a compelling e-mail: âWho are you? “
She responded, then came a torrent of emails peppered with links to gallery and store websites, news articles about the fashion industry, and warnings about its pitfalls.
His correspondent turned out to be Steven Mark Klein, a 64-year-old New York-based hotel brand consultant and fashion gadfly. For a few years he had run a blog called Not Vogue, which he used as a platform to blame the fashion industry for being an exploiter of youth and a cynical expression of terminally ill capitalism.
At first Mrs. Olsen thought he was a troll. He called himself an independent outlaw.
Mr. Klein set about mentoring Ms. Olsen, and soon she welcomed his tutelage. His parents were perplexed but united. She dropped out of high school and started another magazine called Wallet, inspired by Mr. Klein’s ideas.
She learned that he lived alone on the Lower East Side of Manhattan with a huge and, it turned out, a large collection of ephemeral fashion items, including fashion magazines, fashion show flyers, catalogs, postcards and lookbooks from designers like Stella McCartney, Louis Vuitton and APC – decades of prints he had backed up and meticulously archived.
It was his inheritance, and he wanted Mrs. Olsen to have it.
Mr Klein committed suicide on October 25, his cousin Andrea Strongwater said. He was 70 years old and had been in poor health for some time.
His bond with Ms. Olsen ensured the continuity of his life’s work. Its archives are today a museum collection: the International Fashion Research Library in Oslo, organized by Ms. Olsen and funded by private donors and corporate sponsors. Housed in a historic building belonging to the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design and next to the Nobel Peace Center, the library will open to the public early next year, although the collection is now available online. It’s a showcase for Mr Klein’s huge giveaway – two tons of prints that had filled a shipping container after it was wrapped in June 2020.
âI don’t think you really need a Yoda,â Mr. Klein wrote to Ms. Olsen in September, noting her affectionate term for him. âThe student has passed the mentor.
Mr. Klein was an unlikely fashion arbiter. His uniform consisted of jeans, sneakers and a t-shirt, although he had an extremely expensive Patek Philippe watch. And he didn’t work in the fashion industry.
Professionally, he has created logos and slogans for hotels and restaurants. But he did not belong to any agency. Instead, as a freelance consultant, he was a traveling encyclopedia – and booster – of 1970s pop culture, while working at the venerable Strand Bookstore in Lower Manhattan; ran his own gallery, very briefly, in his apartment on Fourth Avenue; and was occasional assistant to composer Philip Glass.
The hoteliers paid him for this knowledge. They included Larry, Michael and Jason Pomeranc, the three brothers who founded the luxury brand Thompson Hotels.
âHe was coming, with no set schedule, and he was speaking in a sort of monologue,â Jason Pomeranc said, âbut there were gems in there, references to a certain typeface or to industrial architecture from the 1950s. or a German haberdashery store that apparently didn’t have a connection, but it all came together Jason Pomeranc and his family now run another hotel business called Sixty Collective, which Mr. Klein helped name.
âHe helped with our logos and our brand architecture, but what we’ve enjoyed over the years is that he’s been a sounding board for us,â Pomeranc said. “And although he was a man who lived a lot in the past, he had a very good predictive nose for the future.”
Steven Mark Klein was born on December 16, 1950 in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Her mother, Hilda (Strongwater) Klein, was a housewife; her father, Sam, was a taxi driver. He grew up on Ocean Parkway in the Brighton Beach section. In 1974, he obtained a BFA from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.
One night in 1979 at the Mudd Club, the TriBeCa hotspot frequented by artist Keith Haring, fashion designer Betsey Johnson, the Talking Heads and other downtown notables, Mr. Klein met Molissa Fenley, a dancer and choreographer. He courted her by asking her to dance, a rare gesture in the club.
They got married that year and he began to market and manage his performances. On a trip to Paris, where Ms Fenley worked for a time in 1982, they were invited to a runway show of designer Rei Kawakubo’s line for Comme des GarÃ§ons, an infamous event in which Ms Kawakubo presented sweaters with holes, as if chewed by moths or cut with scissors.
Mr. Klein persuaded Ms. Kawakubo to make costumes for Ms. Fenley’s company for a show called “Hemispheres,” which was part of the Next Wave series at the Brooklyn Academy of Music the following year. He asked the artist Francesco Clemente to also make art, packages of drawings distributed to the public. Anna Kisselgoff of the New York Times wrote with admiration about the work’s “awesome strangeness”.
âIt was wonderful, and that was the whole idea of ââSteven,â Ms. Fenley said, adding that it was the start of Mr. Klein’s fascination with prints that could accompany a fashion show. âHe worked tirelessly to promote me and my work. And he introduced me to the practice of collecting ephemera from my career to create an archive. “
Their marriage ended in divorce in 1986. Mr. Klein is survived by his brother, Neil.
For many years, Mr. Klein lived in a borrowed apartment in Seward Park, the former union housing co-op built in the middle of the century and stretching below Delancey Street on the Lower East Side. He moved to Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn about a year ago.
He worked on a borrowed Apple computer from 2001, drank only Coca-Cola, and enjoyed holding meetings in the Donut Pub on West 14th Street – or at a McDonald’s. He seemed to know everyone: the descendants of Italian luxury brands, underground clothing designers, great artists.
Lisa Mahar, an artist and designer who created a line of toys for very young children called Myland, was a customer. Myland was a whole universe, designed to stimulate creativity and help children learn: stackable houses, anthropomorphic cars and tiny figures. Mr. Klein was captivated by this child-centered world.
He chose the name, categorically that it was one word, and gave long speeches about the creative power of children.
âHe was eternally optimistic about the potential of young people and had great respect for their ideas,â Ms. Mahar said. “He rebelled against anything that might interfere with their ability to think for themselves.”
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can find a list of additional resources at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/ressources.