Monica Hickey, Doyenne of Bridal Gowns, Dies at 100


Monica Hickey, who for decades swathed celebrities and socialites for their lavish nuptials in the haute bridal salons at the New York department stores Henri Bendel, Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue, died on Jan. 26 in Valle de Elqui, Chile. She was 100.

She died at the home of her daughter, Caitlin Margaret May, who announced the death.

Ms. Hickey ran the bridal boutique at Bendel’s under the company’s president, Geraldine Stutz, a celebrated figure in fashion retailing, from 1960 until she was hired away by Bergdorf’s in 1967 to run a department under her own name, the Bridal World of Monica Hickey.

In 1978 she returned to Bendel’s, where for more than a decade she directed the venerable Shop for Brides at the company’s flagship on West 57th Street in Manhattan, which had opened in 1908 and was considered an institution. In 1987, Bendel’s announced the closing of the shop. The closing followed a takeover by The Limited two years earlier, which also led to a move to Fifth Avenue.

“Through the years, the Bendel’s bride has been steadfast in one concept,” Ms. Hickey said in an interview with The New York Times after the announcement. “Her dress had to be romantic, delicate, in perfect taste, streamlined, never frantic.”

Among the prominent brides Ms. Hickey served there were the television host Jane Pauley and three daughters of the auto magnate William Clay Ford.

Over the years, she helped dress a number of other notable brides, including Amanda M. Burden, a daughter of the magazine editor and socialite Babe Paley, who would go on to serve as the New York City planning commission under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg; and Margaret Lindsay, a daughter of another New York mayor, John V. Lindsay; Phyllis George, the former Miss America and CBS football host, who married John Y. Brown Jr., the Kentucky Fried Chicken mogul who was elected governor of Kentucky in 1979.

She also helped outfit Vera Wang, who became a celebrated bridal designer herself, but who was then the design director for Ralph Lauren women’s accessories and at-home wear, for her 1989 wedding to the stockbroker Arthur Becker.

After Ms. Wang opened her own bridal boutique on Madison Avenue in 1990, she asked Ms. Hickey to run it. Ms. Hickey ultimately declined the offer, although they remained friends.

“She sent a contract for three years,” Ms. Hickey recalled on the podcast “Meet the Masters” in 2007. She considered it a “wonderful opportunity,” she said, but when she told her husband, Peter Glushanok, a filmmaker and composer, his response was, “Do you want to be a bird in a gilded cage?”

Ms. Hickey was born on Nov. 17, 1923, in Glasgow, the youngest of three children of Irish parents, Margaret (Ryan) Hickey, a seamstress, and Patrick Hickey, a typesetter.

Her family frequently moved between cities in Scotland, Northern England and Ireland during her childhood. When she was 14, they settled in London, where she left school to help her mother with her home-based dressmaking business.

Monica first grew enraptured with the world of luxury, her daughter said, during World War II when she was evacuated from London during the Blitz to the safety of an aristocratic hunting lodge in the countryside.

In 1953, she and her sister, Kathleen, moved to New York to escape the deprivations of war-ravaged England. She eventually found a job as an assistant buyer in the evening dress department at Bendel’s. At one point, Ms. Stutz asked her to serve as a temporary fill-in in the bridal department, telling her that “our buyer, that we brought in from Philadelphia, I’m afraid she drinks before she gets here,” Ms. Hickey said on the podcast.

After a few months, Ms. Stutz approached her again, apologizing that she had yet to find a replacement. “And I said, ‘But you did,’” Ms. Hickey recalled.

While running her boutiques, Ms. Hickey regularly traveled to Europe as a buyer — and, effectively, as a tastemaker — scouting for dresses by designers like Karl Lagerfeld, Ursula of Switzerland and the noted British designers David and Elizabeth Emanuel, who in 1981 invited Ms. Hickey to the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer to get an up-close look at the explosion of ivory silk taffeta they had fashioned for the new princess.

At 4-foot-8, Ms. Hickey rarely bothered toting boxes or hoisting elaborate gowns, her daughter said; instead, she relied on her keen eye, honed at the hand of her dressmaker mother, to advise brides on the perfect fit and draping.

She also served as a de facto diplomat, managing the egos of many of her society clients and their mothers. After her final run at Bendel’s, she spent more than a decade running the bridal salon at Saks and briefly consulted for Vera Wang and Kleinfeld Bridal. She retired in 2003.

In addition to her daughter, Ms. Hickey is survived by four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Her husband, Mr. Glushanok, died in 1996.

Despite her success, Ms. Hickey faced her share of challenges — most notably in the late 1960s and early ’70s, when couples following a flower-child impulse ditched grand weddings to get hitched on sun-dappled beaches or in bucolic country meadows.

“The girls really didn’t want wedding dresses at all,” she recalled in a 1997 interview with The Tampa Bay Times. “But most of them succumbed because Grandmother would cut them out of the will if they didn’t.”



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