Women Crush Wednesday - Hattie Carnegie - Fashion Forward Icon

Today's Women Crush Wednesday post is about an incredible lady who came to American and redefined who she was, from her name on up! Hattie Carnegie was born Henrietta Kanengeiser in Austria-Hungary on March 15, 1880.  After immigrating to the U.S. in 1900 she changed her last name to Carnegie. The story goes that during her immigration voyage she asked a fellow passenger who the richest and most respected person was in America and the answer she was given was "Andrew Carnegie." Determined to be seen as influential and wealthy, she changed her last name to Carnegie. 


Henrietta arrived in New York City, poor, but determined. She began working as a milliner, creating hats and earned herself the nickname Hattie. Now, armed with a new name and a reputation, she was ready to take on the entire fashion industry! 

From hat-making, Hattie moved on to women's fashion as a whole. She was one of the first designers to create a ready-to-wear line of clothing, making fashion more accessible to everyday women. This tact not only changed the way fashion was seen, it opened up a new market for Hattie, as her ready-to-wear pieces were more affordable and many women began to purchase multiple pieces - making her business thrive. 

In 1939 Hattie Carnegie introduced costume jewelry to coordinate with her already well-known and loved clothing lines. Her jewelry encompassed many styles and today Hattie Carnegie costume jewelry is much sought after by collectors. 

Her jewelry is most well-known for featuring animals or people, something we in the business call "figural" pieces. These pieces can range from the cartoonish, adorable, and often rhinestone-encrusted animals to the classical or more natural of styles. Her line also includes traditional rhinestone pieces, of which the demi- parures and parures; sets of two or three or more matching pieces; are highly sought after.   

High quality rhinestones, enameling, design, and craftsmanship characterize all Hattie Carnegie jewelry. Her studio was a starting point or a launching pad for many talented jewelry designers including Kenneth Jay Lane, Norman Norell, and Nadine Effront. 

Much of Hattie Carnegie costume jewelry is signed.  The most common mark found is “Hattie Carnegie” in script in an oval cartouche soldered to the back of a piece of jewelry.  “Carnegie” in script can also be found, although it tends to be more rare.  “HC” in a diamond in an oval frame is a very early and sought after mark.  “Hattie Carnegie” on a hangtag is a mark, which dates to the 1970s, and while this jewelry is still collectible, it does not command the same prices as the earlier pieces.

Hattie Carnegie passed away in 1956 just shy of her 70th birthday.  This tiny, 4’10” woman left a mark on the fashion world that resounds still today! She also showed the world that you could, with enough grit and determination, change your path and become the person you create yourself to be.