Prizm News / August 13, 2018 / By Gabriel Mastin

Charles Kliebacker was the Columbus Museum of Art’s design curator. (Columbus Museum of Art photo)

Charles Kliebacker left fashion for the academic world. His legacy lives on at OSU and the art museum.

By Gabriel Mastin

Charles Kleibacker brought the Columbus Museum of Art fashion, fundraisers and some of my best friends and mentors. Through Charles’ closest friends inviting me into his world at the museum, I would begin to volunteer, join committees, help plan parties, meet the most wonderful people, and eventually join the staff. Charles had an eye for excellence and a heart for people.

Charles Kleibacker was born in Cullman, Ala., population 6,000, in 1921. He would learn about retailing at a family-owned department store and cotton gin around the corner.

He attended Notre Dame and graduated magna cum laude in 1943 with a degree in journalism. He then pursued a graduate degree in retailing at New York University’s Wall Street campus in 1945. In the late 1940s, Charles took a job assisting Hildegarde, a glamorous American cabaret singer known for her song “Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup.”

While touring in Paris, Hildegarde was dressed at the House of Dior. “As a member of her entourage, I was welcomed to view the daily showing at 3 in the afternoon whenever I could get away from work. I went often!” he said in 2009. “This was a turning point for me. The beauty of the Dior salons, the clothes, the models and the whole atmosphere—I was mesmerized. Then and there, I made up my mind. This is what I’ve always wanted to be, a designer of women’s clothing, clothing that has merit.”

Charles returned to New York after three months abroad and employed Madame Berg from an atelier in Paris to teach him the world of fabrics, draping and design. In 1954, he returned to Paris, portfolio in hand, and worked for Antonio del Castillo, head designer for Lanvin. What a dream!

Back in New York in 1958 Charles freelanced for Nettie Rosenstein, who is known as the mother of the little black luncheon dress. Do you have your little black dress? As Charles would say, “Always planning a lunch.”

In 1960 Charles opened Kleibacker Studio and became known as “the master of the bias cut.” “The dresses were sublime,” retired fashion executive Coco Hashim said in 2009. “These dresses were all about the feminine figure. You wore the dress. It moved with you. It was so carefully cut on the bias. It was like wearing nothing. The garments just floated.”

Charles’ label sold well at New York’s Bergdorf Goodman and Henri Bendel; to specialty stores Nan Duskin in Philadelphia, Martha in New York and Palm Beach, and Stanley Korshak in Chicago; and to private clients, including Lady Bird Johnson and Pat Nixon and actress Diahann Carroll. Oh my, to be in those fittings!

Charles came to Ohio State University in the fall of 1984 for one quarter as a visiting professor in the Department of Textiles and Clothing. He later became designer-in-residence in 1985, with a goal to build a Historic Costume and Textiles Collection for the university. He started with 800 garments and would end with close to 8,000.

He closed his studio in New York in 1986 and committed himself to the collection. Charles curated many exhibitions, threw flawless parties, inspired many and made Columbus an entirely more elegant and fashionable place to live. Among his most exceptional exhibitions were Memorable Dress/Ohio Women in 1986 and Black & White: Dress From the 1920s to Today in 1992.

In 2002, Charles was appointed as the adjunct curator of design at the Columbus Museum of Art. In 2004, he established the Charles Kleibacker Endowed Fund for Excellence, which supports programs that address issues of art and culture, including those inspired by the world of design.

After losing Charles in 2010, four of his dearest friends—Adam Burk, Cordelia Robinson, Virginia Stoltz and John Wirchanski—assisted the museum in managing the Kleibacker Fund and created a three-day fashion film festival that has become an annual favorite.

The films in the seventh annual festival this month are quite extensive in their reach and subject matter. They cover everything from matters of the heart to personal struggle, fashion, design, fame, sexual identity and more:

• Thursday, Aug. 16: “Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards,” is an in-depth portrait of legendary fashion designer Manolo Blahnik and how his extraordinary dedication to his craft led him to become the world’s most famous luxury shoemaker, revered by celebrities, stylists and industry icons for generations. 6 p.m.

• Friday, Aug. 18: “House of Z” chronicles the meteoric rise of fashion designer Zac Posen, his epic fall from favor, and his challenge to rebuild his company and his reputation. It’s a portrait of an artist as a young man, an insider’s view of the ups and downs of the fashion industry, and a look behind the curtain of one of the most distinguished brands in the world. 6 p.m.

• Saturday, Aug. 18: “Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco,” is a documentary-based time capsule of Paris and New York between 1969 and 1973 and viewed through the eyes of fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez. A native of Puerto Rico and raised in the Bronx, he was a seductive arbiter of style and glamor who brought elements of the urban street to a postwar fashion world desperate for change and diversity.” 2 p.m.

Tickets are free and on a first-come basis.

Tickets can be reserved here. Complimentary movie snacks will be provided. Additional fare, wine and beer will be available for purchase before the Thursday and Saturday afternoon films in the museum’s Schokko Café.

Gabriel Mastin is a Mansfield native who works as the Columbus Museum of Art’s leadership giving officer. He’s also on the board at Stonewall Columbus.


The Columbus Museum of Art is located at 480 E. Broad St., Columbus, 43215. It’s open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursdays from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. and Fridays-Sundays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. It’s closed on Mondays. Visit for more.

Ohio State University’s Historic Costume & Textiles Collection’s 11,500-plus holdings encompass a range of textiles, clothing and accessories from the mid-18th century to contemporary designers.

It’s located in the Gladys Keller Snowden Galleries, 279 Campbell Hall, 1787 Neil Ave., Columbus, 43210. It’s open Tuesdays-Thursdays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Fridays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and Saturdays from noon-4 p.m. Visit for more.