Mount Mary University Digital Collections

Charles Kleibacker

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Charles Kleibacker photograph with inscription
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
Charles Kleibacker (1921-2010) was born in Cullman, Alabama, where his family owned a department store. After obtaining a journalism degree from the University of Notre Dame, he worked as a reporter in Alabama briefly before moving to New York City and studying for a graduate degree in retailing at New York University. During this time he wrote advertisements for clothing stores Gimbels and De Pinna, until he met Hildegarde, the American cabaret singer, in the late 1940s and began working as a driver for her.  
While accompanying Hildegarde on tour and in Europe, Kleibacker was introduced to the world of design. He repeatedly visited the House of Dior in Paris with her, grew entranced with the field of design, and decided to pursue becoming a designer of women’s clothing. He spent the mid-1950s in Paris as an assistant to Antonio del Castillo, head designer of Lanvin, and then returned to New York in the late 1950s to design for Nettie Rosenstein.
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Charles Kleibacker fitting a dress
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
In 1960 Kleibacker opened his own business, Kleibacker Studio, in New York. Over the next two and a half decades he produced high-quality, couture garments that were sold for substantial prices (often over $1,500) in specialty stores and to private clients including First Ladies Pat Nixon and Lady Bird Johnson, actresses Diahann Carroll and Gertrude Lawrence, his former employer Hildegarde, and many others.  
In the 1960s he earned the nickname “Master of the Bias,” as his designs were often cut on the bias (where pattern pieces are set diagonally on the cloth). This technique produces fluid, better fitting garments that follow a body’s contour – and indeed items were generally individually fitted to their wearer and hand-sewn – though it requires more skill and time in the design and production. He focused on superior fabrics and neutral colors, avoiding flamboyancy and creating intricately constructed, well-crafted garments. 
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Charles Kleibacker with Mount Mary fashion design students
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
Kleibacker’s involvement in fashion extended beyond designing clothes. He also taught fashion design at numerous institutions including Mount Mary College (now Mount Mary University) and Ohio State University, served as curator for various exhibitions at Kent State University and other organizations, and traveled around the country presenting fashion shows and lectures on sewing and design.  
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Gold Needle Award program, 1971
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
His association with Mount Mary in particular was significant. When the fashion design program at Mount Mary was founded in 1965, he advised the Fashion Department to begin collecting historic garments; his advice and donations helped build the current 10,000-item Fashion Archive.
Letter from Charles Kleibacker about Mount Mary's 1971 Gold Needle Award
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
He taught at Mount Mary from 1968 through the 1980s, often alongside Sister Aloyse Hessburg. In 1971 he received the Gold Needle Award from the institution (see program above and letter to the right). He also lectured and participated in events during this time, including the 1982 fashion show "Flights of Fantasy (see program below). 
Kleibacker maintained his commitment to fashion design even after closing his New York studio in 1986, continuing to teach and curate exhibits. He died of pneumonia in Columbus, Ohio, in 2010. 
Flights of Fantasy program, May 1982
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
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