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Guide to the Laura Johnson collection, 1958-1999

Collection Overview


Kellen Design Archives

Collection Identifier



Parsons the New School for Design.


Laura Johnson collection, 1958-1999, (Bulk, 1960-1989)


0.8 linear ft: 1 box, 5 folders

Language of Materials note

Materials in English with a small number of clippings in French and Italian.


Laura Johnson (died 2002) was a New York City socialite and wife of Saks Fifth Avenue executive F. Raymond Johnson. The collection is primarily comprised of photographic prints and press clippings documenting her extensive wardrobe of couture clothing and active social life between the 1950s and late 1990s.

Preferred Citation note

[Identification of item], [date (if known)], Laura Johnson collection, KA.0021.01, box __, folder __, New School Archives and Special Collections, The New School, New York, New York.

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Biographical Note

Laura Johnson (died 2002) was a New York social figure and philanthropist who is best known for her flamboyant sense of style. Johnson became connected to the fashion world though her marriage to longtime Saks Fifth Avenue executive Francis Raymond Johnson (1895-1965) and remained active in the New York social scene until the end of the twentieth century.

One of eleven children, Johnson was born Laura Safir near Bucharest, Romania, sometime in the early twentieth century. (The exact year of her birth is unknown.) She received her primary education in Romania before studying law and philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, from which she professed to have earned multiple degrees that she never used professionally. After relocating to New York City in 1953, Johnson took English courses at Hunter College and met her husband three years later. The couple was married in 1958.

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson became prominent members of New York society and were often photographed at nightclubs, charity parties, and other events. Mrs. Johnson was regularly featured in the social pages of popular newspapers and became widely known for her daring clothing choices. Her bold style also served as publicity for her husband’s store. The press referred to her as a “fashion individualist” and “the most flamboyant woman in Manhattan.” Johnson claimed that she went out every night and had amassed a collection of sixty-eight couture ball gowns by 1973. She favored a wide range of American and European designers including Christian Dior, Philip Hulitar, Sophie of Saks, James Galanos, Emilio Pucci, and Ben Zuckerman. She was also known for her collection of luxurious furs, and sometimes commissioned matching pieces for her French poodle, Joie.

In addition to organizing numerous charity balls and other fund raising events, Johnson was known as a generous and sometimes private contributor to many organizations and institutions, including the Literacy Partners, New York Police Department, the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The New School. Johnson also hosted events at her home and preferred cooking for large groups herself.

In 1963, Johnson was appointed fashion counselor for the luxury leather brand Samuel Robert, although it is unknown how long this business relationship lasted. Some newspapers reported that she was also a designer and public relations assistant for the brand.

Johnson continued to travel and attend social functions until the end of the century. She died in 2002 and was believed to have been in her late 80s at the time.


“F. Raymond. Johnson, 70, Dies; Vice President of Revlon, Inc.” New York Times, August 14, 1965.

Klemesrud, Judy. “She L-O-V-E-S Fashion.” New York Times, August 26, 1973.

Nemy, Enid. “Laura Johnson, Exuberant Social Figure and Quiet Philanthropist, Dies.” New York Times, May 19, 2002.

Sheppard, Eugenia. “Bombshells from Paris.” New York Herald Tribune, November 1, 1963.


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Scope and Content of Collection

The Laura Johnson Collection consists of photographs and press clippings from the U.S. and Europe, as well as a few letters and other ephemera documenting Laura Johnson’s life, all of which date from the early 1950s, when she arrived in the United States, through the late 1990s.

Numerous materials include handwritten notations that specify dates or designer names. Additionally, some images show Johnson out with her husband at charity functions or other social events. Despite the lack of documentation about this collection's origins, it may still be used to provide some perspective into the roles of male retail executives and their wives, who were expected to maintain glamorous public personas to coincide with the image of luxury department stores.

Overall, the collection provides a unique look into both the private and public life of a flamboyant Manhattan socialite during the mid- to late-twentieth century. Media representations of Johnson’s wardrobe may also illustrate changing tastes in American fashion, as well as the connection between fashion and celebrity.

A set of photographs taken in Israel depicting Laura Johnson alongside Israeli dignitaries probably dates from March 1964, when Raymond Johnson had meetings related to business and trade relations, according to the press clippings.


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Organization and Arrangement

Organized in three series by format.

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Administrative Information

Collection guide authored by Sara Idacavage.

Publication Information

Kellen Design Archives - April 7, 2015

66 5th Avenue
lobby level
New York, NY, 10011

Preferred Citation note

[Identification of item], [date (if known)], Laura Johnson collection, KA.0021.01, box __, folder __, New School Archives and Special Collections, The New School, New York, New York.

Revision Description

 Collection inventory and extent updated to reflect most recent accession. December 4, 2017

Conditions Governing Access note

Collection is open for research use. Please contact archivist@newschool.edu for appointment.

Use Restrictions

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives and Special Collections. Please contact: archivist@newschool.edu.

Custodial History note

The compiler(s) and annotator(s) of the materials in this collection are unknown, although it is believed that at least some of the collection was sent to Tim Gunn when he was chair of Parsons School of Design Fashion Design Department (2000-2007).

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred from Parsons School of Design's School of Fashion around 2008 and in 2013. An additional accession was identified and incorporated into the existing collection in 2017.

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Keywords for Searching Related Subjects

Corporate Name(s)

  • Saks Fifth Avenue (New York, N.Y.).


  • Clippings (information artifacts).
  • Photographs.

Personal Name(s)

  • Johnson, Laura S., -2002


  • Celebrities -- Clothing.
  • Clothing and dress -- United States -- 20th century.
  • Cocktail parties.
  • Fashion design.
  • Fund raising.
  • Publicity.
  • Women's clothing -- Pictorial works.
  • Women's clothing -- United States -- 20th century.

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Collection Inventory

Box Folder

General, 1965-1971, undated 

The series consists of outlying formats. Notable materials within this series include a program for the 1972 Southern California Presidential Dinner with Richard Nixon, as well as a sketch and letter from designer Elgé Bové about a dress he designed and sent to Johnson, along with an amusing description of why she was the perfect woman to wear it.

k_6 9
2 16

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Box Folder

Clippings, 1959-1996, undated 

This series is mostly comprised of chronologically-arranged clippings from the social pages of New York-based newspapers and other publications, including the New York Times,  New York Herald Tribune,  Women’s Wear Daily, and  Manhattan magazine. Johnson is also featured in multiple clippings from Italian and French magazines.

These clippings only document Johnson's presence at various social events and do not feature much information besides her name and a description of the ensemble she is wearing. There are, however, numerous clippings that provide a small amount of text criticizing or praising Johnson’s choice of clothing, including favorable reviews by fashion photographer and columnist Bill Cunningham. There are also multiple articles that report on Johnson’s work with the brand Samuel Robert in 1963, and a two-page Women’s Wear Daily feature dedicated entirely to Johnson entitled “The Flamboyant Lady Called Laura."

The series also includes a few clippings that do not appear to feature Johnson in any way. The subject matter, including false eyelashes and designer jumpsuits, suggests that she may have collected these for style inspiration. One clipping is an obituary for her husband, F. Raymond Johnson, who is featured by her side in a small number of the other clippings.


k_OSx-5 5-7
2 17-20

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Box Folder

Photographs, 1958-1999, undated 

This series consists of 286 color and black and white prints depicting Johnson, arranged in roughly chronological order. The archivist used surrounding materials to estimate undated materials. Numerous photographs feature Johnson posing in her Fifth Avenue apartment. Some of the outfits modeled in her home are also found being worn at parties from articles in the Clippings series. A number of prints include photography studio stamps or handwritten captions indicating the year that the picture was taken or the names of the designers being worn. Many of the pictures of Johnson at home also feature her French poodle, Joie.

Multiple photographs feature Johnson on vacation, including candid shots on the beach in the 1950s and portraits aboard the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Elizabeth II cruise ships in the 1980s and 1990s. Another group of images document Johnson at events with celebrities, including Andy Warhol, Nancy Reagan, and Sammy Davis, Jr. A photograph of Johnson attending the annual fashion show for graduating Parsons students on May 2, 1995 suggests that she supported young design students (she also made monetary contributions to The New School). Other notable images within the series include a photograph of Laura and F. Raymond Johnson’s wedding, as well as portraits by famed photographer Peter Fink, depicting Johnson wearing a Dior ball gown in 1962.


1 1-17
k_6 10
2 1-15

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Collection Guide Last Updated: 01/30/2018

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