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Harriet Winter Dies at 83

The designer passed away Saturday at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital after suffering a brain hemorrhage.

Services were held Monday for Harriet Winter, whose double-barreled fashion career started by selling Yesterday’s News remade vintage clothing and evolved into designing the Mrs. H. Winter collection.

This story first appeared in the October 19, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Winter, 83, died Saturday at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital after suffering a brain hemorrhage from falling while vacationing in Italy, according to her daughter, Joanna Barsh.

Before delving into design, Winter was a painter whose specialty was Abstract Expressionism. She intentionally signed her work “H. Winter,” since women were not then considered serious artists.

After her second husband, Lewis Winter, decided to exit his merchandising job for a more entrepreneurial life, she joined him to launch Yesterday’s News in 1971. The pair sold remade vintage clothing first at B. Altman & Co. and later in their own West 23rd Street store not far from The Chelsea Hotel. A denim-paneled skirt suit and halter top was one of her first breakthrough “new-old” looks, according to her daughter. After honing her design skills, she unveiled the Mrs. H. Winter line. Earlier this year, a dress Winter refashioned from an Art Deco print in rayon was featured in an exhibition at the Museum at F.I.T.

Born Harriet Jane Yates in Manhattan and raised in Woodmere, N.Y., her father Charles Yates was a well-known Hollywood agent whose clients included Bob Hope and Elvis Presley and who routinely brought acts home for dinner. Her late brother Stephen was also a theatrical agent and helped create the mop-headed band The Monkees.

Winter’s former fit model Barbara Flood said, “Harriet was so full of life and hope for the future and what that might bring. She remained that little girl who grew up in the Hollywood brouhaha and that came across in her work.”

Abel Rapp, who first met Winter when they were part of a group show at the Helmsley Hotel, said, “She knew exactly what she wanted to do and she just did it.”

She cut short her collegiate pursuits at a southern women’s college after facing what she described to relatives as rampant anti-Semitism. She felt she was “better off not going to college if that was to be her future,” her daughter said. With no design school studies to speak of, it wasn’t until she was in her 40s that she learned design techniques through research and working with seasoned sample makers. She then launched the Mrs. H. Winter collection, distinguishing herself from competitors by using outside stitching for finishing — a novelty at that time. Skillful draping, cocoon-shaped coats, curvaceous suits, knotting and petal collars were a few of her other design signatures, and she was among the first to incorporate upholstery fabrics and plastics into her outerwear.

Mrs. H. Winter shuttered in the Eighties but Winter continued to design clothes under the label for loyal clients. She worked throughout the Nineties, exploring fabrics and designs, before shifting her primary focus back to art. Winter, who painted throughout her life, took up needlepoint portraitures of Sarah Bernhardt and other strong-willed women she admired.

In addition to her daughter and her husband, Winter is survived by another daughter, Andrea Shlasko, and a son, Alexander White.