NEW YORK — Dorinda Dixon “D.D.” Ryan, an arts and fashion insider, died Tuesday at Calvary Hospital Hospice in the Bronx after a brief bout with cancer. She was 79.
A native of Bristol, R.I., Ryan was determined while still a teenager to make Manhattan her home. During her late teens, she landed a job as Richard Avedon’s assistant. Working on assignment with him, Ryan met Diana Vreeland, who wooed her to work for Harper’s Bazaar. There she “rapidly” became the magazine’s photo editor, said her son Drew Ryan.
Ryan went on to design costumes for Broadway shows such as “Company” and “House of Flowers” as well as films, including “A New Leaf.”
Along the way, she befriended Halston early in his career, when he was selling hats for Bergdorf Goodman, her son said. Ryan also worked exclusively for the designer for 15 years until his death in 1990.
More than anything, Ryan valued mentoring young people and kept up that practice throughout her life, her son said. She could catch the ear of scores of well-known artists, dancers, musicians and notables, including Pablo Picasso, Stephen Sondheim, Harold Arlen and Cole Porter. Ryan was so striking that in the early Sixties, she and her husband, John, were asked to sit for a series of photographs by Cecil Beaton. And the artist Erte once painted her portrait. Ryan was also said to have teamed the creator of “Eloise,” Kay Thompson, with the book’s illustrator, Hilary Knight. The voice of the children’s book character was something Thompson and Ryan playfully invented and occasionally used in telephone conversations.
In addition to her son Drew, Ryan is survived by another son, Beau. Private services will be Friday and a memorial is being planned for the fall.
This story first appeared in the July 25, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.