NEW YORK — The Austrian Consul General Brigitta Blaha honored Monika Tilley on Wednesday with the Decoration of Honor in Silver for Services to the Republic of Austria.
Born in Vienna, Tilley has spent her adult life working in the apparel industry here. After graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, she came to the U.S. on a UNICEF grant. Her decision to stay wasn't welcome news to her parents, whom she said "kept calling the consulate, saying, 'Extradite her.'" Tilley persevered even though her first job as an illustrator at Harper's Bazaar had its challenges: "I couldn't cash my paychecks because I had no labor permit."
But it all worked out and Tilley accepted the honor before her daughter Mona, her brother Thomas Nowotny, and such friends as Steven Kolb, Patricia Underwood, Cathy Hardwick, Charles Nolan, Jacques and Louis Dell'Olio, Deanna Littel and Ruth Finley.
Blaha recapped Tilley's multifaceted career as a designer at White Stag, Cole of California and for many years on her own. Aside from designing swimwear for many editions of Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit issue, she created U.S. athletes' attire for three Olympic Games. Her consulting skills have extended beyond the realms of textiles and apparel — Tilley had a hand in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Hapsburg fashion exhibition in the early Eighties. She continues to serve on the board of the Color Association of the U.S. and oversees the Council of Fashion Designers of America's scholarships.
"Life is made up of family, friends and love. I am very privileged to have friends here today who are like a big family," Tilley said. "It is a nice thing to know my father had the same decoration, although I feel parts of my family are much more deserving than I am."
Nowotny was right at home at the consul general Fifth Avenue's apartment with a view of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nowotny, whose wife, Eva, is the Austrian ambassador to the U.S., lived there while he served as Austrian Consul General.
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