NEW YORK — Lenore Benson, a former executive director of Fashion Group International who inaugurated its annual Night of Stars gala, died Wednesday at New York Hospital.

Benson, 80, died of acute pancreatic distress after a short illness, according to Margot Rogoff, a friend.

A lifelong fashion devotee, Benson’s career spanned department store retailing, magazine publishing, industry organizations and academia.

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Benson came to New York in the Fifties and joined Franklin Simon, a Fifth Avenue department store. She then entered the magazine world and became merchandising editor of Mademoiselle, where she worked for 22 years and created a highly successful retail promotion, “Mademoiselle on Location.” She later moved to Harper’s Bazaar and headed its promotion and merchandising department, but three years later Condé Nast brought her back to join Vogue.

In 1984, she was asked to head Fashion Group International as executive director, where she launched the annual Night of Stars event. She retired from Fashion Group in 1992, but continued as the director and curator of its archives, providing a 65-year history of the fashion organization. In 2001, she became director of external affairs at Laboratory Institute of Merchandising, the fashion business college. She relinquished that responsibility in June.

“The word that defines Lenore to me was ‘gracious,’” said Marylou Luther, creative director of FGI and editor of the International Fashion Syndicate. “I’d see people come in off the street [to FGI] and instead of turning them away or on to someone else, she’d ask, ‘Can I help you?’ She’d be very patient and might say, ‘Maybe you’re in the wrong building.’”

Margaret Hayes, president of FGI, said, “Lenore was patient, giving and extraordinarily knowledgeable about the history of fashion. She was excellent in working with young interns and students.” She compiled over 600,000 slides dating from the 1950s to today, said Hayes.

“She was elegant and always put together perfectly,” added Hayes.

Ruth Finley, owner and publisher of the Fashion Calendar, worked closely with Benson for 40 years. “We started out about the same time. She was a very warm and personal friend,” said Finley.

This story first appeared in the September 3, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Benson spent her spare time in her country home in Woodstock, N.Y., where she will be buried. A service will be held Tuesday at St. John Church at 11 a.m. in Woodstock. A memorial will be planned at a later date.

On Aug. 18, about 50 of Benson’s friends celebrated her 80th birthday at Lord & Taylor’s American Place. Considering that the late Dorothy Shaver, former president of L&T, was one of the founders of FGI, the women thought it was an appropriate spot to celebrate. “Lenore got to hear all the speeches she might have heard at her memorial. It was a great tribute to her, and people came from all over the world,” said Luther.

Benson is survived by her cousin, Gloria Janos, as well as a niece and nephew.