A Tribute to My Mother: Celebrating a Century of Style

Toby Kirschner in the late 60’s

On Tuesday, March 16th, my beautiful mother, Toby Kirschner, passed away. She was just 46 days shy of her 101st birthday. Mom was the strongest woman I knew. She not only escaped Nazi Germany, but she also overcame the COVID virus and pneumonia and was recovering at a rehabilitation/nursing facility in Manhattan when she suffered cardiac arrest.

Family Portrait in Poland 1920’s Mom is front row, second from left

Toby Kipnis was born in Warsaw, the youngest of 10 children. She arrived in New York in 1938 at the age of 18 with her mother and two older sisters. Amazingly, all her family members escaped the death camps except for one married sister who did not want to leave Poland. Mom met my father, born in Czechoslovakia, and came here in 1937, at a party for Eastern European emigres. They had a long and idyllic marriage. Dad passed away in 2008 at the age of 93.

Mom and Dad late 40’s

Like her siblings, mom was artistic, creative, and classically “right-brained.” She crocheted, knitted, and sewed. She also designed hats. At one point, she worked for Mr. John. Mom had a sewing machine and made clothes for herself, my sister, and myself. She was an adept tailor. Mom’s handwork was meticulous. She could do the impossible with scraps of material and never left anything over. There was never anything she could not do. She was a hands-on interior decorator. Mom was an amazing mother. She always allowed our creativity to flourish and our imagination to run wild. FYI, my sister Sherry Berz is an accomplished artist and sculptor.

Mom being congratulated at Saks Fifth Avenue

Mom wanted to keep busy after my sister, and I went off to college. It was the late 60’s. She landed a job at Saks Fifth Avenue, selling in a boutique on the designer floor. Mom had an impressive book. She was one of SFA’s most productive salespersons and had a loyal clientele that included Barbara Walters, Betty Furness, and Mrs. Otto Preminger. My mother also served as a ‘stylist,’ who put her customers together.

Mom wearing Pucci late 60’s early 70’s

My mother was a true aesthete. She loved to be surrounded by beautiful things, and she loved beautiful clothes. She had impeccable taste. I credit my mother with nurturing my love of fashion and inspiring my personal style. Mom was incredibly chic, and her taste was faultless. I remember how glamorous my mother looked when she went out with my dad on Saturday nights, the smell of Bandit by Robert Piguet in the air. Mom’s closets were filled with the best of the best, from Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, and Courreges, to Pucci.

Mom wearing Originala and Yves Saint Laurent late 60’s early 70’s

Among the pieces that stand out in my memory is a perfectly cut black wool petit point riding jacket with velvet collar by Anne Klein. I wish I had it now. A heavy white cotton coat by Originala with large silver dome buttons would look as good today as it did decades ago.

Dad and Mom carrying her alligator bag 1940’s

A black alligator frame bag with distinctive gold hardware that mom often wore eventually became mine. I carried it once on an appointment to see Donna Karan. The designer was so taken with the gold hardware, she expressed an interest in using the bag as a prototype for her handbag line.

Mom in New York 1940’s

Mom had a little natural rank mink bolero jacket which she wore as an evening cover-up in the ’50s. I fell in love with it many years later and began wearing it in a far more casual way. It remains one of my favorite, most versatile pieces.

Rebecca Moses illustration of Mom

I love that my mother kept her vanity to the end. She was a very proud woman. Even in the last years of her life, she would always make a point of putting on lipstick and eye makeup, dressing up, and wearing one of her beloved hats, regardless of the occasion. I love this illustration Rebecca Moses did of my mother for her Stay Home Sisters campaign. It coincided with mom’s 100th birthday last May.

My mother lived a long and healthy life. She shared a bountiful love with her family every day. While we grieve, we also celebrate all she gave to her family and friends.

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

  1. Marilyn, I cried reading this tribute. What an amazing Mother. To top off all of her accomplishments was you! A real ” chip off the block” and fashion icon carrying on her legacy. What an amazing story of a survivor and a woman, achieving her dreams as an immigrant to America. Thank you so much for sharing and I send you hugs to help heal your loss. I bet she was sp proud of you!

  2. So sorry to hear of Aunt Toby’s passing. Although I only met her a few times, I well remember her great sense of style. My grandmother, Evelyn, is in the wedding photo on the left side in the photo above. David Lawrence is my brother.

  3. How lucky you were to have her for so many years and have such wonderful memories. I imagine your love of clothes comes from her, where else. Hope all of your memories will help you through the times that you will miss her and want to call her to share something with her. Sincerest condolences.
    Michele Minkoff

  4. A wonderful tribute! She passed her artistry to you!
    I had a stunning Mother too and I still own some her things and love wearing them.
    I loved that you did this article!

  5. Dear Marilyn,
    This is a very touching tribute to your mother. It’s wonderful that she lived a long and full life. I lost my mother two years ago. It is a very difficult thing to live with. I know you will keep all the beautiful memories alive.
    Warm personal regards,
    Bonnie Bien

  6. What an inspiration to all women! You are so fortunate to have had this wonderful, talented, and beautiful lady in your life. Such a lovely tribute!

  7. I’m so thankful to have gotten to visit with Aunt Toby, not just when I was a little girl, but also a few years ago at Aunt Harriet’s 100th birthday. Her voice then was exactly as I remembered it from many years before, as well as how beautiful and sweetly gentle-natured she was with us. I’m so sorry to hear of her passing, but I’m certain my grandma has happily welcomed her. Sending much love to you all. xoxo Sheri

  8. Don’t know if my first comment got sent!
    Loved this article on your Mother. You must be so sad and
    what a great loss after having her with you for over 100
    Years. The photos of her are beautiful- she definitely
    had an interesting life.
    Mike and I send our condolences and wish you all the best.
    Love, Ellie

  9. So sorry about your mom.
    Did you know that lee sable (Zoom) jjust passed away.i saw the obit in the not. It did not
    Say what she passed away from.
    Best and fondest

  10. What a loving memorial! You had a great example to follow and continue her legacy so successfully.
    Wishing you and your family happy memories amidst the grief.
    Best wishes, and hope to see you at one of the vintage shows when they resume.

  11. What a lovely tribute to your mom. You were very lucky to have her for so many years. I see where you get your fab sense of style.

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