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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.