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Laura Johnson collection

Identifier: KA-0021-01


Laura Johnson (died 2002) was a New York City socialite and wife of Saks Fifth Avenue executive F. Raymond Johnson. The collection is primarily comprised of photographic prints and press clippings documenting her extensive wardrobe of couture clothing and active social life between the 1950s and late 1990s.


  • 1958 - 1999
  • Majority of material found within 1960 - 1989



0.8 Cubic Feet (1 box, 5 folders)

Scope and Content of Collection

The Laura Johnson Collection consists of photographs and press clippings from the U.S. and Europe, as well as a few letters and other ephemera documenting Laura Johnson’s life, all of which date from the early 1950s, when she arrived in the United States, through the late 1990s.

Numerous materials include handwritten notations that specify dates or designer names. Additionally, some images show Johnson out with her husband at charity functions or other social events. Despite the lack of documentation about this collection's origins, it may still be used to provide some perspective into the roles of male retail executives and their wives, who were expected to maintain glamorous public personas to coincide with the image of luxury department stores.

Overall, the collection provides a unique look into both the private and public life of a flamboyant Manhattan socialite during the mid- to late-twentieth century. Media representations of Johnson’s wardrobe may also illustrate changing tastes in American fashion, as well as the connection between fashion and celebrity.

A set of photographs taken in Israel depicting Laura Johnson alongside Israeli dignitaries probably dates from March 1964, when Raymond Johnson had meetings related to business and trade relations, according to the press clippings.

Language of Materials

Materials in English with a small number of clippings in French and Italian.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use. Please contact for appointment.

Use Restrictions

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives and Special Collections. Please contact:

Biographical Note

Laura Johnson (died 2002) was a New York social figure and philanthropist who is best known for her flamboyant sense of style. Johnson became connected to the fashion world though her marriage to longtime Saks Fifth Avenue executive Francis Raymond Johnson (1895-1965) and remained active in the New York social scene until the end of the twentieth century.

One of eleven children, Johnson was born Laura Safir near Bucharest, Romania, sometime in the early twentieth century. (The exact year of her birth is unknown.) She received her primary education in Romania before studying law and philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, from which she professed to have earned multiple degrees that she never used professionally. After relocating to New York City in 1953, Johnson took English courses at Hunter College and met her husband three years later. The couple was married in 1958.

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson became prominent members of New York society and were often photographed at nightclubs, charity parties, and other events. Mrs. Johnson was regularly featured in the social pages of popular newspapers and became widely known for her daring clothing choices. Her bold style also served as publicity for her husband’s store. The press referred to her as a “fashion individualist” and “the most flamboyant woman in Manhattan.” Johnson claimed that she went out every night and had amassed a collection of sixty-eight couture ball gowns by 1973. She favored a wide range of American and European designers including Christian Dior, Philip Hulitar, Sophie of Saks, James Galanos, Emilio Pucci, and Ben Zuckerman. She was also known for her collection of luxurious furs, and sometimes commissioned matching pieces for her French poodle, Joie.

In addition to organizing numerous charity balls and other fund raising events, Johnson was known as a generous and sometimes private contributor to many organizations and institutions, including the Literacy Partners, New York Police Department, the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The New School. Johnson also hosted events at her home and preferred cooking for large groups herself.

In 1963, Johnson was appointed fashion counselor for the luxury leather brand Samuel Robert, although it is unknown how long this business relationship lasted. Some newspapers reported that she was also a designer and public relations assistant for the brand.

Johnson continued to travel and attend social functions until the end of the century. She died in 2002 and was believed to have been in her late 80s at the time.


“F. Raymond. Johnson, 70, Dies; Vice President of Revlon, Inc.” New York Times, August 14, 1965.

Klemesrud, Judy. “She L-O-V-E-S Fashion.” New York Times, August 26, 1973.

Nemy, Enid. “Laura Johnson, Exuberant Social Figure and Quiet Philanthropist, Dies.” New York Times, May 19, 2002.

Sheppard, Eugenia. “Bombshells from Paris.” New York Herald Tribune, November 1, 1963.

Organization and Arrangement

Organized in three series by format.

Custodial History

The compiler(s) and annotator(s) of the materials in this collection are unknown, although it is believed that at least some of the collection was sent to Tim Gunn when he was chair of Parsons School of Design Fashion Design Department (2000-2007).

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred from Parsons School of Design's School of Fashion around 2008 and in 2013. An additional accession was identified and incorporated into the existing collection in 2017.

Guide to the Laura Johnson collection
Sara Idacavage
April 7, 2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • December 4, 2017: New School Archives Staff updated inventory and extent to reflect most recent accession.