Gloria Schiff, Fashion Editor and Glamorous Twin Model, Dies at 90

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Gloria Schiff, a fashion editor at Vogue, a philanthropist and one half of a pair of glamorous twins in midcentury New York society, died on May 2 at her home in Manhattan. She was 90.

Pilar Crespi Robert, her niece, said the cause was complications of congestive heart failure.

Ms. Schiff and her sister Consuelo Crespi caught the eye of a fashion photographer in New York when they were 15, and they began modeling and appearing in newspaper articles that highlighted their lives as gorgeous, impeccably dressed identical twins.

In 1947 they were the first models for Toni Home Permanent, which allowed women to give their hair a permanent wave at home. “Which twin has the Toni?” became a famous ad slogan, asking consumers to pick out the one with the home perm versus the beauty parlor treatment.

Ms. Schiff became a public relations assistant to Helena Rubinstein, the cosmetics entrepreneur, and then became a fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar under Diana Vreeland, the editor often referred to as the high priestess of fashion.

When Ms. Vreeland was named editor in chief of Vogue in 1962, Ms. Schiff moved to Vogue soon thereafter. Ms. Schiff oversaw photo shoots with the magazine’s star photographers, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, and rose to become senior fashion editor.

A 1964 article in The New York Herald Tribune described Ms. Schiff as the exemplar of a new breed of woman — “the terribly well-organized ladies,” as the article was headlined.

“I never go to cocktail parties,” Ms. Schiff told the newspaper. “They take too much time at the wrong time.”

But she did make time for social happenings, like Truman Capote’s legendary Black and White Ball in 1966.

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Ms. Schiff, right, and her twin sister, Consuelo Crespi, caught the eye of a fashion photographer when they were 15, and they began modeling and appearing in newspaper articles that highlighted their lives as gorgeous, impeccably dressed identical twins. The man in the photograph is unidentified.CreditBernard Hoffman/The LIFE Picture Collection, via Getty Images

And she introduced Jackie Kennedy to Valentino. One day, several months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Ms. Schiff was wearing a two-piece black organza Valentino ensemble when she ran into the former first lady.

“Jackie asked her who had made it,” Vanity Fair wrote in 2011. “Gloria said Valentino, who happened to be in New York, and she set up an appointment for that afternoon. The six outfits Jackie ordered that day would see her through her year of mourning and make Valentino an international star.”

Although both twins were married and led glittery social lives — Ms. Schiff in New York and Ms. Crespi, who became a countess, in Rome — their primary relationship was with each other. They had a standing date to talk every night on the phone from wherever in the world they were, Ms. Robert said in a telephone interview. And, she said, when Ms. Crespi was giving birth in Switzerland, Ms. Schiff, who was in New York, had abdominal cramps so severe that she went to the emergency room.

Their immersion in each other’s lives ended in 2010 when Ms. Crespi died at 82 after a stroke.

“I was very angry when Consuelo died,” Ms. Schiff told Vanity Fair. “We were so close for 82 years. That’s longer than any marriage.”

Gloria O’Connor was born on May 31, 1928, in Larchmont, N.Y. Her father, William O’Connor, had left Ireland at the turn of the century, and her mother, Nancy O’Brien, followed shortly thereafter. Mr. O’Connor worked at a mineral water company and became its president. The couple had four girls: Marie, Perpetual, Gloria and Consuelo.

When the twins were about 7, their parents separated, though they never divorced. Mrs. O’Connor and her daughters moved to Nova Scotia, where the girls attended convent school.

In 1943 the family moved back to Manhattan, and the twins’ modeling career took off. The girls were in the elevator one day at the Hotel des Artistes, where they lived, when they were spotted by the fashion photographer Andre de Dienes, who had shot for Vogue and had photographed a young Norma Jean Baker before she became Marilyn Monroe.

He took one look at the twins and asked them to be models.

That led to fashion shows for department stores all over the country, and they became darlings of the popular press. In 1945 they made the cover of Look magazine.

“My father was horrified that we were modeling,” Ms. Schiff said. “But we made a lot of money. We were very conscientious about our work, because we loved it.”

Ms. Schiff in 2008.CreditJoe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan, via Getty Images

They attended the Lodge School, then the French Institute, from which they graduated in 1946 — the same year as their debutante party at the Waldorf Astoria.

They attended Barmore Junior College in New York. In 1948 Consuelo married Rodolfo Crespi, an Italian count. Gloria was married briefly to Miles Lowell; that marriage was annulled, and in 1954 she married Frank Schiff, president of his family’s highly successful insurance company, Schiff, Terhune & Company.

The Schiffs lived at 550 Park Avenue, one of the Upper East Side’s most exclusive addresses, where Ms. Vreeland also lived. The Schiffs also owned a home in Old Westbury, on Long Island, where they spent much of their time playing tennis and entertaining.

Mr. Schiff died in 2004. No immediate family members survive.

The twins often took advantage of their identical looks. Ms. Robert said that Consuelo was the better student and sometimes took school exams for Gloria. In the mid-1980s, when Consuelo was buying an apartment on the Upper East Side, she didn’t want to deal with the co-op board, so Gloria went to the interview in her place, pretending to be Consuelo.

Newspaper articles of the day would distinguish them by noting details — for instance that Consuelo was left-handed or that she was wearing a pearl bracelet.

Ms. Robert said one of their few differences was that her mother was more empathetic, while Ms. Schiff was more philanthropic.

Ms. Schiff volunteered at what is now Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. While there, she persuaded Main Bocher, an American couturier, to redesign the nurses’ uniforms.

She also took a deep interest in the Henry Street Settlement, a social service organization on the Lower East Side, where she was a board member and helped raise money. Her involvement was somewhat unusual, as many in her social circle directed their philanthropic efforts to the arts, not the underprivileged.

When flights to China resumed after President Richard M. Nixon’s overtures in 1972, Ms. Schiff was on the first plane out and spent considerable time traveling the country, Allegra Crespi, her grandniece, said in a telephone interview.

“She was adventurous and so ahead of her time,” Ms. Crespi said. “She didn’t have to work, but she really enjoyed it. She had a passion for it and an eye for it.”

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