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Ruth Rogers-Altmann was born on December 31, 1917, in Vienna, Austria, to Arnold and Elsa (née Zemanek) Karplus. Her father, Arnold Karplus was a renowned architect who designed modern worker housing in the “Red Vienna” period of 1918 until 1934, when the city was controlled by the Socialist party. Both Arnold and Elsa were committed to social causes, and devoted extensive time to organizations such as B’nai B’rith and the Institute for the Blind. For much of the 1930s, the family lived in the “Haus Steiner”, considered a masterpiece of modern architecture designed by Adolf Loos.
The family enjoyed skiing together and spent many winter breaks on the slopes. Ruth was introduced to the sport at the age of 5 by her father and took lessons with the famous skier Mathias Zdarsky. She remained an avid skier for her whole life and even competed at the Gerald Ford American Ski Classic in 1998 at the age of 81. Besides skiing, she excelled at dance, having taken classes with the famous dancer Gertrud Bodenwieser at the Künstlerhaus.
However, it was in art and design that Ruth truly found her passion. She was accepted into the Kunstgewerbeschule, the Applied Art Academy of Vienna, and studied there from 1934 to 1938 under the mentorship of Albert Paris Gütersloh and Josef Wimmer-Wisgril. At the same time, Ruth began working as a stylist and interior decorator in Vienna’s largest department store, Herzmansky.
In March 1938, Ruth traveled with her family to Prague to celebrate her maternal grandmother’s birthday. After hearing reports about the annexation of Austria, Ruth decided not to return. She traveled to the United States with the help of her aunt and uncle. Once she arrived in New York, she began working as a stylist and designer at Mavest, a brand specializing in sportswear and ski clothes. There, she designed the world’s first ski jacket that had a concealed hood built into the collar.
She married Dr. Martin Rogers in September 1938 and soon began working from home on a freelance basis. With the deployment of her husband to the Pacific, Ruth began working for the Bloomingdale’s department store in 1944. At Bloomingdale’s, Ruth established two new departments, the ski shop and the fashion fabric center. In 1951, Ruth established Ruth Rogers Enterprise, a management consulting service for apparel manufacturers.
After her divorce from Dr. Rogers, Ruth married Hans Carl Altmann, the son of the textile magnate Bernhard Altmann.
She served as a Special Consultant to the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for more than a decade. Having established herself as one of the leading sports fashion designers, she taught at some of the most infl uential art and design schools, including Parsons School of Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology. A group of her artworks are on permanent display at Stanford University, Columbia University, and the Alf Engen Museum. She was awarded the Silver Medal for Services to the State of Vienna for her accomplishments in Art and Design. Ruth passed away on October 11, 2015, at the age of 97 in New York City.
Ruth Rogers-Altmann’s papers, which include a photo album documenting the family’s life in Vienna and Ruth’s emigration, have been digitized and are accessible online.
From LBI News 113