Obituary: Leora Rudolph Stern / Sold some of Pittsburgh's smartest women's clothing
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Leora Rudolph Stern, whose unerring eye made her Shadyside women's shop a favorite of fashionable Pittsburgh women, died Wednesday in her retirement city of Palm Beach, Fla. She was 97.
The cause of death was complications from old age, said her daughter, Jane Walmsley of London.
If great stylists are born, not made, then Mrs. Stern must have been a chic baby. As a partner with her husband in the fashion-forward Trevi shop in Shadyside in the 1960s and '70s, Mrs. Stern traveled often to New York, France and Italy, bringing back some of the smartest women's clothing the city had ever seen.
"She had an incredible talent for good taste, the way she dressed and dressed everyone else," Ms. Walmsley said. "She had no formal training, but a terrific eye. A generation later she would have gone on to be a fashion designer. It was just a natural flair."
Trevi, on Walnut Street, was the last of several women's shops established by her husband, Norman Stern, but the first where Mrs. Stern was an active partner. Before that she was immersed in home life. They opened Trevi in 1963 and ran it until 1974, when the couple sold the business and retired to Florida.
"Mom made buying trips to Paris, Venice, Florence for handbags and accessories. ... The whole collection was her baby. It was complete reflection of her.
"When a customer walked through the front door, [Mrs. Stern] could tell what would work for her and exactly how it would fit. They came from miles around because they knew she would not let them down. She had an army of seamstresses downstairs because everything had to be perfect. Sometimes she'd save a dress or skirt for me and I'd be there forever shortening the hem, she was so exacting."
June Malkin, owner of Choices in Shadyside, said she was shopping in Trevi one day when Mrs. Stern suggested she come to work for her. She took up the offer and stayed for four years, until the shop was sold.
"It was a fixture on Walnut Street," Ms. Malkin said. "The Mellons and Scaifes were customers.
"Leora probably had the most influence on my life of anybody I know. She encouraged me to get into the business of ladies' clothing. I admired her way with customers, her knowledge and sense of style that was ahead of the times. She did it all in a low-key way."
Her nephew, Jim Rudolph of Squirrel Hill, said she was also remarkably reliable.
"For 97 years she was always kind and caring to everyone around her," he said. "And she was very consistent. After work, she and my uncle ate dinner at the same place every night, either Poli's or, before that, Bubbles and Sherman on Forbes Avenue."
The young Leora Rudolph was one of four children born to Nellie and Julius Rudolph, who owned a Downtown menswear store (her brothers Sidney and Leonard Rudolph predeceased her). She grew up in Squirrel Hill, attending Colfax Elementary and Allderdice High. After graduation she got a job selling men's ties at Kaufmann's.
"She was a very pretty girl," said her daughter, "and she was quite a success. They opened their wallets with amazing ease. Very quickly she ran the largest book [customer list] in the men's department."
On a cruise with her sister, Florence Alpern of Florida, she became friendly with someone who knew Mr. Stern in Pittsburgh and thought she'd like him. After getting her phone number, he called her three times before she said yes to a date. They were married in 1941; the union endured for 60 years, until his death.
Shortly after the wedding, Mr. Stern was called up for military duty. She joined him at the Army base in Gulfport, Miss., and other stateside bases where he spent the war. Returning to Pittsburgh, he opened several clothing stores in the region, then sold them and took the family on a monthlong car trip to California, where he wanted to start a business.
"My mother said, 'I never thought people on the West Coast knew how to dress well; the East has much more style,' and she had a point in those days. She also wanted to be near her family, which was very close, so they stayed in Pittsburgh."
Besides her daughter and sister, Mrs. Stern is survived by a granddaughter.
The funeral will be at Ralph Schugar Chapel Inc., 5509 Centre Ave., Shadyside, at 2 p.m. Thursday, preceded by a half-hour of visitation. Interment will be at Beth Shalom Cemetery. Contributions may be made to the Department of Development, Mayo Clinic, 200 First Street SW, Rochester, MN 55905.
First Published March 20, 2013 12:00 am