“Everyone in fashion knows who she is, but I don’t think anyone outside of the industry would have any idea that this was even going on,” Eric Wilson, the editor-in-chief at InStyle can be heard saying of Ruth Finley, concisely summing up why she has attracted the attention of director Christian D. Bruun in “Calendar Girl,” and indeed, Finley occupies an obscure yet critical space in the fashion world. She doesn’t appear to be the type to demand attention, even if she makes a point of wearing designer clothes to all the shows she still attends at 94, yet she is lauded by the likes of Diane von Furstenberg and Nicole Miller, who consult her on every show they do – they have to when her Fashion Calendar has set the agenda for New York’s Fashion Week since the 1940s.
In an industry that prizes pushing innovation, Finley is decidedly old school, doing the unglamorous work of making sure shows don’t conflict and reducing extravagant productions down to their most basic line item details and printing out the schedules on pink paper. While there’s a reason that those behind the scenes like Finley usually aren’t the center of their own films – when the subject is the last to think of their work is important – “Calendar Girl” finds this seeming cog in the machine has ultimately guided the direction of the business for decades, not only leaving a history behind that can pinpoint particular trends or the arcs of designers, but made it more egalitarian when Finley was in charge of positioning up-and-comers amongst fashion icons, largely indifferent to status when she filled out the schedule.
There is some slight irony to the fact that Finley’s calendar has been cherished for how clean and straight to the point it is when it takes some time for the film to get to what’s compelling about her story – as Carolina Herrera once says as a compliment, “She hasn’t changed much,” which leaves Bruun working overtime to craft a narrative arc around someone whose dedication and consistency has been their strength. A little drama emerges in the push to bring the Fashion Calendar into the digital age by offering it online, something that Finley had resisted when the print publication meant so much to some designers, and the Council of Fashion Designers of America threatens to start their own service, but “Calendar Girl” is most intriguing when going back to when Finley and the CFDA’s founder Eleanor Lambert were carving out careers for themselves in the 1940s, taking advantage of a rare industry where women could attain positions of power and in some cases, chart their own career path.
“Calendar Girl” is careful to note that this was as much practical as aspirational when Finley divorced early in life at a time when it was seen as shameful, significantly limiting already constrained options to support her family, and Bruun recognizes the poetry in a woman who was able to find cover in the clothing industry, leading to a lovely third act in which she could enjoy her personal life as much as her professional life. After keeping track of time all these years, seeing Finley be able to enjoy herself off the clock proves to be as beautiful as anything that appears on the runway.