Elsa Klensch, who was among the first to bring fashion to TV screens with CNN’s “Style with Elsa Klensch” in the 1980s, has died at 92 in New York City, CNN has confirmed.
For two decades, she gave CNN viewers a front row seat to runways all over the world, including New York, London, Milan and Paris.
“There is nothing as exciting as a good collection. I can go in like many other fashion editors — tired, depressed, fed up,” Klensch said on her show in 2000. “Once those good clothes come down the runway, the whole world changes.”
Klensch was born in Sydney, Australia. She studied journalism at the University of Sydney and began her career in London in the 1960s, but her reporting took her to a number of locations, including Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong, where she worked as a freelance business writer for Women’s Wear Daily. In the 1970s, Klensch worked as a fashion editor and reported for WWD, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar in New York.
She joined the Cable News Network in 1980, hosting and producing “Style with Elsa Klensch” until 2001. Klensch’s weekly reports covering the global fashion industry, in which she brought designers in front of the camera, developed a devoted following and made her show one of the network’s most watched in the 1980s.
Elsa Klensch attends the Cynthia Steffe fashion show during New York Fashion week in 2005. Credit: Thos Robinson/Getty Images
Long before the advent of social media, fashion bloggers and influencers, Klensch was one of the only sources of dedicated fashion news. Her straight talking delivery put the latest fashion trends into context for a mainstream audience, often pulling back the curtain on one of the world’s most exclusive industries.
Few fashion industry luminaries could escape her camera crew’s focus. Klensch interviewed many of the world’s leading designers including Miuccia Prada, Marc Jacobs and Karl Lagerfeld and supermodels such as Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington.
“When we started, maybe for the first five years, we were the only television crew (at fashion shows),” Klensch said on her show in 2000. “Designers really didn’t understand the concept of television.”
When Klensch arrived at fashion shows everyone was aware, said Walter Imparato, her photojournalist for over a decade. Many designers came to expect her backstage to interview them about their work.
“We rolled up, we were like a rock band,” said Imparato, now a senior photojournalist at CNN. “Photographers were waiting for hours and we blew right in.”
Industry icons and regular households alike tuned in to watch “Style with Elsa Klensch,” and it became one of the highest-rated shows of CNN’s weekend programming.
“Watching ‘Style with Elsa Klensch’ was more than just must see TV for me – it was a religion,” designer Jeremy Scott told CNN via email. “I remember, after starting my own career in Paris, the excitement and sense of fulfillment I felt when Elsa came backstage to interview me for the very first time – it was a full circle moment for me and I feel so fortunate that I was able to tell her myself how very meaningful her work was to me growing up – the window she provided for me into a world I so longed to be a part of.”
“It was such a thrill and privilege to be covered by Elsa,” wrote designer Anna Sui, in an email to CNN. “I would have people stop me on the street after seeing her show. As formal as she was on air, behind the scenes she was very warm always remembering my family and sharing stories about her days living in Hong Kong.”
Designer Diane von Furstenberg called Klensch a “pioneer,” telling CNN via email that “her voice was distinctive and she was a fantastic reporter.”
Klensch received many industry accolades during her career. In 1987 she was recognized by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) for her work in fashion television. She was also elected into the Best Dressed Hall of Fame, joining ranks with Audrey Hepburn, Yves Saint Laurent and Anna Wintour.
Far from fluff, fashion was serious business for Klensch and she covered the industry with notable rigor. During an interview with The Look Online, conducted after her show was no longer on air, she said, “I think design has to be treated with respect because it’s such an important part of our lives. I think good design makes our lives more livable, it makes us happier, it makes us function more easily.”
Klensch met her husband, Charles Klensch, who was then the Saigon bureau chief for ABC News, in the 1960s. They married in Saigon during the Vietnam War.
After “Style with Elsa Klensch” came to an end, she continued to write and lecture on fashion. She also penned several mystery novels.