Ella Agnes Brandenburg, 98, fashion buyer

June 09, 1999|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Ella Agnes Brandenburg, who bought the gowns, cocktail dresses and suits sold at Baltimore department stores and fashion houses, died June 2 of a circulatory ailment at Genesis Eldercare Center-Loch Raven. She was 98 and had lived in Ednor Gardens.

In her 54-year career in Baltimore retailing, she rose from a stock clerk in pre-World War I shops along Charles Street to be head fashion buyer for the Hecht Co.'s Charles Room, its designer dress salon downtown. She retired from Hecht Co. in 1970.

"She loved to tell of her annual buying trips to the fashion shows in Paris and New York," said her grandniece Kathleen Stilling of Towson.

Mrs. Brandenburg, the former Ella Agnes Arnold, was born on Hamburg Street in Southwest Baltimore. Shortly after her graduation from St. Jerome Parochial School in Pigtown, she took a job as a clerk in a Charles Street shop that courted affluent patrons.

"She thought that Charles Street was where society shopped, and [it was] a major step up for her," Mrs. Stilling said. "It was her ticket up and out."

By the 1920s, Mrs. Brandenberg worked at Bonwit Lennon & Co., a Charles Street store that closed in 1957. Not long after starting work there, she was the store's buyer and making trips to New York.

"She was always very particular about her personal dress -- not too much jewelry, the right colors -- a classic dressy look -- not a frilly, countrified look," her grandniece said.

Possessed of a strong personality -- she did not mince words -- Mrs. Brandenburg joined the buying staff of Schleisner's, a high-fashion store at Howard and Saratoga streets, in the 1940s. She got to know some of the city's most fastidiously tailored women.

In the 1950s, she moved to the May Co., which became Hecht Co., where she bought fashions sold in the Charles Room. As part of her duties with the May Co., she made trips to Los Angeles, where she promoted winter fashion shows for the Hollywood set with no time to shop for themselves.

While in California, Mrs. Brandenberg met film studio designer Edith Head, who introduced her to such actress clients as Doris Day and Barbara Stanwyck.

She also traveled extensively throughout Asia to obtain fine silks and hand-beaded gowns.

She married Leroy W. Brandenburg, a route manager for the old Home Pie Co., in 1934. He died in 1964. Until her death, she remained a member of St. Jerome Roman Catholic Church in the neighborhood where she grew up.

Funeral services will be private.

She also is survived by two nieces, Betty Miller and Shirley Mand; two other grandnieces, Diana Mand and Sharon Miller; and a grandnephew, Robert C. Mand. All are of Baltimore.

Pub Date: 6/09/99

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