Beloved Socialite Zelda Kaplan Dies in Front Row at Fashion Week

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Kena Betancur / Reuters

Fashion maven Zelda Kaplan (R) is seen just before the start of the Joanna Mastroianni Fall/Winter 2012 collection show during New York Fashion Week February 15, 2012.

New York lost one of its truest originals on Wednesday, when 95-year-old socialite Zelda Kaplan died, collapsing in the front row of a runway show during Fashion Week.

Kaplan appeared to faint and slumped in the lap of Ruth Finley, publisher of the Fashion Calendar, just as the show was starting, the Associated Press reports. Security carried her out of the tent, and she was given CPR by paramedics on the scene before being rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Just minutes before her collapse, the arts-scene icon was posing for photographers at the Joanna Mastroianni fashion show at Lincoln Center, showing off her vibrant, red African print ensemble. Kaplan was known not only for being an inspiration in the fashion scene, but also for being a “club kid” at heart, often partying into the morning hours at some of New York’s most exclusive nightlife haunts.

(SPECIAL: Full Coverage of New York Fashion Week)

Designer Richie Rich told the New York Post, “Passing away in the front row was how it was meant to be. Zelda loves fashion so she died for fashion. She would have wanted to go out in style. Zelda always said, “live, live, live and have fun’…I hope the angels are holding her right now.”

Kaplan has said many things about having fun and making the most of life (see below), and was revered for her young spirit. In addition to being a nightlife and fashion fixture, the twice-divorced Kaplan was known for her philanthropy, spending much of her 60s and 70s in Africa, championing women’s rights with local tribal government leaders. She was also a ballroom dancer and instructor, as well as a women’s golf pro in Miami in her twenties.

(MORENew York Fashion Week, By the Numbers)

Some words of wisdom on life and aging young, from “New York’s oldest and most beloved night owl”:

  • “I think one of the things that keeps me healthy is that I’m not introspective at all. The secret is being interested in things outside of oneself.”—New York, 2003
  • “I’m a curious person […] I want to keep learning until it’s over. And when it’s over, it’s over.”—New York Times, 2003
  • “I wish more people would have [clothes] made for them. But so many Americans want to look like everybody else […] I hate to wear what everybody else is wearing […] I don’t think people should be happy to be a clone.” –New York Post, 2010
  •  “Many people turn a certain age and “check out,” but that is not me. In my 90s, I am not able to travel as much, so I must read everything I can at home to remain aware of global change, which provides me great knowledge to empower people through daily conversations, and through my charitable efforts.”—New York, 2010
  • “I want to be an example for young people so they aren’t afraid of growing old and a lesson to old people that you can be productive. You don’t have to sit around and wait for death.”—New York Times, 2003