fashion designer, businesswoman
- September 26, 1951
Lena Himmelstein Bryant Malsin was an American clothing designer and retailer who founded the plus-size clothing chain Lane Bryant.
Lena Himmelstein Bryant Malsin – trendsetter for pregnant women and plus-size
Lena Himmelstein was born in 1877 into the Jewish shtetl near Rietavas, Lithuania, then Russian Empire
After the death of her parents, she was raised by her grandparents, gaining only basic education due to difficult circumstances of the family.
In 1895, she emigrated to New York to join her sister Anna, and earned her living in a sweat shop, at a meager $1 per week.
In 1899 she married David Bryant, another Russian immigrant and a jeweler, but her husband died soon after their son was born - Lena was again forced to support herself by toiling at a sewing machine, but this time making expensive and fine negligees and tea gowns.
The business turned out to be quite profitable, so in 1904, having borrowed $300 from her sister's husband, Bryant moved to Fifth Avenue between 119th and 120th Streets.
She rented a shopfront on the first floor of a building for $12.50 a month, with living quarters in the rear. It was at that time, when a bank officer, opening an account for her, misspelled her name on the application as "Lane" - thus the name of the store was born!
In 1909, at 32, she married Albert Malsin. A Lithuanian-American mechanical engineer with a degree from the Anhalt Polytechnic in Köthen, Germany, Malsin had worked for a firm that built amusement parks worldwide. Three more children, Theodore, Helen and Arthur, were born to the couple.
At that time, pregnant women had to cease any social life, since appearing with a belly in public was considered indecent. So using her personal experience (she also had four children from two marriages) Bryant created concealing tea gowns with accordion tops and supporting elastic bands.
She run very successful ads "Camouflage is not just a matter of war" and created the first known commercially sold maternity dress. Later she expanded to plus-size clothing, making the Lane Bryant an internationally recognized brand.
Lena Bryant was very active in charity, supporting many Jewish emigre charitable foundations, including the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the New York Federation of Jewish Philanthropies.
She died at the age of 74, leaving the business to her sons.
Hendrix, Hedda. Pisces with Yeast Rising. XLibris 2002.
Jewish Virtual Library