Ellen Stewart Explores the City

Ellen Stewart Explores the City

On Sundays, Ellen Stewart used her free time to explore the city on the subway, and she eventually stumbled upon a few blocks on the Lower East Side that were overflowing with fabrics sold by vendors. A Jewish merchant with “this little black thing on his head,” as Stewart called it, approached her, looking to make a sale. Abraham Diamond soon realized she had no money, but he could tell she had a talent for design, so he took her under his wing and adopted Ellen as his “artistic daughter and designer.” “Orchard Street is just a couple of blocks south of where La MaMa was,” said playwright Paul Foster, who helped Stewart start Café La MaMa and stuck with her through the years. “That’s where she met her buddy, Papa Diamond. He kept a pushcart in his window, to show everybody what he came from, because he was a peddler. He adored Ellen, and she adored him.” Diamond provided Stewart with fabric, and she would take the subway back to Diamond’s store every Sunday with a new outfit, when her “Papa” ushered her around Orchard Street, praising his “daughter’s” designs. Back at Saks, where she worked from 1950 to 1958, customers saw Stewart in one of her self-designed outfits and thought she was a Balenciaga model. “Somebody finally noticed,” recalled Robert Patrick, “and she wound up with her own little boutique, Miss Ellie’s Boutique at Saks.”

From Chapter 6 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Café La MaMa (original location)
321 E 9th St, New York, NY 10003