Estelle Joan Sommers takes over Capezio
Estelle Sommers got her start in the dance world when she transformed her first husband's Cincinnati piece-goods retail store into a dancewear specialty shop. She made headlines, however, when she took over her second husband's New York specialty shoe store several years later, on June 1, 1964. Passionate about dance since taking ballet and tap lessons in childhood, Sommers remained committed to the dance world both professionally and personally until her death on March 21, 1994.
After a divorce and a move from Cincinnati to New York, Sommers married "Mr. Capezio," Ben Sommers, and her career was thereafter linked to his. She took over his 61st street Capezio shop, revitalizing it and adding clothing from other manufacturers selected to coordinate with Capezio pieces. The New York Times, which covered the change, noted that the "restless housewife" was generating "fashion excitement" inside the store. As owner-manager of Capezio Fashion Shop, designer-owner of Estar, Ltd., and as vice president and head administrator for six Capezio Dance-Theatre Shops nationwide, she achieved success in various branches of retail dancewear. Along the way, she introduced Antron-Lycra/Spandex, then a new fabric, into Capezio's dancewear, revolutionizing the industry.
Due to the nature of her business, Sommers could not support or publicly promote any one dance company over others, but she was deeply involved in general dance causes. She served on the boards of the Joffrey School of Ballet, the International Dance Alliance, the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, and the Center for Dance Medicine. She was also committed to projects in Israel, serving on the boards of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation and the Israeli Dance Institute. Her greatest impact may have been made as the U.S. Chairwoman of the International Committee for the Dance Library of Israel. In this position, which she held from 1979 until 1994, Sommers helped to establish the Tel Aviv library as the second most important dance collection worldwide.
Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 1288-1289; New York Times, June 23, 1964, March 23, 1994.
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Estelle Joan Sommers takes over Capezio." (Viewed on September 22, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/jun/01/1964/estelle-j-sommers>.