Nightclub Legend, 95, Collapses Dead in Fashion Week Front Row

Zelda Kaplan was a beloved nonagenerian fixture at Manhattan clubs, art openings and fashion shows

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    Getty Images for Joanna Mastroia
    Zelda Kaplan was photographed moments before she collapsed at the Joanna Mastroianni Fall 2012 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at The Studio at Lincoln Center on Feb. 15.

    A 95-year-old woman known for her love of Manhattan's nightlife and arts scene died Wednesday after collapsing at a show during New York Fashion Week.

    Zelda Kaplan was sitting in the front row of designer Joanna Mastroianni's show at Lincoln Center at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week when she collapsed. She was pronounced dead at Roosevelt Hospital, according to hospital spokeswoman Elizabeth Dowling, who could not provide a cause of death.

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    Kaplan was a friend of the designer's stylist, Mia Morgan, according to the designer's husband, Gideon Lewin, and had attended a number of Mastroianni's shows.

    "I was sitting right next to her. She flopped over in my lap," said Ruth Finley, publisher of the Fashion Calendar. "The show was just starting. I thought she fainted. Two men carried her out."

    Kaplan was known for her lively nightlife, attending art openings, parties and clubs with people young enough to be her great-grandchildren. She was profiled by The New York Times and the Village Voice among others, and was the subject of a 2004 documentary film, "Her Name is Zelda." The film's promotional material described Kaplan's evolution from a "typical suburban housewife" to "a beloved and eccentric creature of New York nightlife."

    She also traveled widely, supported international women's rights causes and proudly wore unusual clothing designed from traditional fabric she said she collected in Africa and other places.

    "She started out as a typical 1950s housewife, married and she had several different stages to her life," said Tricia Romano, who profiled her for the Village Voice in 2006. "The stage I met her in was her going out stage." She said they met at 11:30 p.m. and spent hours going from nightclub to nightclub.

    "She would have her signature glass of champagne, sit and hold court," recalled Romano.

    "She'll be greatly missed," Lewin said. "She lived a wonderful life and she came to a beautiful show and went to heaven."

    The fashion show happened to be dedicated to a 90-year-old woman, Iris Apfel, an influential textile designer.