The first High-Profile Celebrity who succumb to AIDS

Fashion catalogue featuring Chester Weinberg
Fashion catalogue featuring Chester Weinberg Image credit:

Fashion designer Chester Weinberg was the talk of the town in the 1960s and 70s. His address book was a Who’s Who of the most influential people in the world…Nancy Reagan, Dionne Warwick, Barbra Streisand…

Unless you are dedicated to the world of fashion chances are Chester’s name won’t ring any bells. Weinberg’s career started to dwindle towards the end of the seventies. Within a few years his health would deteriorate, on April 24, 1985 the once famous household name passed away without any public knowledge. The fashion industry were reluctant to knowledge his death because of the illness which took his life was taboo. AIDS was the ‘gay cancer’, a ‘weird pneumonia’ it wasn’t something which should be mentioned, especially in public.

Chester was one of the first known high-profile celebrity to succumb to AIDS. His health demise was no secret in the industry. Late fashion designer, Bill Haire confessed to the Philadelphia In 1986: ‘I saw what was happening two years ago. Everyone did. But nobody wanted to talk about it.’

Late fashion editor James Brady recalls how Chester’s death was a shock in the industry: ‘One season he was there, showing his collection on Seventh Avenue and attending the couture collections and buying fabric in Europe. The next season he was dead.’

AIDS had taken the lives of those working in the fashion industry before Weinberg’s death, but Chester was the first designer to make a respected comeback. In 1966 his own company, Parsons fell off the coat-hangers however determined to stich his legacy Weinberg returned in the early eighties at the director of Calvin Klein Jeans.

After his death any trace of Weinberg was swept under the carpet until AIDS became an ‘accepted’ disease. As attitudes started to change Chester Weinberg gradually returned to the public eye. Klein dedicated a page in Women’s Wear Daily paying tribute to the late director and supported the Chester A. Weinberg Memorial Scholarship Fund at Parsons.

1 December is World AIDS Day for support please visit the National Aids Trust website.