Martha Jo Katz’s name is synonymous with beauty and Southern graciousness. Her wedding in Fitzgerald, Ga., (1961) is part of the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum’s “Martha Jo Felson Katz’s Family Papers.” In 1966, she became Atlanta’s fashion doyenne modeling for Rich’s and other top-flight events ranging from those at The Standard Club to the Fox Theatre Project Runway. “Being in Sol Kent’s annual Rich’s Fashionata was like a Broadway show.”
Follow Katz’s career as she organized Atlanta’s models into a professional collaboration, then on to the hotel event planning business and volunteerism.
Jaffe: How does a small-town girl like you from Ocilla, Georgia, develop into a Halston beauty?
Katz: I was always in front of an audience. I even had the Virgin Mary part in the school Christmas play (laughing). I loved to dance: the polka, country music, you name it. I was a majorette and drill team leader.
Fast forward to Atlanta in 1966 after having my second child, I ambled into Rich’s and filled out an index card for modeling. Two weeks later I got a call to come in to do a hat show for Frank Olive.
Jaffe: That was your springboard?
Katz: Yes, then I did TV commercials for Rich’s and expansions for their Lenox and Perimeter stores. I allied with Sol Kent, a Jewish man from Columbus, Georgia, who was the Rich’s director of fashion. He put on fabulously produced runway shows, most notably Fashionata, (starting in 1967) which culminated at the Fox Theatre and benefitted charities. We did shows at The Standard Club; and even The Temple donor luncheon was a fashion happening.
Jaffe: For which designers did you model?
Katz: Perry Ellis, Halston, Pauline Trigère, Anne Klein, and Bill Blass. Interestingly I had no agent and dealt directly with the fashion houses. Subsequently I helped form the Atlanta Model’s Guild where our rates were negotiated.
Jaffe: What do you recall about Phipps Plaza 50 years ago, in 1968?
Katz: The Gimble family (original owners of Saks Fifth Avenue) sent down Harry Berkowitz three weeks prior to the store’s grand opening. We had a series of private parties … those were the days with the Seligs, Zabans, Oberdorfers, and Reisers – stylish Atlanta women.
Jaffe: What are some of the trends you experienced?
Katz: There were the “Twiggy” thin years with individual eyelashes put on top and bottom. Then there was intense blue eye shadow. Mostly we were into couture, classic suits and formal wear that endured the test of time. In 1981 investing $2,000 to $3,000 in a dress or $900 on one blouse was the high end … perhaps equivalent now to a ball gown for $10,000.
Jaffe: Some folks think that modeling is very glamorous, easy work. Can you evoke a fun memory?
Katz: I recall shooting a TV commercial in a thin silk dress in freezing temperatures. I was dashing in and out of the nearby running car to be by the heater.
Jaffe: What’s professional life like for you now?
Katz: I retired from this kind of work in 1983. I kept “in the game” with exciting events like opening the Ritz Carlton in Buckhead and appearing in [Southern] Seasons Magazine. I do “lifestyle” modeling like starring in a TV commercial for Cox [Communications]. Of course, I had a long career in the event planning/hospitality business for the Swissôtel and InterContinental Hotel.
I chaired “Wine, Women and Shoes Atlanta” to raise money for women’s cancer research and treatment.
Perhaps my most rewarding job these days is chairing the opening night gala for the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.
There are two phrases from fashion icons that describe Katz: “Fashion fades, style is eternal,” said Yves Saint Laurent, and “A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous,” according to Coco Chanel.