BOSTON -- A twilight cocktail party and evening charity reception kick off a typical weekend for Mildred Albert, the 4-foot-11 'mighty atom' of Boston society, Beantown's fashion doyenne and grande dame about town.
One weekend's sampling has this veteran modeling agency executive and fashion critic, now 82, at a midnight fashion show at the Hilton Hotel, a Saturday noon-time show at the Ritz-Carlton and four black-tie functions as society correspondent for a weekly suburban newspaper chain.
Albert, founder in 1936 of the Academie Moderne finishing school and co-founder in 1944 of the prestigious Hart Modeling Agency, is to Boston's fashion world what the Kennedys are to its politics.
And nobody matches her energy, not even John F. Kennedy when he was running full steam for Congress and later president.
'I've only been here since Christmas and I'm tired just trying to keep up with her,' said Deborah Davis, 34, booking agent for the Hart modeling firm, which Albert sold seven years ago and now serves only as a 'consultant.' That means she now works there eight hours a day rather than 12.
'Last week was absolutely amazing,' Davis said. 'She took the shuttle to New York to see the fall line, and came back Friday afternoon in time to attend two functions. Then there was the fashion show at Le Papillon (the hotel bar) at the Hilton. It wears me out just talking about it.'
There's not a mover and shaker in Boston that Albert doesn't know. Some 700 showed up in January for a party honoring her 82nd birthday, including Boston's top designer, Alfred Fiandaca. Video tributes were aired from Calvin Klein, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta and others.
Albert's office on trendy Newbury Street near Boston's famed Public Garden is lined with photographs of her with the leading fashion figures from several decades -- Emilio Pucci, Estee Lauder, Blass and Helena Rubinstein.
Her well-plotted agenda includes monthly trips to New York to size up the latest fashions, where the world's leading designers seek to soothe her critical eye. Albert knows them all from a radio show she hosted in the 1970s. There are also regular trips to London, home to two of Albert's three children and five of her seven grandchildren.
She credits no magic elixir for her pace and stamina.
'Oh, darling (everyone is a 'dearest' or a 'darling'), I always find the time to do everything I want because I never think of time,' the brown-eyed strawberry blonde says. 'I find that people waste energy in worrying about what has to be done instead of doing it. And I think people worry too much about looking tired. You shouldn't worry about bags under your eyes. You won't look exhausted unless your let yourself feel exhausted.'
Born in Boston, Albert married international lawyer James Albert in 1928 and founded Academie Moderne eight years later. He named her 'Mighty Atom' after her initials, and says she has changed little in 60 years.
'When I first met her in 1928, she was a bundle of energy then, and has been ever since,' he said. 'She's always interested in everything.'
The couple lives in a five-story 18th-century Beacon Hill townhouse and have a summer home in posh Beverly Farms (author John Updike also lives there) on Boston's North Shore.
And while Albert's presence, speech and wardrobe emanate upper crust, one senses in her an attraction not to wealth, but to talent and, most of all, nerve.
'It somewhat bothers me when women are afraid to wear a certain color, afraid to experiment,' she said. 'If she considers herself a sophisticated type, she adheres to the Chanel look, the suit, and can't wear frillies.
'I tell women, 'Try something else,' and nine times out of 10 they like it.'
Her daring in clothes draws good-natured envy from women one-third her age.
'She is barely 5 feet tall and she treats herself as if she's a 6-foot-tall model,' said Julie Hatfield, fashion editor of The Boston Globe. 'She wears designer dresses. A lot of short, rather heavy women just give up. Mildred treats herself as a fashionable woman and therefore she is.
'For her birthday party, she had a dress designed by Al Fiandaca. She looked like the angel on top of a Christmas tree. Nobody else would have done it.'
Doris Yaffe, fashion coordinator for Saks Fifth Avenue in Boston, says 'Mildred sometimes will put on some of the most preposterous things and carry it off. That's the power of positive thinking. If you don't believe in it you'll fall flat on your face. When she steps into a room she knows she looks fantastic and she does.'
Gracefully greeting guests at a recent 'fashionable tea' for charity she hosted at the Four Seasons Hotel, Albert wore a copper and forest green lame brocaded plaid suit and French pillbox hat. She looked smashing.
'Help yourself to the table,' she urged, pointing to a display of scones with Devonshire cream, gooseberry jam and almond cakes. 'Go one time, two times, three times, four times, five times.'
Models from the Hart agency ('my girls' or 'my angel darlings,' she calls them) circulated among the tea-goers, showing the latest from Boston's best boutiques, as 'Mrs. A' held court at a large round table.
Yet despite her exalted station, one could search weeks -- and fail - to find anyone uttering a bad word about Albert. She seems to have no enemies in the ego-bruising fashion world.
Hatfield said there are some Boston women, forced as young girls by their parents to attend her finishing school, who remember Albert as 'a tough lady.'
'But Mildred has never said a bad word about any of them,' Hatfield said. 'That's the way she is.
'I just got back from New York and saw Bill Blass's collection for the fall, which was just abominable, and I told Mildred that, and she wouldn't say a word. She knew it too, but he's a friend of hers, and she wouldn't say a word.'
Dana Bisbee, society reporter for The Boston Herald, says Albert avoids hard feelings with straight shooting.
'She deals with people totally honestly,' he said. 'There's no hidden meaning, no reading between the lines. I'm sure there have been people she didn't want modeling for her, but she's not going to string them along by not telling them the truth, and in the long run it's going to be better for them.'
Albert says she must mix honesty and toughness with a teaspoon of sugar -- make that Sweet'n'Low -- when dealing with her models, especially on the touchy subject of weight.
She keeps a doctor's scale in her office as a not-so-subtle reminder.
'You have to be tough. It's their bread and butter. If they put on weight in the fanny, they're not going to get the jobs. If you're not honest with the girl, who are you helping? But I handle it, I hope, in a kind way.
'I say: 'Is your dress a little tight on you?'And they might say it shrunk in the cleaner, but then they admit they've gained weight, and I say, 'It's going to be difficult to model those designer clothes,' and they say, 'Oh, Mrs. Albert, I'll take the weight off immediately.''
Model Hollis Colby, a 10-year veteran of the Hart agency, said Albert is 'direct and gentle at the same time' in dealing with weight and other confidence-busting problems of the trade. 'She'll let you know in a very nice way, but she'll let you know exactly how she feels.'
And Albert lays it straight on the line when asked if she has any fashion pet peeves.
'Yes,' she replies quickly. 'Women wearing pants that are too tight across the buttocks. There is nothing uglier than a woman who should not be wearing pants wearing them too tight so she bulges and jiggles.
'And unless you are under 21, just because some designer says dresses should be worn shorter this year, don't do it. Legs are not that attractive. Thighs are unsightly, really.'
Albert estimates she has trained more than 25,000 people in either her school or modeling agency. Many graduates of varied generations still call to ask if she can look at a dress or advise them what color to wear.
She says personal contentment, not success, has always been her goal in dealing with her students.
'We were not taking monsters to create beauties out of them,' she said. 'I wanted them to be happy with themselves. I've always emphasized the knowledge of themselves for themselves.'
It is a confidence technique Albert has not only developed, but fine-tuned.
'I think if you feel fairly secure in yourself, you're not apt to mind what other people may think. My father taught me a very important lesson about other people.
'He said: 'Half the time they're thinking of themselves and the other half the time they're not thinking at all.''