Kleibacker had been a welcome presence in the Columbus arts community for more than 20 years, curating a number of significant exhibitions and introducing haute couture and ready-to-wear fashion exhibitions to Columbus. Most recently, he organized “Kleibacker’s CLASS ACT: Storied Designers/Women of Note,” a 2009 CMA exhibition of elegant clothing worn by women of influence such as Brooke Astor, Nancy Reagan, Happy Rockefeller and first lady Michelle Obama. In 2008, the designer gave us a retrospective of his long career and contribution to the worlds of clothing design and fine art. Original garments, photography, illustration and memorabilia comprised The Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery exhibition “Kleibacker: New York Designer to Ohio Curator."
The fashion icon first came to Columbus in 1984 as a visiting professor at OSU and became designer-in-residence there in 1985. He remained at Ohio State until 1995, where he helped build a collection of historical clothing for the university. As the collection grew -- with works from such designers and labels as Chanel, Jean Patou, Balenciaga, Christian Dior, Charles James, Norman Norell, Galanos, and many others -- Kleibacker sought opportunities to raise its profile in the Columbus community. Exhibitions, he soon discovered, were a perfect way to do this. He also worked with Mount Mary College and was an adjunct professor in Kent State University’s School of Fashion Design and Merchandising.
The Kleibacker studio in New York City was a spacious seven-room suite on West 73rd Street, which he occupied from 1963 until 1983. Kleibacker’s clothes attracted the attention of Women’s Wear Daily, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Town and Country. His off-the-rack designs could be found in Bergdorf Goodman and Henri Bendel. Actress Diahann Carroll and first lady Pat Nixon were among his private clients. Kleibacker designs were critically acclaimed by the fashion media. He was noted for his bias-cut designs, causing The New Yorker to proclaim him “the master of the bias” in 1965, a title that followed him until he departed from this life on January 3, 2010. Kleibacker was 88. He will be missed, especially in Columbus, Ohio.