Lavelle & Co. women’s mentoring group took over the second floor of the Upper East Side Cassini family townhouse on Thursday night. The intimate and diverse crowd included Ruth Finley, Fern Mallis, Marianne Nestor Cassini, Carol Alt, Yeohlee Teng and Lucy Jarvis — who was celebrating her 99th birthday, and was surprised with cake and operatic rendition of “Happy Birthday.” All had come out to mingle and catch a talk from fashion veteran Stan Herman.
“I’m here in a room that a great friend of mine lived in, and that makes me feel a pitter-patter in my heart…I’m going to raise a glass to Oleg Cassini, who was one of my first bosses,” said Herman, clutching a glass of Scotch next to the sweeping staircase. “Oleg, wherever you are, here’s to you.”
Herman proceeded to read from his memoir, which he’s been writing for “about 45 years.” He took the audience through an overview of his six decades in the fashion business, 16 of which were spent as president of the CFDA. During his career, he has designed for a plethora of different categories and markets — luxury, mass, uniforms, bras, shoes — dressed “more airlines than any other designer,” has “sold over 200 millions dollars of merchandise on QVC,” guest taught at “almost every design school of note in America,” and even clocked a stint singing tenor for an opera company.
“With a slash of a scissor, my long life has reached the salvaged edge of the fabric of my life. How quickly I went from young upstart to the old man of the industry, combat tested, 62 years,” Herman continued reading to the captivated crowd. “You’re looking at a proud garmento.”
Herman then opened up the floor, answering questions from the audience.
What he thinks about the “show-now-buy-now” model:
“I think it’s probably the best way to go. It’s certainly not the most romantic way to go, it’s certainly not the way someone would like to go and see a movie with a happy ending. Designers don’t get to see their work shown in the way they want to, but it may be the only way we can stay in business.”
About the CFDA:
“Diane von Furstenberg is our president and she’s taken what I call the Council of Fashion Designers to another level. It’s an amazing organization now. It’s so powerful it even freaks me out, and I’m on the board, I still work with her. We have so much power now that I don’t know if we know what we’re doing with it yet. Power is a strange thing, it’s a wonderful thing to have and it’s even better when you know what you can do with it. Most people don’t know that. When they get power things change and they forget where they came from. Not all, but many. We’re going through the mass era of Ralph, Donna and Calvin, moving into the midst of another place. Who will be the next people? Will they be the same, will they be different? Will they make billions?”
On his ego:
“I think everybody has to admit to themselves that they have an ego. I’m basically a nice man and I do have an ego. If I didn’t have an ego I don’t think I would have existed in this business. But a part of me just knew in my head I would be successful.”
“My company went out of business, everybody flip-flopped on me, I went home and cried for 2 months. There was nothing for me to do but get up. The phone rang one day and it was Geraldine Stutz and she said to me, “Don’t be discouraged, come up to Bendel and let’s work together, we’re gonna do a new thing, we’re gonna sell Stan Herman for Bendel. Bendel at that time…there was nothing like it. She called me and said come up here and do what you want to do. And it was the best two design years of my life.
I also had a 40-year relationship with one man. 40 years, 40 years at a time where it was never thought about. 40 years where I could come home at night, clear my head and feel wanted and feel loved.”
On failing Donna Karan for draping at Parsons:
“I taught her at Parsons, I failed her all the time! Donna was a lifestyle designer, she had an idea about the world and in this world, that was more important than being a great designer. She was with Louis Dell’olio, the two of them worked together, Louis was the designer-designer and she was the head. She always thought about where her world would be.”
On fashion versus art:
“We could talk for hours about if fashion is art or art is fashion. I’ve seen some very artistic stuff commercially. I’ve seen some dancing stuff that’s considered art. We’re no different than the art world itself. I don’t know what art is. I know if I wanted to be a painter I could be, whether I’d be an important painter that’s beside the point. I was never considered an artist as a designer. I considered myself as someone who loved the shape of people and the world. I look at cars the same way I look at dresses. I see the curve of the fender the same way I see the curve of a hip. I think of the bling on the front of a Mercedes the same way I think of a dress. I think it’s all interrelated.”
On finding inspiration for uniform design:
“What I do is I sit with management first and get the perfume of the business. That’s the most important. If they want to do casual I give them casual. If I don’t like it, I’ll fight them on it. I get to know their DNA before I start. It’s a hard business because people know you. FedEx for me has been a love story because nobody dislikes the uniform. I did United in the Eighties and the first person I saw in the uniform I went up to her and said, ‘You look phenomenal,’ and she said ‘I hate you, Mr. Blass.’ It’s a built-in customer and you can either win or you can lose.”
His favorite uniform that he didn’t design:
“Ralph Lauren’s with TWA right after I did it. I think he did the best uniform ever done for an airline. He did it in gray and they liked the design but hated the color. So he did it in navy and charged them again. It just fit everybody, it was double-breasted and I couldn’t do double-breasted. He insisted that they look like Ralph Lauren.”
On his one-time assistant Marc Jacobs:
“Marc Jacobs, he was my assistant at the age of 16. He opened his portfolio and I thought, where the hell did you come from? It was extraordinary. And he carried packages for me. Then we got him into Parsons. He was extraordinary from the beginning.”