By  on October 14, 2009

If not a household name, Abbijane Schifrin was on a first-name basis — she was known simply as Abbijane — with fashion’s inner circle for 30 years. She was also one of the few New York designers who could get away with showing well after the season had wrapped and still count on top editors and retailers to attend. On Friday night Abbijane, who suffered an aneurysm and died in March at age 51, did it again, packing the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park with friends, family and fashion folk for a final show: the memorial presentation of her fall 2009 collection, which was completed, the invitations printed, when she passed away.

As a designer, Abbijane always operated outside fashion’s mainstream, and not just because she showed off-calendar. Growing up in Atlantic Beach, Long Island, she was interested in fashion from the start. “She wanted to make people look like movie stars,” said her sister Mindi, who remembers Abbijane making her own outfits from an early age. Instead of fashion school, Abbijane headed to New York for a real-life eduction. She was a fixture on the downtown scene — the Mudd Club and Max’s Kansas City — and made clothes for the New York Dolls. She befriended Perry Ellis after meeting him when he was giving a lecture at NYU, and put herself on the rest of the industry’s radar when she attended the 1979 CFDA Awards in Ellis’ absence (he was boycotting in protest of CFDA voting procedure), jumped up on stage, unannounced, and accepted the Coty award for women’s wear on his behalf. “She was a force, a real street-smart, in-your-face package,” said longtime friend Julie Glantz, who is working with shoe designer Steve Madden, a former classmate of Abbijane’s, to find a permanent home for her archives and organize a scholarship in her name.

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