After 55 years of dressing some of America’s most well-coiffed women, Arnold Scaasi has quietly shuttered the doors of his East 52nd Street made-to-order salon.
Known for his outspoken nature and highly social ways, Scaasi said he now prefers to relish his lifestyle of Palm Beach winters and extended Long Island summers interspersed with stays in his Beekman Place apartment. “I just think it was time. I thought 55 years was pretty good,” the 79-year-old designer said Monday. “I mean, I don’t feel older, but I know I’m getting older.”
He will continue to design costume jewelry for HSN.
During his multidecade career, Scaasi has befriended and designed dresses for women including Joan Crawford, Joan Rivers, Barbara Bush, Barbra Streisand, Barbara Walters, Elizabeth Taylor and Mary Tyler Moore. His dealings with such well-known clients was detailed in a 2004 Scribner biography “Women I Have Dressed and Undressed.” Those and other exchanges remain the highlight of his career. “Working with the women was beyond a doubt the best part. They were all very nice and very appreciative of what I was doing. If somebody was not nice, I found a way and told them I wouldn’t do clothes for them,” he said. “Many were friends or became friends.”
In 1958, Scaasi was one of five designers to be honored with a Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award at the Metropolitan Museum of Art — the precursor to the CFDA awards. The Montreal-born designer got his New York career up and running by working for Charles James. In the late Fifties, Scaasi opened an atelier in a Stanford White-designed West 56th Street town house that specialized in eveningwear for celebrities, socialites and political wives. During his career, Scaasi suited up such former first ladies as Mamie Eisenhower, Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Barbara Bush and Hillary Clinton — and famously criticized Michelle Obama’s style last year for being “amiss.” As for his favorite clients, he pointed to the “wonderful and elegant” Edna Morris, a familiar face in thoroughbred horse racing and New York’s social scene for more than 50 years. Decidedly more risqué was Streisand, who caused a stir by wearing a black see-through, sequined pantsuit at the 1968 Academy Awards. An image of that outfit will grace invitations for the opening-night party for “Scaasi: American Couturier,” a retrospective of the designer’s work that bows at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts Sept. 25. Last year, in seeming preparation for his retirement, he revealed that more than 200 of his creations had been donated to the museum.
As for the state of fashion today, Scaasi said, “I am amazed by the price of clothes. That really shocks me. A lot of these clothes look like what we used to call housedresses and they are $2,000 and up,” he said. “They don’t look like anything special. They just look like ordinary clothes that you would wear on weekends or to work.”
It comes as no surprise that the publicity-loving Scaasi doesn’t begrudge designers for their extroverted personas. “They probably do that because the stores want to be able to promote their merchandise,” he said. “We used to say, ‘A bad photo is better than no photo.’ ”
And even though his studio has officially closed, Scaasi doesn’t appear ready to give it all up just yet. Before hanging up the phone Monday, he said, “I just got a call from a woman who needs a dress for her son’s wedding and engagement party. I need to find a workroom to do it, so maybe it never stops.”
From overseeing America’s fastest-growing speciality retailers to codifying cool, WWD talked to the women who are leading the way for the future of beauty. Check out our Instagram Stories to see how these women built today and are creating tomorrow. (📸: @hannah_khymych) #wwdbeauty
For @laperlalingerie's spring 2018 show, the brand chose to host their event at @thevenetianmacao. With Chinese megastars @bingbing_fan and @hubing in attendance, La Perla debuted a rock ‘n’ roll-inspired collection. The show marked the start of Sands Macao Fashion Week, which runs from October 19 to 24 — the city’s first such event. Pictured here are models backstage with glimmering eyes. #wwdfashion (📷: Cheuk-Yin To)
Trending for spring 2018: top stitch design. Gone are the days of stitch just for seams — designers are using the once-minimal detail to create strong decorative elements. (📷: Paola Testa; Styled by @andrew_shang) #wwdfashion
@tradesy is turning the concept of a showroom upside down with its new space in Santa Monica. Here, the company plans to hold events, art exhibits and a showcase rare fashion pieces like this Louis Vuitton boxing set. Get all the details on Tradesy’s first showroom on WWD.com. #wwdnews
Spotted last night at the @erdem x @hm launch event: Kate Bosworth, Rashida Jones, Kirsten Dunst and Selma Blair. The party, which took place in LA, also marked the opening of their pop-up shop. “I was interested in creating a collection that wasn’t in any way disposable. It was about pieces you’d create and keep forever, things that have a permanence to it,” designer Erdem Moralioglu said. #wwdeye (📷: Katie Jones)
Renee Zellweger in yellow in 2001 and again in 2017. Chosen as one of the 12 @pantone Leading Spring Colors (and dubbed “Meadowlark”), it only makes sense that the bright hue stands the test of time and is making a resurgence this season, seen already on stars like @blakelively and @gigihadid. (📷: Donato Sardello & @rexfeatures) #wwdfashion #tbt
Dior’s 70th anniversary celebration continues with a new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. “Christian Dior,” which is scheduled to run through March 18, takes a look at the founders tenure from 1947 to 1057 and feature 40 designs. Pictured here is an evening gown from the Ailée, fall 1948-49 haute couture collection. #wwdfashion (📷: Brian Boyle)