Gustave Tassell, the Coty Award-winning designer who created clothes for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Princess Grace of Monaco, died in Los Angeles on June 9 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 88.
Among Tassell’s most famous looks were the streamlined dresses he designed for Kennedy Onassis’ goodwill tour of India in 1962.
Tassell, who was born in Philadelphia and studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, got his entrée into fashion when he began working in the advertising and display department for Hattie Carnegie in the Forties. In 1952, he moved to Paris, where he made sketches for couturiers such as Geneviève Fath. At the suggestion of his contemporary, James Galanos, Tassell moved to Los Angeles in 1956 to start his own label.
“He was part of that clique of Los Angeles designers that included Richard Blackwell, James Galanos, Charles Cooper and Nolan Miller,” said California Fashion Association president Ilse Metchek, who met Tassell and his cohorts when they all worked in the same showroom building in Los Angeles’ garment district. “They really drove the market at what is now called the red-carpet level. It was demi-couture driven by Hollywood, and Gus was more the daytime side of the glitz and glam. He was also very charming and soft-spoken, and one of the best-looking ones.” (His looks also won him a cameo in Woody Allen’s 1980 film “Stardust Memories.”)
Norman Norell had been one of Tassell’s earliest influences, and when Norell died in 1972, Tassell moved to New York to run Norell’s fashion house until 1976.
Tassell’s design aesthetic was what he called “a subtle form of chic,” timeless and streamlined pieces that never looked dated.
In a 1969 New York Times interview, Betsy Bloomingdale famously recalled a white cotton dress by Tassell she had owned for 12 years. “I still wheel it out every summer and get compliments on it every time,” she said.
On Monday, Bloomingdale said, “Darling, I don’t remember how many dresses [by Tassell] I owned.…Most of the good ones I had I gave away when I cleaned out my closet, but there were many.”
Tassell’s designs have been included in exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art as well as The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. In 2003, Woodbury University’s fashion school honored him with an award for his body of work.
Tassell is survived by his sister, the actress Rebecca Welles.
Adolfo described Tassell as “a very pleasant and jovial person” whom he became friendly with through Norell. In the Sixties and Seventies, the three men, along with John Moore, would occasionally have dinner together at Norell’s Midtown apartment where fashion was the main course of conversation.
“I was beginning to design on my own and I didn’t have much to say. I was interested to hear a lot of what he had to say about fashion. He had been around [the industry]. I was interested in what all of them had to say,” Adolfo said.
Ralph Rucci met Tassell when he arrived in New York and was looking for a job in 1977. After paying Tassell a visit in the very chic room in the Fifth Avenue hotel he was showing in, Tassell picked up the phone and called Geoffrey Beene directly to make an appointment for Rucci. “It was such a kind thing to do,” said Rucci, who reconnected with Tassell years later through their mutual friend Galanos.
In October of 1962, Sen. Claiborne Pell (D., R.I.), chairman of a special subcommittee on the arts of the Committee on Public Welfare, and Sen. Jacob Javits (R., N.Y.) had invited fashion’s leading publicist of that time, Eleanor Lambert, to appear at an open hearing on the establishment of an arts council, which eventually became the National Endowment for the Arts in 1965. At the senators’ urging, Lambert rallied a group of designers behind her to establish the Council of Fashion Designers of America in order to “further the position of fashion design as a recognized branch of American art and culture” and “to advance its artistic and professional standards.” When its charter was filed on Dec. 6, 1962, Tassell, along with Bill Blass, Donald Brooks, Betty Carol, Jane Derby, Luis Estevez and Rudi Gernreich, was among the 20 founding designers.
Former CFDA president Stan Herman said Monday, “He was one of the most respected designers of my era. People loved his clothes, but he was such a low-key guy. I think he spent a lot of time in Philadelphia [his hometown]. He didn’t play the game the way a lot of other people do.”
@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)
As one of the most recognizable models in the world, Christy Turlington Burns has an insider’s view of the fashion industry and the allegations of sexual harassment swirling around it. “I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry. The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experiences at some point in our careers,” Turlington told WWD, along with her suggestions for how the modeling world should protect younger women and men. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: Tony Palmieri) #wwdnews
@asics America has tapped a new brand ambassador: famed DJ/record producer @steveaoki. This initiative is intended to set the tone for the new brand identity and philosophy and will include partnerships with influencers and in-store and off-line activations that will continue into next year. This is Asics’ most significant marketing effort in two decades, and is expected to attract younger consumers to the brand. #wwdfashion
24-year-old Jean Prounis is redefining the rules of jewelry. Formerly a studio assistant to Jemima Kirke and a design apprentice at Ghuran, she focuses on handcrafted subtleties and ancient goldsmithing techniques. “There was a really sterile feel in the environment and I wanted to have jewelry with character that shapes how you wear it everyday,” Prounis said. Each piece is hand made in New York, either by Prounis or three other jewelers in the district. #wwdfashion
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews