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It’s a week after the screening of Glenn Close’s new FX drama “Damages” and designer Domenico Vacca is still aflutter from watching the actress transform into ruthless lawyer Patty Hewes. “I had goose bumps,” he says. (The show debuted on television Tuesday night.) Of course, Vacca has more reason than most to be excited by cable’s latest leading lady. Close goes through 12 costume changes in the pilot, always clad in Domenico Vacca, from head to alligator-heeled toe.
“She was perfect — spot-on,” Vacca says. “And not because she looked good — she looked good for the part.” The Italian rattles off a list of high-powered workwear Close dons from his collection: silk shirts, cashmere boucle suits, overcoats. In fact, perhaps no designer was more equipped to dress Close’s litigating lass than Vacca — he himself spent 10 years as a successful attorney.
It was the designer’s seamstress grandmother, Nicoletta Orciula, who introduced him to fashion and also sent him with a swift boot-kick toward his lengthy stint in law. Orciula had her own dressmaking business in Italy and, thus, Vacca spent his childhood “among tailoring tables.” But she also warned him against a career in fashion. “She said, ‘Don’t do anything that has to do with this,'” he recalls. “‘It’s a lot of work, and you’re never going to become wealthy.'” So he eventually became a lawyer and landed a job in Milan with Baker & McKenzie.
But kismet’s a funny thing. When the firm transferred him to New York in 1990, Vacca found himself in fashion circles yet again, representing companies such as Tod’s, Genny, Byblos, Malo and Ermenegildo Zegna. Soon, he launched a magazine called Italia to showcase the labels and designs with which he was involved.
That was 1992. By 1997, he had stopped practicing law altogether, and in 2001, he abandoned publishing to launch his own label, making use of the master Italian tailors he had encountered during his travels. He opened his first store at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street the next year. Now, Vacca owns three New York boutiques and others in Beverly Hills and Florida’s Bal Harbour and Palm Beach, with offerings that run from his signature fine tailoring to eveningwear to accessories and jewelry. Next year, he plans to open his seventh store, a 5,000-square-foot one in Atlanta, in which he’ll also debut a home furnishing collection that’s, believe it or not, all made from alligator.
“The approach is, no problem. We can custom-make everything for you,” Vacca says. “We have 2,000 fabrics for suits and jackets. Our alligator bags — we have 25 different colors.” It’s the kind of can-do mentality that has enabled him to carve a name for himself in Hollywood, with costume credits in “Stranger Than Fiction” and “Inside Man,” as well as the upcoming “The Night Watchman” and “The Kite Runner.” Many of his own customers, Vacca says, are equally high-wattage. But perhaps there’s no better example of his on- and offscreen popularity than this: The designer says he dresses Jeremy Piven’s character Ari Gold on “Entourage,” as well as the real-life talent agent on whom he’s based, Endeavor Talent Agency founder Ari Emanuel.