NEW YORK — Donald Brooks, a designer who proved his mettle in fashion, film and theater, was remembered by friends and relatives Wednesday for his acerbic wit, far-reaching creativity and generous spirit.
All in all, it was the kind of occasion that would have won Brooks' approval. The crowd at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home was greeted with peppy Broadway tunes and recalled the ups and downs of an American original.
Brooks, who helped create the "American Look" in fashion in the Fifties and Sixties, died at age 77 last month.
Hal and Judy Prince, Dominick Dunne, Liz Smith, Nancy Friday, Michael Vollbracht, John McMartin, Charlotte Moore, Jeane Eddy, Joe Hardy, Ray Crespin and Robin Lawford were among those who sat shoulder to shoulder. While reading from one of Brooks' favorite plays, "The Front Page," Milton Greene's wife, Amy, referred to "mourning the passing of the moonstruck gentry." The designer had become part of the Greene's lives, she said.
A few speakers, including Brooks' brother-in-law, Edward Blick, recalled how the designer "liked to do things in a big way," whether overhauling an Upper East Side town house, doting on a niece with an enormous dollhouse that overtook her bedroom or working in fashion and film.
When Brooks volunteered to create the wedding canopy for his sister, Kay, she and Blick assumed he would pick up the tab, as well — until a bill arrived in their mailbox after the honeymoon, Blick laughed. But he was quick to note that Brooks repaid the favor many times over.
In a letter read on behalf of American Theatre Wing chairman Sondra Gilman, an ATW colleague said Brooks worked on 21 shows over a 20-year span, costuming stars such as Carol Burnett, Shelley Winters, Liza Minnelli, Lillian Gish, Betty Comden, Richard Kiley, Art Carney and Jerry Orbach and working with directors José Ferrer, George Abbott, Jose Quintero and Mike Nichols.
Gilman credited him with being among the first designers to cross over to the performing arts.
Kathleen Maggione, who curated the 2003 Brooks retrospective at Parsons School of Design, recalled that, during the Eighties, he designed a wedding dress for Nancy Friday, who married in Manhattan's Rainbow Room with Peter Duchin playing the piano and Peter Allen singing — an assignment Brooks couldn't resist. Lace was scarce, so he and Friday scoured the city for a week in the summer heat for "suitable yardage," capping off each night with a drink at the Russian Tea Room. In the end, the nightly reprieve provided the solution — their Rumanian waitress agreed to put her sewing skills to use, Maggione said.Brooks' friend of 40 years, Bernie Owett, a former art director at J. Walter Thompson, described meeting the designer at a Richard Avedon shoot. They both loved Manhattan, Broadway musicals and old movies — "the more glamorous, the better." Owett also remembered Brooks for his favorite colors, black and yellow, and "his own brand of dry wry humor," he said.
It was Gerald Blum, former executive vice president of Lord & Taylor, who seemed to capture all Brooks' habits and charms. He remembered how the designer would whip off sketches for a fur collection in the back of a cab minutes before they were to be presented. Despite the last-minute crush, Brooks drew from his own inspiration for his inventive prints, unusual color stories and signature designs. "As an American designer, he never relied on Paris, Milan or that kind of thing, as many designers do," Blum said.
He also spoke of Brooks' quirks, describing a man who despised flying, loved Twinkies, Hershey bars and actress Gene Tierney — so much so that he watched "Laura" 70 times, maybe 80.
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast