By  on December 26, 2001

NEW YORK -- On the evening of Sept. 10, designer Joseph Abboud and his public-relations manager, John Dellera, boarded an American Airlines flight in New York headed for San Diego. Abboud was scheduled to make personal appearances at four California Nordstrom stores and the Macy's West Passport charity fashion show.

He didn't make it to any of them. The next morning, terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers -- and a cleaning crew discovered several boxcutters on the flight Abboud and Dellera had taken safely to California just hours earlier.

Life for Abboud since the tragic events of Sept. 11 has been filled with many of the concerns shared by all American designers, retailers and industry observers: the challenging sales climate, order cancellations, markdown money, geopolitical anxieties, plus, of course, the everyday business of directing the creative efforts of a $280 million (retail) enterprise. But unlike other apparel players, Abboud has also experienced a somewhat disquieting -- but undeniably intriguing -- series of encounters with the FBI since that fateful day.

The first inkling Abboud got that his name had come to the attention of law enforcement officers was from his travel agent.

"My agent called me up about two weeks after Sept. 11 and told me the FBI had called to ask about me," he told DNR, WWD's brother publication. "They had seen my name on the passenger list for my flight to San Diego. It was American Airlines, which had been one of the airlines targeted by hijackers, and it was a Boeing 767, which was one of the targeted jet types. I'm not sure if it was my Middle Eastern name or the fact that I had only flown one-way (Abboud drove back to New York from California) that put up a red flag."

Which brings up the incidental fact of Abboud's ethnic heritage. Both sets of the 51-year-old designer's grandparents emigrated from Lebanon to the U.S. at the turn of the last century, passing through the gates of Ellis Island. Abboud's parents were both born in the U.S. and Abboud grew up in the multicultural stew of Boston's South End. And not that it should matter, but the designer happens to be Catholic, and speaks not a word of Arabic, "except for the curse words."

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