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Fifty years after Diana Vreeland urged Arnold Scaasi to add jewelry to his repertoire, the designer is back at it with a new collection for HSN.
This story first appeared in the November 18, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
During an interview last week in his art-laden Beekman Place apartment in Manhattan, Scaasi disappeared momentarily to dig up a photocopy of the telegram the legendary editor sent decades back praising his jewelry. This time around HSN came knocking after learning that Scaasi had done jewelry, the designer said.
And no one is more surprised than Scaasi. “Suddenly, at my age, I have a new job? Hello!” he said.
While he continues to design made-to-order pieces for select clients and routinely flies back from Palm Beach, Fla., where he winters, for fittings, Scaasi has no intention to go whole hog back into fashion: “I love working, but I don’t want to work as intensely as I worked before. I do know that I don’t want to do that anymore, thank you.
“You know how everyone keeps saying women will be shopping in their closets? Well, this gives them something to wear with that old dress,” he said, holding up a $95 crystal-encrusted necklace and noting how it could be worn with a cocktail dress, evening gown or jeans and a T-shirt. “The whole idea of this is it’s amusing. You should have fun with it.”
Never one to mince words, Scaasi will no doubt have some fun when he appears on HSN at 1 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Dec. 5 for a pre-holiday blast. On-air pitches are also planned for before Valentine’s Day, as well as ones in April, and May or June. About 20 pieces ranging from $18 to $95 will be featured on each program.
Having once sold a collection of fitted $200 dresses on QVC, the designer is not flummoxed about his televised spiel even though his last one was eight years ago. “I’m going to tell them what I told you,” he said. “For $35, you can buy the pearls and for $25 you can buy the [matching] earrings. Women will buy something to clean themselves up and to wear with that old dress to make it look new.”
All of the baubles were inspired by the more than 100 designs he produced from 1958 to 1963 — the last time he made jewelry. After Vreeland encouraged him to expand upon a compact butterfly-inspired collection of jewelry, he started working with Jacques Jewelry in 1958. The designer had a change of heart about the endeavor after reviewing his year-end sales with his accountant in 1963. When the numbers guy ran through sales for his ready-to-wear, couture, children’s clothing and furs, but neglected to mention the jewelry business, Scaasi asked, “What about the jewelry?” He was dismayed to learn that category only broke even. The fact that he was getting loads of press for those designs and was not losing money made it viable to the accountant, but Scaasi didn’t share that view.
“That’s ridiculous. Here I am spending every Saturday at the jewelers’ putting stones in plastertine, and I wasn’t making any money from it,” Scaasi said, adding he bowed out of that business in late 1963 and tipped off his friend Kenneth Jay Lane to the availability of the 125-person factory.
But next month’s debut was too inviting to pass up, given HSN’s reach. Holding a bracelet with oversize pearls and crystals, he said, “It’s exactly what everyone is showing today.”