WASHINGTON — Harriet Kassman, owner of the namesake boutique that was considered the destination for ballgowns and was the first to carry Calvin Klein and Badgley Mischka in the Washington area, died Thursday at the age of 90. The cause of death was lung cancer.
After a long career in retailing, Kassman opened her full-service designer salon in 1997 and prided herself on finding designers and introducing them to the power players and socialites in the nation’s capital and surrounding areas. Kassman later moved into Mazza Gallerie when it was built on the site of her original store.
Kassman, considered a legendary fashion doyenne, is remembered for her fierce competitive spirit and buying prowess.
“Her goal was to beat everyone else,” said Barbara Martin, principal of BrandLinkDC, who was Kassman’s publicist for four years. “She was so competitive. She wanted to find everybody first. She was that person.”
Martin said Kassman took credit not only for introducing Calvin Klein and Badgley Mischka to Washington area socialites but also for signing the designers’ first sales orders.
To maintain her stamina, Kassman got up at 5 a.m. every morning to exercise on her StairMaster, Martin said. She used that energy to attend fashion shows in Milan, Paris and New York every season until she was 87.
Kassman’s often-candid fashion advice for her customers was also a key part of her allure.
“She used to sit in her chair and say, ‘No, that dress is horrible, put this on,’ ” said Martin. “It would be a dream dress when they put it on.”
But Kassman closed her doors in 2009, listing tight margins, a weak economy and a changing fashion landscape among her reasons for retiring.
“Things have changed now,” Kassman said at the time. “Throwaway fashion, a sale season that has moved from two weeks to two seasons a year and women looking less and less for investment pieces that will last decades has made the model of a full-service salon, complete with a team of in-house seamstresses to fit everything perfectly, a much harder model to maintain.”
Kassman’s son, Nick, kept the bridal portion of her store open and runs it under the name Chevy Chase Bridal.
Kassman is also survived by two other sons, Andrew and William, and two sisters, Selma and Naomi Sussman, who run their own clothing shop in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Funeral services will be held Tuesday at 11 a.m., at Joseph Gawler’s Sons, 5130 Wisconsin Ave. Northwest, in Washington. Donations in her name can be made to the Methodist Home of Washington.