Dominick Avellino, who was known for his youthful sportswear in the Seventies and Eighties and designed under both the DD Dominick and his namesake brand, died Thursday in a car crash in Salisbury, Conn. He was 74.
State police said Avellino, of Lee, Mass., was driving north on Route 41, near Logan Road in Salisbury, Conn., when his 2009 Subaru Forester went off the road and hit a tree. Avellino was transported to Sharon Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to state police.
He is survived by his husband, Jeffrey Schwager, who was also his business partner in their sportswear and retail business, and a sister, Marie Kennedy.
Avellino, whose parents were from Ponza, Italy, was born and raised in New York City. After high school, he did landscape gardening near Woodstock, N.Y. and got involved in the health food world, working with crafts and plants. There wasn’t much to do at night up there, so his friend taught him how to crochet and he started making jewelry.
Avellino teamed with Schwager, whom he met on a blind date, and moved back to New York where he opened a shop on East 50th Street in 1969 selling jewelry and knits made by himself, friends and friends of friends. The store later moved to East 60th Street in 1972, between Second and Third Avenues. Avellino named it DD Dominick because he used to stutter as a kid. The shop attracted celebrities such as Carly Simon, Berry Berenson, Ethel Kennedy, Paula Prentiss and Diana Vreeland, who had it written up in Vogue. After that, “Seventh Avenue came calling,” said Schwager.
Avellino briefly designed the Huk-a-Poo sweater collection in 1970, and soon after he and Schwager opened a wholesale knitwear company called DD Dominick, which was growing very quickly. They realized they needed help and in 1973 enlisted Irving Benson of Benson & Partners, whose other lines were Carol Horn and Outlander. After Benson & Partners closed the DD Dominick division in 1975, Schwager and Avellino retained the DD Dominick name and opened DD Dominick Sportswear, a contemporary line, and Dominick Avellino for designer dresses.
DD Dominick, which was known for its sweater designs and silk prints, would show at the Four Seasons around the pool and the Rainbow Room, said Schwager. Later on, other backers were Al-Mae Corp. and SMI. At its peak, DD Dominick’s business generated $18 million.
Fern Mallis, an industry consultant said, “He was a fabulous knitwear designer. He made great sweaters, and it was in the heyday of him and Clovis Ruffin. He was always just a really special, very talented guy.”
Jeffrey Banks recalled knowing Avellino in the early Seventies. “I came to New York in 1971, three weeks out of high school and two months before I started college. DD Dominick and the whole block of 60th Street, between Third Avenue and Second Avenue, was the hottest piece of real estate. What I loved about his store is he had this great knitwear and sweaters. He was one of the first to do these beautiful long cardigan sweater coats for women. But the sweater that he made that everybody I knew had — and I had two or three of them in different colors — was a hooded pullover sweatshirt with a pouch in the front that was all knit, and came in dozens of colors. It wasn’t a lot of money. I had a red one, I think I had a yellow one. It was unisex. Everyone loved that sweater. You would go into Bloomingdale’s on a Saturday afternoon, and you’d see 10 people in that sweater in the course of a half-hour.
“His clothes were casual, but they had a real chicness to them. You could see people of different ages wearing them. You could see old people and younger people, too. He was the precursor to the whole Lauren aesthetic in terms of his knitwear,” added Banks.
Stan Herman, designer at Stan Herman Studio, said, “I knew him personally. He was one of the nicest, sweetest and most talented and undiscovered designers I knew. He deserved a major career but the ball doesn’t bounce in everybody’s backyard all the time. I always admired his clothes. He was a real dressmaker and had a soft-sided personality.”
DD Dominick generated a lot of press for its collections in the Seventies. In one WWD cover (pictured above), WWD wrote that Avellino played with squares, rectangles, circles and triangles in his DD Dominick and higher-priced Dominick Avellino collections, calling the shapes “young fun and fresh.”
In a WWD interview with Avellino by Marian McEvoy in 1974, she wrote, “He straddles his desk chair in the manner of a spaghetti-Western idol, chews sugarless gum nonstop, and drops funny lines like, ‘I’m pretty clever, but a genius I ain’t’ at irregular intervals.” She wrote that Avellino “not only personifies SA’s under-35-year-old energies, but has achieved superstar status with the volatile pack of fashion-party-dance people currently carrying on in New York.” She said if you tell Avellino that his DD Dominick has been classified as “hot stuff” to lots of major junior contemporary merchandisers, he counters with “Oh ya?”
In that same interview, Avellino said young designers were a relatively new phenomenon in “the fashion capital of the world” and having traveled the globe, he found there was no spirit like the spirit in America. “My best design influences comes from 12-year-old kids in the U.S. They really have it together,” he said. “The fact that there are young people like me and Stephen Burrows and Clovis Ruffin on Seventh Avenue is fantastic. And the fact that we’re all doing what we want is even more fantastic,” he told WWD. He said he designed for women 18 to 35 years old “who love to go dancing,” and thinks of fashion as a total style, not merely a wardrobe.
“Fashion isn’t a good word anyway. It’s too much of an ‘in’ and ‘out’ word. I like to use ‘style’ instead — it’s involved in more than hemlines,” he told WWD.
DD Dominick’s fashion shows were considered a “mandatory event” for the fashion pack, wrote McEvoy, who noted that there were usually twice as many spectators as chairs at his shows, and at least two eager fans for every serious buyer. “It’s hard for me to be involved with all these people. I’m really not an extrovert. But I guess I’m really a designer now — every time I have a fashion show, I suddenly have about 200 new friends,” he said.
After designing under the DD Dominick label, he later used his full name, Dominick Avellino, for a line of lighthearted sportswear that he designed for a company called Worlds Apart. That line include hand-knit cotton sweaters, cotton flannel pants, silk shirts and short suede skirts. Some of the sportswear depicted elephants and monkeys and had the words “Love” and “Simpatico.”
Once he left fashion in 1989, Avellino opened a photography business in the Berkshires called Dominick Avellino Studio. He divided his time between the Berkshires and an apartment in New York.
Avellino was cremated, and Schwager said a memorial service will be planned in a couple of weeks.