Stan Herman’s 90th birthday was a milestone, second only to the fact that his designer friends pulled off a surprise party.
Orchestrated by the CFDA, Thursday night’s toasting was held at Donna Karan’s Urban Zen. Diane von Furstenberg, Steven Kolb, Mary McFadden, Patricia Underwood, Derek Lam, Prabal Gurung, Yeohlee Teng, Nicole Miller, Monika Tilley, Reed Krakoff, Peter Som, Kay Unger, Jeffrey Banks, Amy Chan, Ron Chereskin, Rafe Totengco, Fern Mallis, Michael Schwarz and Gerard Yosca were among the well-wishers. When the five-minute warning was announced, guests were instructed to pipe down and hide behind the furniture.
When the guest of honor arrived, he was momentarily overwhelmed by the surprise as Bernadette Peters led the crowd in a round of “Happy Birthday.” Hiding his face in his hands, he took a minute to compose himself before explaining how he completely fell for Marylou Luther’s ruse that they were going to a new restaurant upstairs at Urban Zen. Sounding a little winded after the two-flight walk, Herman said, “I am the biggest schmuck in the world. I’m walking up those stairs and thinking, ‘There’s a restaurant there? Are you crazy? I know that place downstairs.’”
Shaking his head with laughter, Herman said, “Let me tell you this. This is nine decades that I have been in this wonderful city that has been so wonderful to me. There was a moment in my life when I lost the love of my life — 40 years ago — that the CFDA came into my life, and it became my life. If I didn’t have it, I think I would have melted away. I would have been another designer who was here and gone.”
Many in the crowd spoke of his exacting nature, atypical energy levels and willingness to help designers of all levels. The former CFDA president’s knowledge bank also stretches back decades. And as Mary McFadden can attest, he’s still swatting tennis balls. Designer-turned-confectionarier Charlotte Neuville provided the strawberry birthday cake.
Karan said, “He is 90 years old and still looks younger than anybody I know. He is teaching people how to be alive and happy. We can talk about clothes all the time, but what he understands better than anything is community, putting people together. He understands that it’s not about me, it’s about ‘the we.’ That’s what I know about Stan Herman. He sees it beyond what it is. That’s his brilliance.”
Wrapping an arm around Karan, Herman interjected, “‘You know she was a student of mine at Parsons, don’t you? I actually gave her an award.’”
“Oh my God, what? I didn’t finish. They told me I would never be a designer,” Karan said. “Was it for the dress that I burned with an iron?”
Teng, a Parsons student in the Seventies could also attest to his critical skills. “He hasn’t changed one bit. He is just as enthusiastic and as specific as a designer that you can imagine. He was Mr. Mort then,” she said.
Cohen said, “He’s always been such a mentor whether we are young or old or whoever. He’s just always been there for us. I’ve always felt that if I ever need anything, he was always there. He would always give advice, stop everything and help. You never felt uncomfortable. He would always help you figure it out.”
Derek Lam and Jan-Hendrik Schlottmann described a memorable trip to Texas with Herman. Schlottmann said, “We played hooky at an event in Dallas. Stand had a limo with Marylou Luther, so we went to Fort Worth to see an Avedon exhibit.”
“He talked the whole trip — the whole trip,” Lam said.
Schlottmann added, “I would throw out a name like Norman Norell and he would go on and on.”
Lam added, “He and Marylou together is like a history book.” “On wheels,” Schlottmann said. “That was really fun.”
Steven Kolb said, “He was part of the committee that hired me at the CFDA, and he’s just been such a great friend and mentor to me. I know he will take credit for bringing the first Range Rover to the United States.”
Fern Mallis recalled meeting Herman in 1969 when she was a Mademoiselle guest editor assigned to interview him “as a designer who was hot then.” Twenty years later, the roles were reversed somewhat when she was interviewed for the CFDA executive director job. “I’ve spent so much time and so many years together with Stan that we’re like the odd couple.” she said. “It’s impossible to pick one memory. He’s my BFF. The best thing that came out of the CFDA for me was my friendship with Stan.”
Peters described a CFDA Awards after-party as Herman’s guest. “We were dancing, and we were dancing, and we were dancing. I’m thinking, ‘Jesus, my heart is beating really, really fast. And Stan was going like the Energizer Bunny,’” she said. “After that, I went right to the gym, got on the treadmill and worked on my cardio.”