NEW YORK — Anthony Muto, 81, a Seventh Avenue designer with staying power in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, died Wednesday at NYU Langone Medical Center.
The cause of death was heart failure, according to the designer Michael Kaye, a longtime friend of Muto.
Over the years, Muto ran his own label Marita by Anthony Muto and AM-PM, and worked for such other firms as Adele Simpson, Albert Nipon, Koos Van Den Akker, Arkay Juniors and Devonshire. Launching his business during the Sixties along with designers such as Joel Schumacher and Gene Neil, Muto went on to further establish himself by dressing First Ladies Lady Byrd Johnson, Rosalynn Carter and Barbara Bush. Noting that Muto never seemed to get his due, Stan Herman said, “He was a wonderful dressmaker, who really knew how to draw, sew and drape.”
Under the watchful eye of his grandfather, who was a professional tailor, and his mother, a 9-to-5 seamstress, Muto started training at the age of 12. Stricken with polio and pneumatic fever, he spent a large part of his boyhood bedridden and was encouraged by his mother to sketch and practice cutouts to help pass the time. “Anthony could draw like no one else. He was really dial-a-dress. He would stand in the showroom listening to a client and then draw a sketch and tell them, ‘Here, you are. This is what you will wear,'” Kaye said.
After studying at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, Muto relocated to Europe for a two-year run in fashion, before returning to the U.S. to work at such firms as Arkay Juniors and Devonshire. “I love well-made clothes, but they have to be young,” he told WWD in 1966.
In 1971, Muto ventured out on his own by launching Marita by Anthony Muto, affordable eveningwear with a relaxed sportswear feel. But his casual slant didn’t allow for disposable trends. In a 1978 interview, Muto said, “I’m interested in making clothes that look like ‘this season,’ but don’t go out of style next season. I wasn’t raised in the throwaway tradition; I think things should last.”
More recently, Donna Karan reminded people of Muto’s dressmaking skills by including in her autobiography a prom night photograph of her teenage self in an Anthony Muto dress. Being recognized by Karan, whose mother had worked for Muto, “really was the biggest thing for Anthony. It was the icing on the cake or the cherry on the sundae. That moment highlighted so many years of hard work,” Kaye said.
Having been mentored by Muto since 1989, he added, “I never made a move without asking his opinion.”
Through the years, Muto served as guest critic at the University of Cincinnati, The New School’s Parsons School of Design, the Fashion Institute of Technology and Shenkar College. “He always said that he wanted to help people to be the best that they could be,” Kaye said.
That assistance also extended to his favorite clergy. A devout Catholic, Muto recreated the vestments that Matisse designed for Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence for the priests in his former parish St. Joseph’s Church in Greenwich Village, Kaye said.
Muto lived with his wife and unofficial model LaVerne and their three children in a neighborhood brownstone adorned with mid-century Modern and Biedermeier-era furniture from Mies van der Rohe and others. In an interview with New York magazine in 1979, Muto said of the decor, which included a tuxedo-lapel satin sofa, “Black is the most sophisticated color to have in a room. It’s a New York color.”
Leo Narducci, a designer friend of Muto’s for 50 years, said he too benefited from the late designer’s mentoring. “Anthony made very spirited young clothes for the so-called new generations, which we were all part of,” Narducci said.
Muto also wasn’t afraid to offer constructive criticism, having once said, “I do not denigrate them. I try to be supportive of what they are doing. There are some students who I suggest drive a cab. But you have swoon-producing students that when you see their designs you want to swoon or start crying.”
Muto is survived by his daughter Maude Cangiolosi, two sons, Anthony Jr. and Christopher and two granddaughters Christina and Molly Cangiolosi.