UNIFORMS: FLIGHTS OF FANCY
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — In some ways, Eric Rasmussen’s career has been like a rerouted airline flight. The destination is reached, but not by the original flight plan.
Rasmussen, who shared the Fashion Institute of Technology’s 1988 critics’ award for men’s sportswear with classmate John Bartlett, is now settled in at Idlewild, a bar at 145 East Houston Street on the Lower East Side here.
Named after the airport known today as John F. Kennedy International Airport, Idlewild is modeled after the interior of a 727. Patrons won’t find any overhead buttons to press for service, but waitresses do dress in standard stewardess attire reminiscent of the Sixties, before stewardesses became flight attendants.
Rasmussen has spent much of the past decade traveling and tracking trends. During that time, he managed such fashionable haunts as Pravda and Lucky Strike and designed sportswear for Tripp NYC and NaNa. With Idlewild, he’s combined his skills, creating what he thinks should be a mood-lifter.
“There’s something about airports that makes people happy. They’re either picking someone up or dropping someone off,” Rasmussen said.
At Idlewild, waitresses wear knee-length A-line dresses inspired by airplane upholstery, designed and sewn by Rasmussen. The sleeveless light blue, medium blue and camel dresses have Nehru collars and are worn with or without scarves tied around the neck.
Not surprised that he and Bartlett set out on different courses, Rasmussen said, “John was tailor-made for where he’s at; he’s definitely pedigree fashion. I certainly enjoy it and have a little bit of style, but I can’t get engrossed in it like he is.”
Rasmussen said he borrowed from an old ad featuring stewardesses for such airlines as Air Jamaica and KLM. His mother-in-law, Antonia Bakker-Salvato, who once modeled for KLM, also helped in the design process.
Even Idlewild’s bartenders — whose ensembles consist of white shirts, black epaulets and black ties — look like they have earned their wings. In terms of design, so has Rasmussen.
After graduating from FIT in 1988, he went on to design for Tripp NYC, a fashion-forward sportswear label. He later moved to Europe to travel and work as a bartender. In the early Nineties, he relocated to Los Angeles, where he worked for NaNa, a trendy footwear maker that was then branching out into women’s and men’s sportswear. Called “Industrial Strength,” both collections featured blue-collar workwear looks reminiscent of the Sixties and earlier.
For the past two years, Rasmussen’s design time has been devoted to custom work for himself, family and friends. Who else would have come up with the long, Edwardian three-piece raspberry gabardine suit with black pinstripes that he wore to his wedding last fall. He also provided his bride with a white brocade minidress and coordinating thigh-high go-go boots.
He used similar extravagance for Idlewild. The walls of the bar are lined with airline-seat upholstery, and there’s even a fuselage.
To some extent, the concept for the bar was modeled after his wife, Ariana Salvato, a freelance prop stylist for films and commercials.
“My wife is the perfect demographic for this place,” Rasmussen said. “She’s 30 years old with some disposable income. When she goes out, she usually gets in a car service and doesn’t stop until she’s past Lafayette Street.”
Having received endorsements from Wallpaper and Time Out, Idlewild has become a favorite haunt among the fashion-forward flock. But the customer base is not limited to young adults.
“There were seven 70-year-old women in here not too long ago who used to work for TWA. Those old girls were having a hoot of it,” Rasmussen said. “We get a lot of airplane freaks.”
But not all are swayed. Take Rasmussen’s older brother, Eugene, who works for Lufthansa’s cargo division. “The way he looks at it, he’s in a plane so much, who wants to be in a bar that looks like one?” Rasmussen said.
That hasn’t deterred Rasmussen, and his two business partners, Jim Chu and Rob Lumerman, from exploring the possibility of landing in Los Angeles or Las Vegas next year.