Byline: Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — William Ivey Long is making a fashion exit, stage left.
Broadway’s top costume designer, who made his ready-to-wear debut in February with a theatrical eveningwear collection, informed his customers last week that the show won’t go on. At least, not for now.
“It’s almost like I’ve been through fashion EST,” Long said on Friday, referring to the Sixties Scientology spinoff Earhardt Seminar Training, an intensive self-help course based on deconstructing the personality and rebuilding it around continual participation in the group.
“I’ve come out alive, but my commercial line has not,” said Long, a three-time Tony Award winner for costume design for his work on “Crazy for You,” “Nine” and “The Producers.”
He launched the William Ivey Long collection in a partnership with Wendy Wasserstein, the playwright, with an elaborate fashion show, Susan Stroman as choreographer, Boyd Gaines as emcee and Glen Kelly on piano, premiering a new song, “I Love Your Dress,” for the occasion. The reaction to the show was favorable among fashion editors, and Long said he received orders from Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Wilkes Bashford and a “slew of fabulous specialty stores.”
But the collection won’t be produced. Instead, Long will continue to operate a private client studio in his Chelsea townhouse on West 20th Street, making custom gowns for women such as Halle Berry, who wore one of his gowns to the Screen Actors Guild Awards last month. He’s also working on costumes for the upcoming Broadway adaptation of John Waters’ 1988 cult film “Hairspray,” with Harvey Fierstein in the role of Edna Turnblad, played by Divine in the movie.
After working with buyers and learning the ropes of Seventh Avenue, however, Long determined that producing the orders for his runway collection, which was priced to retail from about $1,500 to $4,500, would not be feasible for the fall season.
“The magical mystery tour of manufacturing and merchandising is something that is actually beyond me,” Long said. “It is a study that I will continue. I just didn’t realize how different it was from my day job. Now begins the next step of my study. I was ravenous to learn everything.”
Long racked up respectable bookings for a first season, but coordinating the various manufacturing facilities and distribution necessary turned out to be an overwhelming process.
“I couldn’t make it match up on my price-points flow chart,” the designer said. “The hardest part was just figuring out the 50 million steps to manufacture it. I really enjoyed the give and take of the buyers, who give you a totally different reality check. The oohs and ahs from the upper echelons of fashion gave me a great deal of confidence, but it was the buyers who gave me the reality.”
Long remained optimistic that he would be able to return to the rtw field with a collection down the line, but for now, he is enjoying the dichotomy of working in the mind-set of 2003 for his private customers in the second floor of his studio and of 1962 downstairs, conceiving the costumes for “Hairspray.”
“I’m still laughing about it, and that means I came through this alive,” he said. “I still consider it to have been a wonderful experience, but round one goes to the manufacturers. They win.”

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