NEW YORK — Fernando Sanchez, the designer who established the concept of luxurious at-homewear that could be worn as eveningwear, was remembered as having as colorful a personality and way of life as the clothes he created.
Sanchez died June 28 at his Manhattan home at the age of 70. The cause of death was complications from a sand fly bite. He had been battling the parasitic disease visceral leishmaniasis, which he contracted in Morocco two years ago.
Sanchez was renowned in international circles for his eccentricity, dry sense of humor and love of a good party, whether it was hanging out in the Seventies at Studio 54 with Andy Warhol, Halston, Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger and Paloma Picasso; dancing until dawn at La Palace in Paris with Pierre Bergé and Loulou de la Falaise, or throwing live jazz-quartet parties at his Moroccan-decorated home at the landmark New York building, The Osborne.
Even at age 60, Sanchez was a familiar figure in the downtown club scene, sporting his oversized black-rimmed sunglasses and black-lacquer cigarette holder, always wearing black leather pants, Nehru velvet jackets and pointed, flamenco-style boots.
But for Sanchez, the allure and excitement of nonstop parties was not just a way of life, it was a constant source of inspiration for his prolific designs, which for five decades spanned leisurewear, accessories, lingerie, furs, ready-to-wear and eveningwear. Dividing his time between New York, Paris and Marrakech, where he maintained a villa near a vacation home of longtime friend Yves Saint Laurent, Sanchez was fond of saying he was “stimulated by the pulse and mystery of city streets, both by day and night.”
“I was also stimulated by the allure of certain women in my life, by the sumptuous colors of Morocco, the Moorish world and the light of the Mediterranean,” Sanchez — whose Manhattan home featured huge, rococo gilt-frame mirrors, furnishings of cedar- and sandalwood, large ivory crucifixes and low, white cotton-swathed sofas and chairs — once told WWD.
He said he often gleaned ideas for his rich and colorful at-homewear — caftans and robes reminiscent of Moroccan silhouettes in desert neutrals or deep, vibrant hues of a sunrise, sunset or the ocean — from music, especially the guitar, and what he described as “the indolent dreams of harem life as it must have been.”
Born in Spain, but having lived much of his early life in Antwerp, Belgium, where his grandfather owned a shipping company, Sanchez was fond of saying his formative years were a “secluded life of books and imaginary travels.”
Jano Herbosch, Sanchez’s cousin and business partner, recalled on Friday, “His mother was very influential in exposing him to fashion, culture and the arts. He was a very curious boy, and even when he was eight, he was already doing drawings of characters that looked like Flash Gordon.”
A thirst for travel and adventure led Sanchez to the City of Light, where at age 17 his mother, Yull, took him to see his first Parisian fashion show, a couture collection by Jacques Fath.
That was the turning point for Sanchez, who presented his own fashion designs to Fath and was encouraged by the couturier to enroll in the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris. Sanchez, who befriended fellow classmate Saint Laurent, pursued an internship at the House of Nina Ricci and later followed Saint Laurent to the House of Dior. Earlier, he worked for the design house Maggy Rouff, then Hirsch of Brussels.
“It was a classic, if uninspiring design education,” Sanchez would often recount to friends.
But that fashion education led to several major honors: three Coty Awards in the Seventies — one for Excellence in Furs , and two for elevating lingerie as high fashion products, as well as a Council of Fashion Designers of America Award in 1981 for Excellence in At-Homewear and Lingerie. In 1988, Sanchez received the Viyella Fabrex Award in London for his creative use of traditional cotton and wool fabrics. In 1990, he received the Hispanic Fashion Designers Award for distinction in design, and in 1995, was honored by the U.S. Department of Commerce and received the Salute to American Fashion Designers Award for Excellence in American Design.
Just as his life could have been a screenplay, Sanchez said he was inspired to move to New York in the early Sixties after seeing the motion picture “West Side Story.” He told WWD several years ago he came to America because it was “extremely lucrative. I fell in love with New York and the life.”
He continued working for Dior in the U.S. for a couple of years, then accepted an offer by the bra and at-homewear company Warner’s, for which he designed under his label. He later designed furs for Revillon for 10 years, and then opened an at-homewear and lingerie company bearing his name in 1973.
Designer de la Falaise, a longtime muse and friend, said, “He introduced me to Yves Saint Laurent in 1968. He was a very sensitive, very private person with very deep friendships. He gave the world of fashion a very easy-going sexiness that was very colorful and joyful. His love of [American and African] black, Latin and Moroccan music was reflected in his clothes, and he liked people to show off, dance, and attract men.”
Mary Krug, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel and hosiery at Neiman Marcus, said, “I think he was a very talented man. He had a great sense of color and style, and I felt he really understood women. He really listened to women and was very open to input and discussion. His iconic tri-tone robe is a favorite for women of all ages.”
Krug added that the Fernando Sanchez business at Neiman’s is “well established and continues to be a very desirable brand for our customer. I think the people running it now will be able to keep his spirit alive.”
Regarding the future of the Fernando Sanchez business, Neil Mossberg, president of parent company Yalla LLC, said the company “may continue to design in-house or look for another lead designer.”
“We plan to continue to maintain good relationships with Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, as well as scores of smaller specialty stores,” said Mossberg. “We are launching a collection exclusively for boutiques next spring and we also will be launching a secondary line, FS2 by Fernando Sanchez, for spring 2007. It will be aimed at department stores.”
As for Sanchez’s wishes following his death, de la Falaise said, “When his companion, Quentin, died 10 years ago, Fernando threw a huge celebration of life party for him. And, of course, everybody came and partied and had loads of fun. That’s what Fernando had planned for himself, a huge party to celebrate his life.”