PARIS — When Emanuel and Laura Ungaro’s plane landed here after a 12-hour overnight flight from San Francisco late last week, the designer went home, showered and changed, and headed straight to the office.
“Our trip to the States left me feeling reoxygene,” says the designer. “I wasn’t tired at all. I was so up that I wanted to get right to work.”
It had been three years since Ungaro’s last trip to the U.S., and his overall impression was one of a huge contrast between then and now.
“Last time,” he says, “New York and L.A. got me so depressed, I arrived home exhausted, and with no desire to return. This time, when we got off the plane here, it felt like returning to a world that’s not quite up to date.”
In a hectic eight-day tour that included appearances at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York and Neiman Marcus in L.A. and San Francisco, Ungaro says what most impressed him was “the new vigor of the stores.”
“There is a new generation of people running them — Phil Miller at Saks, Burt Tansky at Neiman’s, Mike Gould at Bloomingdale’s, Joe Ciccio at I. Magnin — who are like a new wind blowing through the business.
“What I like best about the new managers,” he continues, “is that they’re funny; you can laugh with them. Some of the old ones — and I don’t want to name any names — acted like popes.”
“It’s amazing how important this concept of personal appearances is in the States,” interjects Laura, also an associate in the family fashion house. “Oscar de la Renta told us he does it all the time. And it’s fantastic, the business you do.”
Emanuel appreciates the public appearances, too.
“I love the freshness of the people who come to see you,” he says. “They’re warm, and they’ll tell you how much they like what you do. In France, people are so blase and arrogant, they think they don’t need createurs.”
Part of Ungaro’s trip was getting a look at all-American style createurs, and he was impressed by visits to the Limited and Express stores. “They’re really well done, and much more about fashion than The Gap.” As for American style, Ungaro says that between the East and West Coasts, he visited at least two different countries. In Los Angeles, he was struck by the “incredible richness.” “Wendy Stark arranged a dinner for us at her father Ray Stark’s house. I have rarely seen sculptures of that quality — Giacommetti, Matisse, Henry Moore. You felt the presence of a man who put his emotion into collecting, with a great sureness of choice.”
“But that’s an exception,” interjects Laura. “A lot of the women in L.A. are very insecure; they imitate a leader. If one buys a suit, they all buy it.”
“That’s true, there is a uniformity in the privileged class there. They’re all blond, all in pastel, all in a certain format,” concedes Ungaro.
San Francisco has its own esprit, thinks the designer.
“The air is gay, with a beautiful sky. I met Jimmy Galanos, who is an old friend, on the street one day — he was appearing at I. Magnin. He’s an exceptional character who likes to have nothing to do with the razzmatazz of fashion all around him. He just does his thing, still riding around in his Rolls-Royce.”
New York, though, is “another story.” Manhattan style is “much more individualistic,” Ungaro says, declining to name a lot of names, but he does describe a dinner given for him by Mica Ertegun. “She’s not a fashion victim at all,” he declares. “She was wearing a 10-year-old Ungaro skirt with a black bodysuit on top. She’s always juste, in her clothes, in her attitude, in her house.”
But what he really enjoyed was a visit with painter George Condo in SoHo.
“With its low buildings and cozy restaurants, it’s the Rive Gauche of New York,” says Ungaro. “We went with George to a Japanese restaurant called Soba — a soup restaurant — it was fantastic. If I had it near here, I’d be there twice a week.”