Scaasi, Arnold 1931-
SCAASI, Arnold 1931-
PERSONAL: Born Arnold Isaacs, May 8, 1931, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada; immigrated to United States, 1955; son of Samuel (a furrier) and Elizabeth (Seigler) Isaacs. Education: École Cotnoir Capponi, Montreal, 1953; attended École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Parisienne, 1954–56; apprenticed with Paquin.
ADDRESSES: Office—681 5th Ave., New York, NY 10022-4209.
CAREER: Worked with designer Charles James, New York, NY, 1951–53; freelance cothing designer, 1955–57; Arnold Scaasi Inc., New York, NY, founder, 1957, president, 1962–, Scaasi couture collections designer, 1962–. Exhibitions: Retrospectives at New York State Theatre, Lincoln Center, New York, NY, 1975; New York, NY, 1996; and Ohio State University, 1998.
AWARDS, HONORS: Coty American Fashion Critics Award, 1958; Neiman Marcus Award, 1959; Chicago Gold Coast Fashion Award, 1961; Council of Fashion Designers (CFDA) of America Award, 1987; Pratt Institute Design Award, 1989; Girl Scout Council of Greater New York Salute, 1990; Dallas International Apparel Fashion Excellence Award, 1992; CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award, 1996.
(With Bernadine Morris) Scaasi: A Cut Above, Rizzoli (New York, NY), 1996.
Women I Have Dressed (and Undressed!), Scribner (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: A legend in the world of American fashion, Arnold Scaasi was actually born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and was inspired to pursue designing as a career when he visited his sophisticated Aunt Ida in Australia. After studying in Montreal and Paris, Scaasi joined a small design firm in New York City, led by Charles James, where he also reversed the letters in his original last name, Isaacs, to Scaasi on the advice of a friend who said it would give him a more Italian flair.
From the beginning, Scaasi was working with a demanding clientele, and through his freelance work with advertisers, he also developed a taste for public relations and a shrewd business sense. These helped him significantly when he opened his own firm in 1956. It was winning the prestigious Coty American Fashion Critics Award in 1958, however, that truly launched his career into the higher echelons of fashion. At that point, the fashion-conscious women of New York, Hollywood, and Washington, DC, began to seek him out.
In Women I Have Dressed (and Undressed!) Scaasi looks back on his life designing dresses for celebrity women, maintaining a light, gossipy touch in keeping with the title. The book is divided into sections devoted to the various grande dames he has had as clients over the years, from Mamie Eisenhower and Rose Kennedy to Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Streisand. For each client, there was generally a grand entrance or a shining moment that captured the imagination of the fashion world. As Robert Hakell explained in W, "history, lovers of excess will be happy to note, has seen its share of Scaasi moments. And from the most opulent bar mitzvah in Great Neck to the long red carpets of Hollywood, these moments tend to have a few things in common: sequins and taffeta, feathers and fur, flashbulbs and applause."
Behind those grand moments, however, were more intimate fittings and discussions and sometimes negotiations that gave the designer a peek at the character of some of his famous clients, including the one that got away. Having dressed Jackie Kennedy for some events while she was still a candidate's wife, Scaasi hoped that she would use his services as First Lady, just as Mamie Eisenhower had. So he was delighted to get a call from her office, asking him to send over his latest sketches so Mrs. Kennedy could select her favorites. Later, an assistant called back to go over the list of gowns with him, and Scaasi assured her that, as with Mrs. Eisenhower, he would charge Mrs. Kennedy the lowest wholesale price. "There was a long pause on the other end. 'Oh, Mr. Scaasi, I don't know what we'll do about that. To my knowledge, the First Lady does not pay for her clothes. I'll have to get back to you.' I was in shock. I didn't know what to do—I was in my mid-twenties, and my business was barely four years old. I had promised myself that I would never give away a dress, and here I was being asked to give away dozens of outfits for God knows how long a period!" He called the next day to again assure the First Lady's office that he would do everything possible to keep expenses down, but could not simply give the outfits away. He never heard from the Kennedy White House again.
Scaasi had more success getting paid for his work from Republican clients, having dressed both Barbara and Laura Bush, but as he told Time reporter Michele Orecklin, "clothes have nothing to do with politics. You dress someone because they like your clothes and because they look well in your clothes." And he had a long and successful collaboration with the famously liberal Barbra Streisand, a natural actress who, he noted, seemed to change personality with each outfit she tried on. Other star clients have included Joan Crawford, Sophia Loren, and Lauren Bacall. Elizabeth Taylor is the only woman who did manage to wheedle a free dress from Scaasi, once he saw how perfect it looked on her.
Overall, for a Publishers Weekly reviewer, the memoir is "gossip for the celebrity-obsessed, with a caveat: it's mainly for those who worship a bygone era." Nor is it for those looking for the seamy underside of celebrity. As Eric Wilson put it in a review for Womens Wear Daily, "just like every dress Arnold Scaasi ever made, his latest book is designed to flatter."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Fashion, 2nd editon, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2002.
Morris, Bernadine, and Arnold Scaasi Scaasi: A Cut Above, Rizzoli (New York, NY), 1996.
Scaasi, Arnold Women I Have Dressed (and Undressed!), Scribner (New York, NY), 2004.
Library Journal, June 1, 2004, Barbara Hoffert, review of Women I Have Dressed (and Undressed!), p. 104.
Publishers Weekly, October 14, 1996, review of Scaasi: A Cut Above, p. 71; August 2, 2004, review of Women I Have Dressed (and Undressed!), p. 60.
Time, September 14, 2004, Michelle Orecklin, "Silence on Seventh Avenue," p. 22.
Town & Country, November, 1996, Veronique Vienne, "The Scaasi's the Limit," p. 46; September, 2004, "Ladies Man," p. 240.
W, October, 2004, Robert Haskell, "Ladies' Man," p. 145.
Womens Wear Daily, September 13, 1999, Bernadine Taub, "Arnold Scaasi: A Conversation about the Evolution of Fashion," p. 58S; December 19, 2002, "Fashion Scoop," p. 3; March 4, 2003, Eric Wilson, "Scaasi Tells It as He Sees It," p. 11; March 14, 2003, Lisa Lockwood, "Scaasi Branches Out," p. 9; August 17, 2004, Eric Wilson, "Arnold Scaasi Takes It All Off," p. 6.