Born: New York City, 12 December 1926. Education: Studied English at New York University, 1949-53; studied fashion at Parsons School of Design, New York, 1951-53, and l'École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, 1953. Family: Married Betsey Pickering, 1955 (divorced, 1958); married Jondar Conning, 1979. Military Service: Served in the U.S. Army. Career: Spent two years in Paris working for Fath, Rochas, and at Elle magazine; designer, Arnold and Fox, New York, 1954-64; designer, Kasper for Joan Leslie division of Leslie Fay, New York, 1964-85; designer, J.L. Sport, and Kasper for Weatherscope, 1970-85; vice president, Leslie Fay; designer, Kasper for ASL, from 1980. Awards: Coty American Fashion Critics award, 1955, 1970, 1976; Cotton Fashion award, 1972; Maas Brothers Pavilion design award, 1983; Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Governor of Alabama award, 1984; Ronald MacDonald House award, 1984. Address: 32 East 64th Street, New York, New York 10021, USA.
Morris, Bernadine, and Barbara Walz, The Fashion Makers, NewYork, 1978.
Diamonstein, Barbaralee, Fashion: The Inside Story, New York, 1985.
Milbank, Caroline Rennolds, New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style, New York, 1989.
Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York, 1996.*
Over a lifetime of designing I've evolved a philosophy that comes from creating clothes for a particular kind of American woman. (Who, by the way, I very much admire.) This woman is adventurous and vital with a lifestyle that demands she play many different roles throughout the day. It's the confident spirit of this kind of woman that inspires me most.
Whatever she's doing, running a home, a career, entertaining, mothering, traveling, I deeply believe this woman remains an individual. No one is going to tell her exactly what she has to wear, no matter what's currently in style. She wants and needs high style, high quality, fashion-conscious clothes that can last for more than one season…. And because I think I have an exceptional ability to anticipate trends, my clothes always have a "today" spirit. I'm constantly refining, improving, interpreting…trying to capture the essence of the times without being trendy. But from whatever source my ideas come from, I always keep in mind that lively, energetic, smart looking woman who is my customer. She's my motivation and my ultimate inspiration.
Herbert Kasper has made his name as a designer by working predominantly for one company, Joan Leslie in New York, whom he joined in 1963. In 1980 he became vice president of the company as well as designer, creating high fashion looks that reflected trends but were commercial and wearable. A private customer, Joanne Carson (then the wife of talk-show host Johnny) described his clothes as being both feminine and sexy: "He's got a totally female concept," she enthused, adding that he knew how to put together the perfect interchangeable wardrobe for her various excursions abroad.
Kasper is a designer who really cares about his customer. He wants the person who buys a dress to enjoy it and return for more. His satisfaction comes from seeing a woman look and feel good in his clothes. His reputation has always been that of a respectable craftsman who honors all levels of production involved in creating fashion, from design to manufacture.
After military service in World War II, where he designed costumes for the troupe shows in which he took part as a chorus boy, Kasper enrolled at Parsons School of Design in New York. He then spent two years in Paris perfecting his skills, with a short period at l'École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, Paris, and positions at Jacques Fath and Marcel Rochas. Returning to the U.S., he worked for the milliner Mr. Fred, where his reputation grew. In his next position as dress designer for a company called Penart, Lord & Taylor in New York—which was promoting American designers—said they wanted to feature his work. Kasper's designs were then featured as Kasper of Penart. His talent was for making inexpensive clothes look exquisite and expensive, which endeared him to several other Seventh Avenue manufacturers in the 1950s.
Kasper's forte has always been dresses, but a designer's job involves adapting to the demands of the market and in the early 1970s he opened a sportswear division for Joan Leslie, J.L. Sport. Part of his fashion philosophy has been that clothes should always work together, so he often found it difficult to differentiate between these two lines when designing. A coat for Joan Leslie Dresses, he once declared, could work equally well with the less expensive separates line for J.L. Sport.
While working in Paris, Kasper noted that women spent a great deal of money on custom-made clothes, ordering several outfits for different occasions. He formed a philosophy based on these observations that individual garments should be mixed and matched with many others to create several outfits, a sportswear concept that has become a way of life in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Kasper has always been a great socialite. His social life inspired his work because it gave him an insight into how people live, their attitudes, and changing tastes. As a designer he is happy with his work, regarding each creation as one of his own children, which in a way justifies his devotion to his craft.