Dutch designer working in New York
Born: Amsterdam, Netherlands, 24 November 1945; raised in Australia. Education: Trained as an architect, self-taught in fashion design. Career: Window display designer, Melbourne, Australia, 1963-66; fashion illustrator for the Times and Observer, London, 1967-68; theatrical designer, Company of Man performance group, Buffalo, New York, 1968-71; freelance interior and clothing designer, New York, 1971-77; designer, Moss Shamask fashion company, New York, 1978-90; opened Moss on Madison Avenue boutique, New York, 1979, closed, 1986; introduced first menswear collection, 1985; showed new collection under his own name, and formed new company, SUSA (Shamask USA), 1990; signed on with Revlon for cosmetics line, 1993; created costumes for dancer Lucinda Childs, 1994; began designing womenswear again, for Barneys New York, 1995; showed collection in Greenwich Village loft, 1998; has also designed furniture. Exhibitions: Intimate Architecture: Contemporary Clothing Design, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, 1982; Infra-Apparel, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1993. Awards: American Fashion Critics Coty award, 1981; Council of Fashion Designers of America award, 1987; Confédération Internationale du Lin Fil d'Or award, 1987, 1989; Woolmark Award, 1989. Address: c/o Revlon, 625 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022, U.S.A.
"Commentary," in Details (New York), April 1989.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Intimate Architecture: Contemporary Clothing Design [exhibition catalogue], Cambridge, 1982.
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.
"Shamask: High Technique," in WWD, 3 November 1980.
Duka, John, "New Architects of Fashion," in the New York Times Magazine, 16 August 1981.
Shapiro, Harriet, "Ronaldus Shamask's Wearable Architecture," in People, 24 August 1981.
Carlsen, Peter, "Ronaldus Shamask," in Contemporary Designers, Detroit, 1984.
Sturdza, Marina, "Ronaldus Shamask," in Fashion 85 (New York), 1984.
Sinclaire, Paul, and Lesley Jane Nonkin, "Designer, Client: The Modern Equation," in Vogue, November 1987.
Boehlert, Bart, "Who's That Shamasked Man?" in New York, 8 February 1988.
Parola, Robert, "The Anatomy of Design," in DNR, 17 October 1988.
Schiro, Anne-Marie, "Three U.S. Designers, Less or More in the Mainstream," in the New York Times, 4 November 1988.
Chua, Lawrence, "Ronaldus Shamask Enjoying a Sense of Pleasure," in WWD, March 1989.
"Designing Men," in GQ, July 1989.
Boucher, Vincent, "The Two Mr. Shamasks," in Seven Days (New York), 7 March 1990.
"The Word to Men: Hang Looser," in People, Spring 1990.
Fenichell, Stephen, "The Look of the Nineties: Four Designers Lead the Way," in Connoisseur (New York), March 1991.
Sloan, Pat, "Ron Shamask: Streetwise Designer Has His Finger on Pulse of American Culture for Revlon," in Advertising Age, 8 February 1993.
Pogoda, Dianne M., "Shamask Gets Back into Fashion," in WWD, 26 September 1995.
Spindler, Amy M., "What a Difference A Zip Makes," in the New York Times, 3 October 1995.
——, "The Cut of One Seam Coiling," in the New York Times, 12 August 1997.
White, Constance C.R., "New Wave of Designers Opening Stores in SoHo," in the New York Times, 2 September 1997.
Schiro, Anne-Marie, "For Dancing the Night Away," in the New York Times, 10 November 1998.***
Peter Carlsen, writing in Contemporary Designers (1984), perceived Ronaldus Shamask's designs in a most interesting and prophetic way. Carlsen claimed, "Shamask dresses an élite—the largely self-appointed élite comprising the devotees of high style. Certainly, his work is part of a way of life that is bound up with living in Manhattan; his clothes are meant to be worn in lofts, to downtown openings, are meant to signal to other members of what might be called the esthetic establishment their wearers' good standing in its ranks.… What Charles James was to 1940s New York, Shamask was to the late 1970s and early 1980s." Shamask creates intellectual, aesthetic clothing and perhaps inevitably, he has dressed intellectuals and aesthetically-minded individuals.
Recognized initially in a August 1981 feature article by John Duka in the New York Times Magazine, and subsequently in an exhibition, Intimate Architecture: Contemporary Clothing Design, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1982, Shamask was the wunderkind of the architectural rubric. But people do not wear buildings; nor is Shamask's design genuinely analogous to architecture. Rather, he is an immensely idiosyncratic and adventuresome designer with a sensibility for minimalism, a cant to the East, and a depth of conviction about fashion that often makes his work seem more utopian than commercially viable.
Shamask seeks a purity in fashion that others would not even warrant: his pursuit can seem too severe to some and austerely perfect to others. Anne-Marie Schiro wrote in the New York Times (4 November 1988), "At a time when many American designers are sticking to the classics, Mr. Shamask went a different route, showing styles that most women do not already have in their closets. Of course, they are not clothes for most women but for those with a flair for fashion and a desire to look different." His design has always been deliberate, but its visual rewards can be equally deliberate as well.
His fall 1981 two-piece coat with a visible spiraling seam may be more sophisticated in construction than most wearers or viewers would wish to know, though others such as Balenciaga and Geoffrey Beene have similarly designed to the utmost chastity of form. A 1979 linen ensemble literally unbuttons pockets down their sides to become part of the fold of the garment. His Japanese-inspired hakima trousers were featured in the Japonisme exhibition of the Kyoto Costume Institute at the Kyoto National Museum in 1994; his sensibility has often been shaped by Japanese esthetics. Shamask participates in a rarefied international culture that recognizes fashion as an art and seeks its participation with dance, theater, architecture, and all visual arts. He creates fashion worthy of such a status.
In the 1990s, Shamask devoted himself to menswear, where his talent for building clothes was shown to advantage. Ruth Gilbert, writing for New York Magazine in February 1992, claimed Shamask's tailored clothing "perfect fits." Years earlier, Shamask had told Esquire (September 1987), "Men are less interested in applied decoration than in the logical engineering of clothes." Even in menswear, Shamask had ardent admirers and a circle of devoted wearers without having vast commercial impact. His may not be an easily likable aesthetic, but it has definitely been a high art of dress informed by intelligence.
Making a comeback to women's fashions, Shamask didn't focus on the design, fabric, or fit—but on the zipper. Unzipped, the articles of clothing take on a rectangular form, shapeless, and don't even appear as if they can be worn. Once the zipper is fastened, however, this seemingly useless piece of fabric becomes a three-dimensional shape. In some instances, the zipper has been used as spaghetti straps; at other times, it forms a slit from the neck to shoulders, or just slightly above the neck.
Some say Shamask reinvented the use of the zipper. Others claim it was not a reinvention at all; merely an expansion of his ever-popular spiral jacket. Created in 1981, the jacket was based on one piece of fabric and emphasized the seam. Nearly two decades later, Shamask is still known for the jacket that gained him recognition. Like all of Shamask's creations, it was based on intellect rather than trend. Though trendy is not a word most would ascribe to Shamask, he was continually at the forefront of style.
In the early 1990s Shamask began designing fragrance packaging for Revlon, as well creating his own line of cosmetics. Then, after a five-year absence, Shamask was once again designing womenswear in 1995. Through a deal with Barneys New York, Shamask's new 25-piece collection was sold in exclusive in-store boutiques. In late 1998 Shamask took over the Greenwich Village studio of the abstract artist Jennifer Bartlett to display his new collection. Along the runway, paintings of Bartlett were shown to illustrate Shamask's appreciation for her, especially her color palette. The spring collection featured pleated pieces in trapezoidal shapes and dresses with spiral seams— another extension of the most notable spiral jacket.
Shamask continued to focus on architectural design late in his career, using mathematics and geometry to create each single piece of fabric. "The only decorative element is my clothes is the cut, the only detail is the seams," Shamask told the New York Times in 1997. Since Shamask's reinventing of the zipper, he has has a vast and varied design career—from working with Revlon to studying furniture design, while continuing to design extraordinary clothes for men and women.
updated by Diana Idzelis