Byline: San Francisco Chronicle
SO ATLANTA JOURNAL AND CONSTITUTION (ATJC)
Section: HIGH STYLE
LP NEW YORK - Arnold Scaasi sculpts clothes in dramatic silhouettes with the finest of fabrics and washes them with bold, meant-to-be-noticed colors. "I'm the only American who does made-to-order," says Mr. Scaasi, who buys his fabrics in Europe. "Not every designer is equipped to do it psychologically.
TX "I know what they need for charity balls, because I go to charity balls." And when he goes, he delights in counting his dresses. After doing his mental arithmetic, he likes to mingle with his clients - * the likes of Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Walters. This is Mr. Scaasi's moment. After Barbara Bush selected his sapphire-blue velvet and satin gown for the Inaugural Ball, scores of socialites ordered his festive gowns. At 58, Mr. Scaasi has come full circle. Thirty years ago, he designed for another first lady - Mamie Eisenhower. "She had seen clothes I had done for Ruth Buchanan," whose husband, Wiley T. Buchanan Jr., was chief of protocol for President Dwight Eisenhower. Mrs. Buchanan "was the one who started wearing my clothes from my first collection in 1958. "I only did ready-to-wear back then, but it was quality ready-to- wear. I always did entrance-making clothes." Designer Scaasi is known for lavishly embellishing fancy ball gowns with feathers, fur, sequins, ribbons, jewels, lace, bows and bustles. He likes clothes that are "pretty, flattering, glamorous." "It makes you feel better," he says. "I think when Mrs. Bush goes out feeling well-dressed, then the clothes become secondary," he says. "That's one thing that I'm very pleased that I think we do with her. She feels good in the clothes and very self-confident. And then she can forget about the clothes and go on with the rest of the important things she has to do." The designer recently fitted Mrs. Bush in both the White House and in New York for some summer clothes. Mr. Scaasi, whose real name is Arnold Isaacs, is the son of a Montreal furrier. He was greatly influenced by his Aunt Ida, a grand woman who was dressed by Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel. "Aunt Ida was extraordinary," says Mr. Scaasi. "She was married to one of the Sassoons, and she traveled a great deal in Europe. "Every time she'd come back to Montreal, there were these wonderful trunks that were opened up and this great fantasy of clothes that came out. "Then I went to live with her for a year in Australia . . . and she was really the person who said, you know, `Let's decide what you're going to do with the rest of your life.' And I was all of 15 years old." He went on to graduate from the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris and then to work for the House of Paquin and with the great couturier Charles James. "He made clothes in an architectural manner by building a base. He reshaped the bodies," Mr. Scaasi says. Mr. Scaasi does, too. "My only complaint," says the Buchanans' daughter, San Francisco socialite Dede Wilsey, who has worn Scaasi creations since her debut, "is he does not acknowledge that women have bosoms. "He smashes you down and then pushes you up. I've talked to him about that." Mr. Scaasi rocketed to fame and fortune in the late 1950s. In late 1957, he invested $2,000 of his savings to start his own firm. By the end of 1958, he had turned his investment into a million-dollar business. In 1964, Mr. Scaasi decided he didn't want to do ready-to-wear anymore, and he began concentrating exclusively on couture. He made headlines in 1969 when he dressed Barbra Streisand in a sheer black pullover and sheer bell-bottoms when she won her Oscar for "Funny Girl." In 1984, at the urging of stores, Mr. Scaasi returned to ready-to- wear, often reinterpreting styles from his couture collection. His ready-to-wear, called Scaasi Boutique, costs from $1,100 for a cocktail dress to $3,500 for a gown. His made-to-order costs from $6,500 for an afternoon dress to $15,000 for a beaded and embroidered evening gown. In his ready-to-wear line of late-day and evening clothes for fall, Mr. Scaasi includes a copy of his now-famous sapphire-blue satin and velvet long-sleeved, side-draped gown, as well as other gowns in sapphire blue, one of Mrs. Bush's favorite shades. Mr. Scaasi also designs bridal gowns and furs, and he'll launch a perfume this fall. Mr. Scaasi also is known for his impressive collection of 20th- century art, which is featured in the book "The Collectors." "I'm between the collection of the queen of England and the collection of the Hermitage," says Mr. Scaasi. Much of his collection is displayed in the apartment that has been his home and studio for 26 years on ritzy Central Park South, just down from the Essex House. Fresh tulips, palms, orchids and lilies - sprinkled among artwork by Pablo Pi casso, Jean Metzinger, Claude Monet and Louise Nevelson - fill his two-story living room. Seated on one of the well-worn navy banquettes he designed, Mr. Scaasi talks about being a couturier: "You have to love women, love working with them and really understand what their needs are. You have to give a lot of your time, and I love it. "I love my clients. I can't say I love all my clients - God knows that - but they seem to love me." Atlantans will have a chance to meet Mr. Scaasi, in person, when he attends the 10th annual Atlanta Ballet ball on Feb. 3 in the Omni Hotel at CNN Center. Neiman Marcus will present his spring-summer 1990 fashion collection during the evening. @Art / Notes: Color photo: Barbara Bush (above, with the president) chose Arnold Scaasi's sapphire-blue velvet and satin gown for the Inaugural Ball. Left, a model wears a copy of the gown. (Approximately $2,500. Available through Neiman Marcus.) / The Associated Press Photo: Arnold Scaasi
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