Elie Tahari Celebrates 40 Years
Elie Tahari reviews pattern samples in his Fifth Avenue studio.
Forty years is an important milestone for any business; for designer Elie Tahari, it’s an anniversary to be fêted with a yearlong celebration. The kickoff began with Fashion Week when Mayor Bloomberg named September 5 Elie Tahari Day; over the next 12 months, Tahari will expand his men’s line and debut new eyewear, as well as introduce a capsule collection of best-selling items from the past four decades.
First up for Fall 2013: Tahari is introducing T-shirts in a variety of styles and colors (along with socks, boxers, and boxer briefs) to his men’s line, an important growth area for the company. He made the move into menswear in 2006, when he couldn’t find the outerwear he was looking for in stores. “I wanted to design innovative sportswear with elegant tailoring—essential pieces that are utilitarian yet sophisticated,” says the designer who can count such celebrities as Bradley Cooper, Justin Bartha, and Darren Criss as customers. “I thought that was an underserved market.”
Tahari explains he likes to create “not-so-basic basics” because men look for detailing in their clothing “just as much as women do.” That’s why all his dress shirts come with signature touches like grosgrain ribbon trim, pops of color in the lining, or hidden inside pockets. Even sweaters get special treatment: “They’re dip-dyed for a unique look,” he says. Today, menswear makes up more than 10 percent of Tahari’s business—a number the designer expects to increase as he expands to international markets and adds other categories, including denim and footwear.
Currently the men’s collection has a stand-alone space in Elie Tahari stores. It’s also represented at Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s. Among the highlights for fall, Tahari cites the pea and duffel coats, special knits, and shirting. As to rumors Tahari is opening a menswear pop-up in Manhattan? “We’re definitely looking at that as a possibility,” says the designer.
The womenswear capsule collection to be introduced for Spring 2014 is another anniversary initiative. It will feature many of the designer’s “greatest hits” over the years, including the fitted suits he popularized in the ’80s, as well as the 1970s tube top that put him on the map. Both the men’s and women’s collections, along with the capsule collection, will be available in Tahari’s pop-up boutique at 510 Fifth Avenue, located in the same Gordon Bunshaft–designed building where the designer has his studio. The store is Tahari’s idea of a fashion lab, a place where his collections are created in small lots and evolve depending on customer interest.
At the pop-up, tailors create samples and fit them on both employees and models in a bright, open room visible from the street. Passersby get a front-row view as a collection is created. The studio space also has a special area for photo shoots. Looks are put together, shot, and then sent to store managers across the globe, so they can be duplicated down to the last detail. “I think the future of our industry is to own your destiny,” says Tahari, who arrived in New York City in 1971 with $100 in his pocket, two years before achieving acclaim with that game-changing tube top. In 1974, he was one of the first designers to open a boutique on Madison Avenue. “If you’re just selling to stores, it’s not stable,” he says. “If you own real estate, you own a business.”
Four decades after his start, Elie Tahari has become a hugely successful multinational brand with revenues of over $500 million a year. He says he built his company with tenacity, humility, gratitude, and just enough fear. “There is a book called Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company [by Intel founder Andy Grove], where Grove wrote he became successful because he was [always] paranoid, worried, and concerned about his business,” Tahari explains. “I understand that; I come from Iran. My parents lived in fear all their lives. I grew up in an orphanage in Israel, and [when] I went into business, there was always fear. At a certain point you have enough finances not to be afraid, but there are always ups and downs. I realize that if you don’t have the appreciation and fear, you don’t pay attention, you don’t take care.”
To stay centered, Tahari studies Kabbalah and credits the religion with changing his definition of happiness and giving new depth to his life. “The more you have, the harder it is to be appreciative,” he says. “But if you know that in a second everything can change, and you appreciate and enjoy what you have, then you can be happy.” 510 Fifth Ave., 212-763-2544; 417 W. Broadway, 212-334-4441