Elie Tahari Celebrates 40 Years
The day that officially kicks off New York’s Fashion Week, September 5, 2013, is also being hailed as Elie Tahari Day. In celebration of the brand’s 40th anniversary, Tahari will be honored by New York City Mayor Bloomberg as a tribute to the man who began in fashion in 1973 by popularizing the tube top and who has consistently designed clothing that makes real women look their best.
Elie Tahari has come a long way since arriving in Manhattan with less than $100 in his pocket; he now heads a hugely successful multinational brand, built with courage, tenacity, humility, gratitude, and just enough fear to motivate him.
“Coming from Iran, my parents had lived in fear all their lives,” says the designer. “I grew up in an orphanage in Israel, and I went into business; there always was fear. At a certain point you have enough finances to not be afraid, but there were always ups and downs: success, chaos, disasters, appreciation, and success again...”
Tahari first found success on the East End when he opened his East Hampton boutique in August 2007. Deeply involved in the aesthetic of his stores, he recalls, “The building was rundown. For anyone to take it over it needed major renovations.” So the designer committed to salvaging the exquisite redbrick landmark, built in 1917, from ruin. “We bought it and fixed the whole building. It used to be the post office downstairs, and the telephone exchange upstairs. It’s part of East Hampton history,” he explains. “It’s a brand-new building now, but everything on the outside remains the way it was” to maintain the history of the structure.
On the 40th anniversary of his brand, Tahari’s own history is being honored. In addition to Elie Tahari Day in New York City, the commemoration of the milestone will begin in September with a 10- to 12-piece capsule collection of “greatest hits” for Spring 2014, featuring the aforementioned tube top from the ’70s, the fitted women’s suits Tahari popularized in the ’80s, and the leather workmanship for which he is known. The collection will be shown along with the rest of Spring/ Summer 2014 in Elie Tahari’s NYC pop-up store, designed by Gordon Bunshaft to embody Tahari’s idea of a fashion lab—a place where his collections are created in smaller lots that evolve according to customers’ reactions. Tahari loves being on the floor with the customer, tweaking clothes with seamstresses tailoring samples to fit.
“I like to look at beautiful things, do beautiful things,” says Tahari. “Trends or fads don’t matter. Does the woman look good, fresh, elegant, sophisticated? That’s what matters.” With Fall 2013 around the corner, the upcoming line features skinny bottoms, leggings, and large tops, lots of leather, leather trim, and body-hugging silhouettes.
“It’s all about mixing dressy and sporty and whatever makes you feel good,” he continues about the fall collection. “It’s a lot more free and inspiring to see people mixing and having their individual style. I like fluid, soft, feminine things. The clothing I design is multigenerational; it looks great on both a mother and a daughter.” It’s also stunning on Jessica Stam, the face of the fall campaign.
Another upcoming launch is a Tahari eyewear collection for spring 2014. The designs will have the same stylish and sophisticated aesthetic as Elie Tahari clothing. Then legwear, men’s underwear, socks, and T-shirts will be rolled out for fall 2014.
With a plethora of accomplishments over the past 40 years and a host of projects on the horizon, Tahari treasures precious downtime spent with his kids at his home overlooking the beach in Sagaponack. “It’s a Luna Park for kids,” he says enthusiastically. “My 8-year-old daughter, Zoe, likes the trampoline, swimming, and playing Ping-Pong. My son, Jeremey is 11; he likes to throw a basketball. And I hang around and walk on the beach. I don’t leave the house much.”
To stay centered, Tahari has been studying Kabbalah for the past 18 months, in New York and the Hamptons. He says it has changed his life. “We have to be humble,” he says with great respect, as he recalls his upbringing. “I didn’t feel good enough for anything. I never felt I deserved anything. I never had anything. So, I never thought that I was suffering, but I was. I was looking for truth, but I didn’t know what truth was. I studied different spiritualities, different religions…. I now believe that the teaching of the Zohar is the clearest way for truth [for me]. It’s sharing, truth, love, compassion, and understanding…. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you can exercise that thought, even a little bit, you’ll be living a very elevated life.”
As a result, Tahari has a clear definition of what makes him happy: “As long as you’re appreciative, you’re happy,” he explains. “If you know that in a second everything can change, and you appreciate and enjoy what you have, then you can be happy.” Words we can all live by. 1 Main St., East Hampton, 329-8883.
Isaac Mizrahi Pops Up in Southampton
Isaac Mizrahi is a busy man. His latest design venture, Isaac Mizrahi New York, which is currently available at major retailers, including Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, will be featured this summer in a pop-up shop in Southampton. “I think it’s a good fit for the brand because it embodies a lot of the things the brand is about: American and timeless style,” says Mizrahi of the 1,250-square-foot space that will carry exclusive-to-the-Hamptons items such as zip-code-specific accents. “It inspires those thoughts in my design process because I live here.”
Not only does Mizrahi live nearby, in Bridgehampton, he’s also a recurring presence at the annual Super Saturday shopping benefit for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. “People say, ‘You’re so good at selling,’ but I’m offended by that,” he says. “I don’t see it as salesmanship, which is when people try to sell you something you don’t want, you don’t need, or isn’t any good. If you have a great product that you actually are involved with creating, there’s no salesmanship involved.”
Mizrahi also presents during QVC’s broadcast of Super Saturday, which is only fitting: His IsaacMizrahiLive! line is thriving on the shopping network. “By now, four years into QVC, we have what I think is the best product on television for the money,” says Mizrahi of the line, which features such Hamptons-fitting pieces as floral printed cardigans, a rainbow of sandals, ceramic watches, and a Bridgehampton bag collection. “What the customer sees on camera is what she gets. She has faith in us. I really have fun with it because I know that she is at home having fun with us. Sometimes I worry that I’ve made a racy remark or a funny joke that’s maybe pushing the envelope a little bit too far, but I know that she’s with me.”
QVC isn’t Mizrahi’s only foray onto the stage—he recently appeared on three episodes of The Big C. He’s also been a judge on Project Runway All Stars for a few seasons, is directing The Magic Flute in St. Louis next year, and every December, he narrates Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf at the Guggenheim. “Acting on The Big C was really fun,” says Mizrahi. “ I’d like to do more of that. I also want to write. I did a one-man show in 2000 that was very well received; it was called Les Mizrahi. Then I did cabaret gigs at Joe’s Pub and the West Bank Cafe. It’s extremely satisfying to me to write and perform.”
Mizrahi has been performing for some time. The format of his first show on Oxygen in 2001 was upbeat, wacky, and exploratory and set the tone for what much of similar cable TV programming is today. “Content wasn’t predicated upon ratings,” explains the designer. “It was really fun because we just made up things as we went along. We would have guests on like Sarah Jessica Parker, Natalie Portman, or Helen Mirren, and we would do things like make dresses or wash dogs. I think that idea has really taken off.”
Brainstorming for these numerous projects takes place in Mizrahi’s neatly appointed white, gray, and black studio, a few floors down from the apartment he shares with husband Arnold Germer. “I’m designing all kinds of new products,” says Mizrahi, who contrary to his kaleidoscope of fashions is dressed most often in black. “I started in 1987; I made almost every single product with my own hands, and if I didn’t, I sat in the room with the people who were making it. ”
Twenty-five years later, Mizrahi’s business partnerships undergo extensive evaluation. “Every single one of the licenses we have—shoes, handbags, sportswear, jeans, children’s clothes—was crafted with partners who understand my development process,” he says. “It’s not just a celebrity endorsement. I’m really good at collaboration at this stage of my life. I like my brand to be very inclusive. I feel like when I work on a popularly priced license, like a $45 perfume, it’s a way of reaching out to people in a bigger way, and not just being obsessed with $3,000 ball gowns. I don’t really think that way anymore, even though I started that way. The world is a different place now.”
So what does Mizrahi do with his nearly nonexistent downtime? He is a die-hard Yankees fan. He loves to cook for Germer, and his mother, Sarah. He watches TV: RuPaul’s Drag Race, most of The Real Housewives series, The Good Wife, and Downton Abbey are some of his favorites, as well as anything that features Anthony Bourdain, (he’s a big fan). But most of all, Isaac Mizrahi wants to keep creating. 44A Main St., Southampton; 237-2327
Dennis Basso Talks 30th Anniversary Collection
Perusing Dennis Basso’s collection is a chic woman’s dream come true. Extraordinary coats paired with red-carpet-ready cocktail and eveningwear—it’s a fashion-loving, Louboutin-wearing woman’s apex, the ne plus ultra of black-tie sophistication. “Thirty years seems like forever, and it went by in a flash,” says Basso of the three-decade anniversary he celebrates this year. “I had my first show in 1983 at the [Loews] Regency Hotel on Park Avenue, and it was very well received; The New York Times gave it half a page. It was a little overnight success at the time. Of course there have been peaks and valleys since then, but luckily more peaks than valleys.”
For his 30th anniversary collection, Basso was inspired by great American fashion icons such as Babe Paley, Millicent Rogers, Gloria Guinness, and C.Z. Guest. Bulky outerwear gives way to a more fitted, narrow look. The silhouettes are sleek and feminine, even when the fabric is tailored. If the fabric is more feminine, the cut is kept simple. Plaid takes center stage in silk organza evening dresses. Many pieces are designed to be able to segue from day to night by simply changing accessories. “Modern dressing doesn’t segregate evening and daytime; it’s better to mix it up,” explains Basso, who manufactures his collection in New York City, allowing him to visit his factory two to three times a week and to completely control the quality of the finished product.
“This collection was very important to me,” says Basso of his anniversary pieces. “When I think of where I first began, to now be showing at the tents at Lincoln Center surrounded by some of the greatest designers in the world, and to see that these are my peers, this is an amazing accomplishment. It’s been an amazing journey when I think about it. We’re going to be celebrating all year long—it’s the extended birthday!”
Away from his Manhattan atelier, Basso and his husband, Michael Cominotto, have built the perfect oasis on Cobb Road in Water Mill. “We love the Hamptons,” says Basso. “As a creative person, my environment is very important. I love our house. We’ve created an in-house resort; I could come here and not necessarily leave for the whole weekend. A very dear friend of ours, Christian Leone, nicknamed it ‘Hotel du Cobb.’ It has everything we love, that we’ve collected over the years. It’s a blue and white fantasy. Whether you’re inside or outside, it’s just so peaceful.”
Out East, the couple is highly regarded for their ability to entertain. “We have a big pavilion outdoors called the Lantern Lounge, where we host one or two big dinners a season,” says Basso, whose most highly anticipated soirée is a dinner he hosts with QVC timed to Super Saturday. “We enjoy giving small dinners and lunches, or being just us, sitting by the pool. I like my friends, and I want to be around them. I love a household that is filled with fun, laughter, and people coming and going. To me, that’s relaxing.”
At the Basso/Cominotto house, the napkins are linen, the food is perfection, and dinners are seated affairs. Basso tries to place guests between someone they know and someone they will enjoy meeting. The evening could result in romance, a business deal, or, at the very least, a new friend. The dress code is always resort-appropriate: Basso, Roberto Cavalli, and Prada are de rigueur for women, while men feel at ease in jeans and an impeccably tailored shirt. The evenings are seamless and sometimes last way into the morning.
It’s fitting that décor is as important as dress at Basso’s home. At 5 years old he was already noticing what people were wearing, and he was attracted to beautiful things. He knew he would either go into fashion or television, and with his thriving QVC business, he has managed to do both. His designs have been worn by notable celebrities: Meryl Streep wears a Dennis Basso coat in the opening scene of The Devil Wears Prada; Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lopez, Liza Minnelli, Patti LaBelle, and Joan Collins have all been spotted in Basso’s gorgeous frocks and coats. When Paris and Nicky Hilton were still in their teens, they made their modeling debuts walking Basso’s runway.
The beautiful model Coco Rocha is currently the face of the brand. “You don’t have to be old to be elegant and sophisticated,” says Basso, himself a picture of class in a perfectly tailored Zegna suit, impeccably coiffed silver hair, and his trademark smile. “Sometimes people associate elegance and sophistication with women of a certain age. That’s not necessarily so. There are lots of women who are 25 years old and don’t want to have a tattoo, although I would love the opportunity to do something fun with Lady Gaga, and she probably has a few!” 765 Madison Ave., NYC, 212- 794-4500