We’re saddened to hear of Arnold Scaasi’s passing at the age of 85. A good friend of FIT, the designer inspired generations of students with his eye for color, dedication to quality, and wit beyond compare.
“I loved the idea of making women look marvelous and pretty and exciting,” Scaasi once told FIT students. Over the course of six decades, Scaasi created one-of-a-kind dresses for First Ladies, socialites and Hollywood stars alike. Scaasi loved his work and encouraged everyone to follow their passion.
“Know what you want to do and then follow it, and don’t be afraid of the hardships,” Scaasi said during a 1983 interview at FIT. “Don’t be afraid that you will fail. Because if you fail, you just do it again.”
To honor the late designer, we’ve gathered exclusive images, videos and quotes, courtesy of Fashion Institute of Technology|SUNY, Gladys Marcus Library Department of Special Collections and College Archives and The Museum at FIT.
The video below shows Scaasi emceeing an intimate and exclusive runway show at FIT, telling students about his design process, fabric choices and construction. Self-congratulatory, the designer celebrates his work as models parade dozens of dresses. More videos regarding the industry and history of fashion are publicly available on FIT’s Archive On Demand.
Affection grounded Scaasi’s over-the-top personality, allowing the designer to give blunt advice even in the beginning of his career. Upon meeting his first buyer in the early 1950s, Scaasi scoffed at her checked dress and enormous hat. “There’s this little kid telling her that the Dior outfit she had worn and paid so much for was all wrong for her,” he later remarked. Yet, he earned her business and created custom dresses more flattering to her petite frame.
Eventually, nourishing such customer relationships kept Scaasi’s made-to-order business afloat. Dressed in Chanel and Mainbocher suits, women of high society gathered twice a year to view the designer’s latest collection. Impressing this clientele secured sales, so Scaasi became anxious when a young woman dressed in a large hat and poncho walked into one of his shows. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God, that girl!'” Scaasi later told FIT. “I didn’t know her or anything and I said, ‘Oh, that’s terrible.'” Little did he know the unusual guest would soon become his most inspiring customer, Barbra Streisand.
“She is an interesting, intelligent woman and she had an innate sense of style, and her own style,” Scaasi told FIT. “I mean, she knew exactly what it should be and she loved detail and she loved quality. The inside of the dress was as important to her as the outside.” The beauty of their collaboration peaked at the 1969 Academy Awards, where Streisand accepted her Oscar for Funny Girl wearing sheer bell bottoms and a matching blouse.
Throughout his career, Scaasi also took home a number of awards. In 1958, he won the Coty American Fashion Critics award and a year later he received the Neiman Marcus award. “I didn’t plan it that way,” Scaasi later remarked at FIT, “but I was evidently doing the right clothes at the right time, which were very much the kind of clothes I do today — very feminine, pretty, lavish kind of clothes.” The Council of Fashion Designers of America recognized his “Creative Excellence” in 1987 and his “Lifetime Achievement” in 1989. His work has also been prominently displayed at New York’s Historical Society Museum, the Smithsonian Institution and here at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
FIT’s archives house many more sketches, images and notes regarding Scaasi, meaning his life’s work will continue to inspire budding designers for years to come. And as Scaasi once told FIT students, “A good dress is almost never outdated.”