“My job is to be just far enough ahead of the fashion curve that men move with me and don’t feel alienated,” said Joseph Abboud. The noted menswear designer, whose clients include jazz musician Wynton Marsalis and former news anchor Tom Brokaw, spoke to a full classroom of FIT students, most of them aspiring menswear designers, on September 26. The editor in chief of the menswear trade publication MR Magazine, Karen Allberg Grossman, came to interview him and moderate a lively question-and-answer session with the students. Abboud described how he got into fashion, beginning in the ’70s at the storied men’s shop Louis Boston: “I started on the retail floor,” Abboud said. If you want to go into design, he said, “you have to learn the business. You have to learn retail and focus on the customer.” Ralph Lauren hired Abboud for his first design job. He left after creating a so-called “African” collection that broke from Lauren’s preppy aesthetic with a dramatic color palette. “I realized,” Abboud said, “that I needed to go do something else.” Today, he said, he owns the largest tailored clothing factory in North America, which employs 800 people in New Bedford, MA. Last year, they turned out some 330,000 suits, many for a line Abboud creates for the retailer Men’s Wearhouse. One student asked what his advice was for young designers entering the field. “Start with a small collection,” the designer advised. “Keep it narrow. The editing process should be immense.”
Abboud’s visit is the first in a planned series of menswear-related events co-organized with MR Magazine. A second event for the semester will be announced later in October.