Suzy Parker in a marigold yellow gown by Scaasi, 1956.
Arnold Scaasi (1930-2015) was born Arnold Isaacs (try to read it backward) in Montreal. A visit to a stylish aunt in Australia when he was fourteen set him on the path to a fashion career. He studied in Montreal and in Paris, apprenticed at the house of Paquin, worked with the legendary Charles James in New York City, then opened his own couture salon in 1964.
With a heavy reliance on elaborate details and embroidery, with an eye to what would make his refined customers feel and look like old-fashioned glamour pusses, he accoutered a coterie of clients from Lauren Bacall to Brooke Astor, Diahann Carroll to Elizabeth Taylor. He dressed Mamie Eisenhower, Hillary Clinton, and both Bush first ladies; he once bragged that he refused to give Jackie Kennedy clothes for free.
A powerful cohort of society women may have hung with him in the early sixties, but he came to the attention of a far wider audience when he designed the notorious sheer trouser ensemble Barbra Streisand wore to collect her Oscar for Funny Girl in 1969—it was scandalous then, and in truth it is still pretty riveting.
His remarks could be as frisky as some of his designs. "American women lack the innate good taste of European women,” he told the Washington Daily News in 1958. “Designers have to trick American women into being stylish." Scaasi was presented with the Council of Fashion Designers of America Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996.
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