Arnold Scaasi (1930-2015)

Coat by Arnold Scaasi, c. 1964

Evening coat by Arnold Scaasi, c. 1964

Arnold Isaacs was born May 8, 1930 in Montreal. Although he was the son of a furrier, he attributed his interest in becoming a fashion designer to his Chanel and Schiaparelli wearing aunt Ida. Arnold studied fashion at the Cotnoir-Capponi School of Design in Montreal, spending his last year at the Chambre Syndicale in Paris before apprenticing at Paquin. He then went to the U.S. where he worked for Charles James and took designing jobs on the side.

Working on his own by 1956, he reversed the letters in his last name from the Jewish garment district sounding last name of Isaacs into the chic Italian-sounding last name of Scaasi. Two years later, he received a Coty Award for achievement in creative design.

Matching evening dress in reverse colours, c. 1964

Matching evening dress in reverse colours, c. 1964

In July 1962 Scaasi met his life partner Parker Ladd in Central Park, although Scaasi often altered the story by saying they met at a party. They were often a part of the social circuit in New York, as well as Palm Beach and Capri where Scaasi met and nurtured his client list. Over the years Scaasi dressed six first ladies: Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Hilary Clinton and Barbara and Laura Bush. He also made clothes for Barbra Striesand, Joan Rivers, Barbara Walters, Mitzi Gaynor, as well as a long list of New York and Washington socialites. Although Scaasi counted many of his clients as friends, he also rubbed a lot of people the wrong way due to his pushy, pompous, and temperamental personality.

In 1964, when most couturiers were focusing on ready-to-wear to make ends meet, Scaasi ceased his off-the-rack line to focus on custom work, although he restarted a ready-to-wear line in the 1980s. In 2009 Scaasi sold off his archives, offering several sample garments from his 1980s ready to wear line to museums across the U.S. and Canada.

Scaasi died in New York of cardiac arrest August 5.

Canadian Fashion Connection – Arnold Scaasi

US Vogue, December 1955 with Scaasi design on cover

Arnold Scaasi began life as Arnold Isaacs on May 8, 1930 in Montreal. After studying fashion design at the Cotnoir-Capponi School of Design and the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Parisienne in Paris he apprenticed at the House of Paquin before moving to New York to work with Charles James.

During a photo shoot of one of Arnold Isaac’s designs he met Robert Denning, who suggested he reverse the letters in his last name to give it an Italian flair. Shortly after he became Arnold Scaasi, one of his designs appeared on the December 1955 cover of Vogue. The following year Scaasi started a ready-to-wear line and in 1958 he won a Coty Fashion Critics Award.

Scaasi gown and matching coat, c. 1965-66, from the collection of the Fashion History Museum

Scaasi was in the same age group of designers as Bill Blass and Geoffrey Beene, rising to fame in the New York fashion world when Seventh Avenue was under the lead of Norell and Trigere.

In 1964, when couture was on its last legs, Scaasi opened a couture salon catering to New York socialites and Hollywood celebrities. He was the ‘Marchesa’ of his day – known for glamorous evening gowns and cocktail wear. In 1968, he became internationally famous for making an evening ensemble for Barbara Striesand that became sheer under the camera lights as Streisand went on stage to accept her Academy Award for Funny Girl.

Scaasi was presented with the Council of Fashion Designers of America Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996 – the same year he authored Scaasi: A Cut Above, published by Rizzoli.