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Arnold Scaasi

SCAASI, ARNOLD (1931– ), U.S. fashion designer. Scaasi was born Arnold Isaacs in Montreal, Canada, the son of a local furrier. Although he never graduated from high school, he became a celebrated designer whose custom-made tailored suits and glamorous gowns were worn by movie stars, society matrons, and at least five U.S. first ladies. He changed his last name, but he never denied his heritage, often describing himself as "a Jewish kid from Montreal." When he was still a teenager, the family moved to Melbourne, Australia, where Arnold fell under the spell of his aunt Ida Wynn, a prominent fundraiser for the Women's International Zionist Organization, who was equally well known for her chic French wardrobe. His interest in fashion piqued, he returned to Montreal to study design, then moved to Paris and apprenticed to Paquin, a prestigious couture house. He came to New York City in 1953 and began working with Charles James, a brilliant but eccentric designer. Around that time, Isaacs was assigned to create dresses for a series of automobile ads. Someone suggested reversing the spelling of his last name for added glamour and Scaasi was born. As his reputation for bold colors and sculptural shapes spread, he landed a red evening coat on the cover of Vogue magazine in December 1955. The following May, he launched a wholesale collection. He won a Coty Fashion Award in 1958 and opened a custom-design business in 1962. His dresses turned up at glittering parties from Manhattan to Los Angeles. In 1969, Barbra *Streisand accepted her Oscar for Funny Girl wearing a Scaasi-designed sheer pant-suit that created a sensation. Scaasi's clients have included actresses Elizabeth *Taylor, Lauren *Bacall, and Mary Tyler Moore, soprano Joan Sutherland, sculptor Louise *Nevelson, and social doyennes such as Brooke Astor. After already designing clothing for first ladies Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Lady Bird Johnson, he created a royal blue velvet and satin gown that Barbara Bush wore to her husband's Inaugural Ball in 1989. It was later donated to the Smithsonian Institution and Mrs. Bush became one of Scaasi's best clients. He has also designed clothes for her daughter-in-law Laura Bush, another first lady. In 1989, Scaasi introduced a women's fragrance. Later, to broaden his reach, he stopped doing runway shows and embarked on a series of licensing ventures for products ranging from lower-price dresses to sunglasses. With writer Bernadine Morris, he produced a book entitled A Cut Above in 1996, released to coincide with a retrospective of his work at the New-York Historical Society. In 1997, a decade after the Council of Fashion Designers of America honored him for "creative excellence," he won the group's Lifetime Achievement Award. It was presented by Barbara Bush. In 2001, a major exhibition of Scaasi's work was mounted at Kent State University in Ohio, and the following year, a similar presentation was staged at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. A memoir, Women I Have Dressed (and Undressed), was published in 2004.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.