“Scaasi’s work…is a thrilling look into a universe of wealth, charm, and celebrity.” —The Boston Globe
This exhibition celebrates the designer Arnold Scaasi and the MFA’s recent acquisition of his archive and more than 100 of his designs. Arnold Scaasi, who began his business in New York in the mid-1950s was one of the few New York designers to concentrate on custom-made clothing rather than ready-to-wear. He has designed for the 20th century’s most celebrated artists and most fashionable socialites, including Broadway, TV, and movie stars, such as Arlene Francis, Mitzi Gaynor, Barbra Streisand, Diahann Carroll, Mary Tyler Moore, and Elizabeth Taylor; Palm Beach and New York socialites including Mary Sanford, Ivana Trump, Joetta Norban, Gayfryd Steinberg, and Edna Morris; and First Ladies Mamie Eisenhower and Barbara and Laura Bush. His work has always been synonymous with luxurious materials, exuberant color, and refined silhouettes.
Scaasi became an immediate success upon launching his first ready-to-wear line in 1956. By the end of 1958, he had won the Coty American Fashion Critics Award for best designer of the year and had seen his clothing featured on the covers of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, all before reaching age 30. Despite his success, the growing emphasis on a youth market and changes on Seventh Avenue caused the designer to stop making ready-to-wear and to focus on his custom clientele. He has said that he preferred working directly with his clients making luxurious and dramatic garments that suited their lifestyles.
“Scaasi: American Couturier” explores the designer’s relationship with his clients and how the garments created for them suited their lifestyles and helped them to establish a strong public image, whether it was the youthful sophistication of Barbra Streisand, the fashionable and always appropriately dressed first lady Mamie Eisenhower, or the extraordinarily beautiful and feminine Elizabeth Taylor. The exhibition will feature several garments made for his most famous client, Barbra Streisand, including the custom-made and now infamous black sequined pantsuit that, under the lights of the Oscar stage, appeared see-through. Also on display will be clothing worn by Arlene Francis, Mrs. Joseph Norban (whose husband was a part owner of the famed nightclub El Morocco), and Mrs. Saul Steinberg, one of New York’s most photographed women during the 1980s and 1990s.
Image credit: Arnold Scaasi, detail of dress, 1958. Printed silk plain weave with tulle infrastructure, silk satin bow. Arnold Scaasi Collection-Gift of Arnold Scaasi. Made possible through the generous support of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf, anonymous donors, Penny and Jeff Vinik, Lynne and Mark Rickabaugh, Jane and Robert Burke, Carol Wall, Mrs. I. W. Colburn, Megan O’Block, Lorraine Bressler, and Daria Petrilli-Eckert. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.