New York: Arnold Scaasi, the Canadian clothing designer whose exuberant creations were worn by generations of first ladies, socialites and Hollywood stars, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 85.
Michael Selleck, a longtime friend and an executive at Simon & Schuster, said Scaasi died of cardiac arrest at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center shortly before 2 am, reported New York Times.
The proprietor of a long-running atelier in Midtown Manhattan, Scaasi was known for bringing the techniques of the French couture to prominent American women.
Among them were Barbra Streisand, who wore a sheer, sequined, broadly bell-bottomed pantsuit designed by Scaasi to the 1969 Academy Awards, and Barbara Bush, who appeared in a puffy-shouldered blue velvet Scaasi gown for the presidential inauguration of her husband, George Bush, 20 years later.
Scaasi also designed formal wear for the first ladies Mamie Eisenhower, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush. Joan Crawford, Joan Rivers, Elizabeth Taylor, Diahann Carroll and Mary Tyler Moore were all "Scaasi Girls," as his most devoted clients were called.
He also made clothes for the sculptor Louise Nevelson, a close friend; flocks of debutantes; and even an order of nuns.
One of his longest collaborations was with Streisand. It was he who designed the pantsuit, famous for its translucency and billowing legs, that she tripped on en route to the Oscar stage in 1969 to accept the best actress award for "Funny Girl."
He also created some of her costumes for the 1970 film adaptation of the musical "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever," in which she starred.
Diminutive and dapper, recognisable by his generous swoop of hair, Scaasi mixed easily with both the swans of high society and the pillars of Washington.
He was born Arnold Isaacs in Montreal on May 8, 1930. He later reversed the spelling of his last name at the suggestion of the interior decorator Robert Denning, whom he had met while contributing clothes to a General Motors ad campaign in 1954.
His father, Samuel, was a furrier and his mother, Bessie, had studied opera; one of his earliest memories, he said, was ordering her to pin a corsage of gardenias on her evening bag rather than wear it on her shoulder. It was his glamorous Aunt Ida Wynn who inspired him to go into fashion, he said; she would visit the family from Melbourne with trunks full of Chanel and Schiaparelli dresses.
Scassi moved to New York, working briefly under Charles James before going out on his own in 1956. Two years later, he won the Coty Award for greatest achievement in creative design by an American.
By 1960 he had set up shop in a Stanford White townhouse at 56th Street near Fifth Avenue.
In 1996, Scaasi was honoured by the Council of Fashion Designers with a Lifetime Achievement Award in a ceremony that also presented him with an opportunity to display his characteristic aplomb.