On the first official day of what’s come to be known as Fashion Month, we talk to the Father of Fashion Week — Stan Herman. An extraordinary gentleman, astute businessman and creative force, Stan willed his way into the CFDA and never looked back Ultimately, he became President of the organization, pitched the first tents in Bryant Park and the rest is history. What many don’t know about Stan is that he was designer of Mr. Mort (worn by Marlo Thomas aka That Girl), won three Coty Awards and performed on Broadway. Today, he is the undisputed go-to uniform designer. His first client was Avis which led to Jet Blue to Fedex and the list goes on and on. Whether he’s making an appearance on QVC selling his namesake loungewear, attending the fashion shows or power breakfasting at the Loews Regency (where, of course, he designed the uniforms), Stan does it all with his signature flair, polish and panache.
You have such a fascinating career. It might be easiest to start from the beginning. What was the fashion industry like in the 1960’s and 70’s?
The fashion campus was so different back then. There were only two major streets — Seventh Avenue was for high fashion and Broadway was for when you sold your soul to the mass market. I came to New York City after attending college and serving in the army, and was lucky to meet the right people on the Seventh Avenue side.
How did your fashion design career start?
I apprenticed for Jerry Silverman at Martini Design and it was there that I learned art of being designer. I worked in the 3rd and 2nd design room, never made it to 1st design room. Then, I got fired, which led to a brief stint singing and dancing on Broadway. Around that same time, a friend of mine asked to do design a line called Junior Forum. WWD saw the launch and said a star was born.
Please tell us about the fabulous brand Mr. Mort.
After the WWD review, I was asked to design for Mr. Mort. Within a year, I was head designer and, eventually, became President of the company. At this time, designers — Geoffrey Beene, Donald Brooks, Bill Blass, and others — were all moving out of the back rooms and starting to be faces for our brands.
What are some of your most memorable collections at Mr. Mort?
The collection for which I won the Coty in 1969 was marvelous. It was pre-Mary MCFadden and I used pleats, feathers, satins, and lace. This was when Fashion Group still had the shows in the hotels and WWD reported that we stole the show. Then the collection went into stores and just bombed!
When did you become a member of the CFDA?
Mr. Mort was considered a major brand but I wasn’t part of establishment. In those days, CFDA members were required to have couture credentials. Setting my sights on becoming a member, I went to Liz Claiborne and said we have to change things. In 1967, I forced my way into the CFDA and made them change bylaws.
When and how did you become CFDA President?
Before I was President, I was a member of the CFDA board, appointed by then President, Perry Ellis. When he asked me to be on the board, I told him that I would not fit in very well. He replied that was exactly why he wanted me on the board! I became President in 1991 and it changed my life. I had no idea I would be President of the CFDA for 16 years. My longtime partner died one month before I took the position, and the CFDA became my lover. After Gene died, I thought about retiring, but the CFDA kept me going.
How did this all lead to 7th on Sixth?
While President of the CFDA, I was also on the Board of Bryant Park and had the idea for the fashion shows to be in park. In the beginning, the tents were on either side of park. Stacks of library books are stored under the park and they thought the pressure of tents would be too much for them. In 1995, we were allowed to get on the Main Lawn, and everything changed. It just kept getting bigger and bigger. Ultimately, we decided to separate it from the CFDA, and open a profit-making business and called it 7th on Sixth.
Did you ever imagine when you pitched the first two tents at Bryan Park that Fashion Week would become such a huge happening?
Fashion Week had teeny, tiny, beginnings – like a Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland movie – we just loved the idea of doing it! Never in my life would imagine that it would become so huge. I knew it was the beginning of something very positive but did not realize the extent of it. I would have sold to IMG for much more money if I had known!
How did you start to design uniforms?
Uniforms came into my life with Avis and are still in my life. The uniform business is extraordinary. It’s tough and I am the best. I’ve been designing for Federal Express for 33 years. We are working on a new design for them now. United, TWA, Eastern, Jet Blue are all long-time clients.
How do you approach uniform design?
Uniforms are tricky. We work with the heads of brands and talk to them for hours about their vision. Each company is different. Take Amtrak and Jet Blue, for example. Amtrak was very proud of their history and wanted to show that in their uniforms while Jet Blue was completely new. Then, we have clients like Loews Regency, whose uniforms have Park Avenue elegance. In all cases, our approach is to realize the brand vision, swallow our ego and never pander.
On top of it all, you have a best selling lounge and sleepwear collection on QVC. How did this come about?
QVC discovered me 22 years ago and I am still there. QVC buys like a store and their expectations are huge. You are expected every second, every minute to sell. My pajamas are always very hot. My best selling day was probably 90,000 robes in one day at $39 a piece. It’s been an exciting experience, especially the relationship with customers, who constantly reach out and say, ‘I love you.”
Do you have a secret for staying enthusiastic about fashion?
My secret is that I always think that there is something new behind the next corner that can be achieved. Plus, I’ve had a great, great life and a lot of people like me for it. I’d like to live the rest of my life out happy.