Designers are great white sharks, and we roam the waters ourselves. We often pretend to like and admire each other, but sometimes we don't even bother to fake it. The fashion industry is as hardworking, incestuous, and political as any other, and it's virtually impossible, given the size of designers' egos, to sincerely wish someone else well, because behind every false tribute is 'It should have been me.'

So writes Joseph Abboud, who fell in love with style at five. There in ...

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Designers are great white sharks, and we roam the waters ourselves. We often pretend to like and admire each other, but sometimes we don't even bother to fake it. The fashion industry is as hardworking, incestuous, and political as any other, and it's virtually impossible, given the size of designers' egos, to sincerely wish someone else well, because behind every false tribute is 'It should have been me.'

So writes Joseph Abboud, who fell in love with style at five. There in the dark of the movie house, he wasn't just some Lebanese kid with a babysitter. He was the hero, in tweeds and pocket squares. That's where he learned that clothes represented a better life—a life he wanted, and would grab, for himself. From his blue-collar childhood in Boston's South End to his spread-collar success as one of America's top designers, he has forged a remarkable path through the unglamorous business of making people look glamorous.

He transformed American menswear by replacing the traditional stiff-shouldered silhouette with a grown-up European sensuality. He was the first designer to win the coveted CFDA award as Best Menswear Designer two years in a row and the first designer to throw out the opening pitch at Fenway Park. He's been jilted by Naomi Campbell (who didn't show up on the runway for his first women's fashion show) and questioned by the FBI (who did show up in his office right after September 11 because he fit the profile). He's soared and sunk more than a few times—and lived to tell the tales.

Threads is his off-the-record take on fashion, from the inside out. With breezy irreverence, he looks at guys and taste, divas and deviousness, fabric and texture, and all those ties. He takes us to the luxe bastion of Louis Boston, where he came of age and learned the trade, and to the seductive domain of Polo Ralph Lauren, where he became associate director of menswear design. He reveals the mystique of department-store politics, what's what at the sample sale, and who copies whom. He explains the process of making great clothes, from conception and sketch to manufacturing and marketing.

Whether he's traveling by daredevil horse, plunging plane, Paris Métro, or cross-country limo, Abboud is an illuminating guide to a complex world.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"All clothes make a statement. The right clothes make a statement that will open doors." With his user-friendly advice, Abboud, chairman emeritus and creative director of the men's clothier Joseph Abboud Company, revisits his past and, concurrently, shares fashion tips. Clients like Tom Brokaw and Wynton Marsalis are testaments to Abboud's elegance-with-an-edge style. His love affair with clothes started when he was growing up in Boston's South End in the 1950s and '60s, and he parlayed a passion for design into a job designing menswear at Polo/Ralph Lauren. When Abboud presented his own collection in 1987, he encountered the cutthroat practices of multimillion-dollar fashion empires. Abboud openly admits his career disappointments, including his foray into the lion's den of women's clothing and his trials launching a men's fragrance. Such honesty is refreshing, and Abboud's devotion to family and die-hard support for the Red Sox add to his charm. Readable and fun, the book offers lessons from Abboud's experiences to would-be designers. Bottom line: no element is inconsequential, whether it's a shoulder seam or the layout of a store display. For consumers, Abboud's credo is: "Style ought to be personal. It defines you to yourself, not to somebody else." Agent, David Black. (Nov.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A lively, confident memoir seriously explores the realities of the fashion industry, leavening its nuts-and-bolts acumen with personal warmth and just enough of the trade's time-tested potshots. Although not neatly divided, Threads does contain two basic strands. The first presents the fruits of the well-regarded designer's wisdom after more than 30 years in the fashion business. Abboud starts at ground level, with the feel of fabric, "the beginning, the heart, the essence of my clothes." There is nothing airy about his opinions: he explains just how a knobby knit or one as smooth as cashmere fits into his designs, how each and every one takes its meaningful place in that season's line, be they primitive patterns or ethnic textures. He talks about how to coax a mill to produce the exact shade you want. And if Abboud is known for anything (other than being a few gratifying steps left of Ralph Lauren), it is the qualities of his earth tones: dusty and melancholy, smoky or veiled. He also offers quality advice on such nitty-gritty issues as how fashion schools should integrate business elements into their curriculum and how to pick models for a show. The second narrative strand unfolds, at reasonable length, the Lebanese author's personal journey through the fashion world. He paid his dues in an almost feudal manner, working his way from the floor to the coveted position of designer. For each step, he offers words to the wise (don't trust your friends, be aware of the importance of trunk shows), and throws a host of caltrops into the path of the self-important: " . . . he was more Calvin than Calvin, which must have had an interesting effect on Calvin," or, "I hate pony tails on guys."Excuse me? Would that be . . . Mr. Lagerfeld? Ought to be required reading for anyone looking to buy a suit or a tie-or, for that matter, a workshirt. (16-page color insert, not seen)Agent: David Black/David Black Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061753985
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/17/2009
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 749,815
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Joseph Abboud introduced his first mens-wear collection in 1987. He won the Cutty Sark Award for Most Promising Menswear Designer in 1988 and the Council of Fashion Designers of America's Menswear Designer of the Year Award in 1989 and 1990. His clothing collections and home-furnishings products are sold throughout the world. He lives in Westchester, New York, with his wife and two daughters.

Ellen Stern has been a writer and editor at GQ, New York magazine, and the New York Daily News. Her books include Best Bets, Once Upon a Telephone, Sister Sets, and Gracie Mansion.

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First Chapter

My Life Behind the Seams in the High-Stakes World of Fashion

Chapter One

Guy in the Gray Flannel Suit

Doctor. Lawyer. Indian chief. Fashion designer.

Most guys don't do surgery on a daily basis, or sue somebody, or open a casino. But everybody deals with what I do: fashion. "What'll I wear?" Comes up every morning.

The CEO says, "Does this tie work with that suit?" The art director wonders, "Should I wear my cords with a T-shirt or a cable-knit?" Even people who don't give a damn about fashion have to admit it into their lives.

There's covering our nakedness, and then there's image. A man's clothes tell the world how he wants to be perceived. Whether he's wearing a pair of rusty jeans or a beautifully cut Italian suede jacket, he has an image of himself in mind. All clothes make a statement. The right clothes make a statement that will open doors.

That's why most businessmen wear a suit. It's easy. They don't have to think too hard about it, and they always -- well, almost always -- look correct. A suit says, "Take me seriously." It's subliminal, but it's real.

My very first suit was a little white cotton three-piece, bought for my first communion at Holy Name Church in West Roxbury. I wore it with white bucks, a white shirt, and a white bow tie -- right out of Truman Capote. I looked so angelic, so holy. But a communion suit doesn't count.

My first real suit was a beigy, tweedy mod thing from Jordan Marsh, and being able to buy it at a famous store in downtown Boston was a pretty big deal. It made me feel legitimate. But I was sixteen, and the suit wasn't expensive, so nobody took my tailoring requests too seriously. When I went to pick it up, disaster! I looked like a clown. I'd wanted the sleeves lengthened and the pants shortened, and they'd done exactly the opposite. My first suit experience wasn't a good one.

But it should have been. Buying a suit is a major event, because it makes you look -- and feel -- important. At twenty-one, every young man should have a great navy or gray suit that he can wear to an interview, a bar mitzvah, a funeral, a wedding. He also needs a navy blazer and a pair of chinos. With those three fundamentals, he's covered for any event. On his feet: anything from penny loafers to wingtips, but shoes should never be outlandish or detract from the outfit.

An observant guy looks around and notices how others dress and walk and decorate their homes. Sooner or later, he makes up his mind how he's going to look -- and how he's going to be. Is he going to be flamboyant? Is he going to dress like the guys in the stockroom or dress like the boss? Depends on where he's headed.

A young friend of mine named David Black, who was toiling in the mail room at a publishing company, came in one day wearing a suit, shirt, and tie. "What are you all dressed up for?" somebody asked him with a sneer. The answer: for himself. Working in the mail room didn't mean he couldn't dress well and look professional. He wasn't going to let other people's perceptions of him keep him down. And they didn't. He quickly rose through the ranks to become a prominent literary agent in New York. No, it wasn't just the clothes that got him promoted, but he had a certain image of himself, and the clothes helped him project that image. The first time we met, a few years ago, David was wearing a putty-colored dress shirt with a soft collar, a soft-print tie, and a navy blazer -- all Armani, so he made some kind of apology. I didn't care whose label he was wearing, because he looked great. He had a lot of other things going for him too, of course, but that strong first impression made a difference. We connected, and now he's my agent.

There's a migratory pattern to developing your wardrobe and taste as you become more successful. It's like traveling. The first time you travel, you feel lucky to get on any flight from anywhere at a price you can manage. You don't care if you sit with the chickens. Then, as you get a bit more successful, you fly coach. When you're a junior executive, you can travel business class. And then, as the CEO, you're going first class. It's an obvious analogy, but it's exactly what happens.

For example, most guys who are starting to move up the ladder relate to a pinstripe suit almost instinctively. They figure, "It's been done before -- by my father, my boss, my father's boss -- and it's a classic. I'm the boss now, so it's my turn." If you remember the musical How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, you'll remember the final scene of the movie, in which the outgoing chairman of the board is wearing a navy chalk-stripe suit with a soft butter-yellow vest, a white shirt, and a silver tie -- and Robert Morse, being introduced as the incoming chairman of the board, appears in exactly the same suit, vest, and tie. He's not just following in the boss's footsteps; he's following in the boss's suit pattern. It's a spoof, but a spoof with a lot of truth behind it.

The other best choice is a beautifully cut solid or chalk-stripe gray suit with a white or white tattersall shirt, a silver woven tie -- nothing too bright or too flashy, no tone-on-tone thing happening, no tricks -- and a pair of dark brown suede shoes. (Brown with gray shows confi- dence, and it's one of the dream color combinations for the powerful guy. It's sophisticated, it's soft, and it doesn't scream.)

My Life Behind the Seams in the High-Stakes World of Fashion
. Copyright © by Joseph Abboud. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2004


    'Threads' by menswear designer Joseph Abboud is a candid, chatty insider look at the fashion industry. It's also the portrait of a man who pretty much speaks his mind. Abboud doesn't mind taking a shot or two at some of his fellow designers, and he's just as up front in noting his own mistakes. To call this a rags to riches story may not be completely accurate, but it's close. The Lebanese-American designer first became aware of what clothing could do for a man as a child in a darkened movie theater when he observed nattily dressed film idols and realized the impression their clothing made. His childhood and youth were spent in a blue-collar Boston neighborhood. He remembers walking to work in his first Ralph Lauren tie, 'a beautiful clock design recently bought for the unimaginable sum of $12.50.' Evidently some of the neighborhood bullies thought Abboud looked too sharp, and took it upon themselves to muss him up. 'Am I going to get my nose broken, my arm, my jaw? I don't care,' he writes, 'All I'm thinking is, `Please, please, God, don't let me bleed on the tie!'' His destination that day was a part-time job at Louis Boston. During college he earned money and kept in shape by pedaling a swan boat in the Public Garden. Abboud worked his way up the ladder at Louis to be recognized by Ralph Lauren, where he began in sales and rose to associate director of design. Eager to begin his own collection the designer was originally thwarted by two unscrupulous financial partners. Today, as we know, the name Joseph Abboud denotes the finest in men's clothing. As we originally mentioned, here is a man who speaks his mind, and he does about some of the design field's superstars - Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Tom Ford. Readers are privy to a look at the wardrobe of his client, John Kerry, and men are cautioned to take a woman with them when they shop. In addition, with impeccable taste Abboud discusses 'timely fashion trends vs. timeless fashion.' Penned in collaboration with Ellen Stern, a writer and editor at GQ, New York, and the New York Daily News, 'Threads' is a brisk throughly enjoyable read. - Gail Cooke

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    Posted October 15, 2010

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