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Threads: My Life behind the Seams in the High-Stakes World of Fashion

Threads: My Life behind the Seams in the High-Stakes World of Fashion

by Joseph Abboud, Ellen Stern

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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


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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HarperCollins Publishers
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.57(d)

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

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Joseph Abboud
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060535350

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 suitdoesn'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.)


Excerpted from Threads by Joseph Abboud Copyright © 2006 by Joseph Abboud. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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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