Born: Boston, Massachusetts, 5 May 1950. Education: Studied comparative literature, University of Massachusetts, Boston, 1968-72; also studied at the Sorbonne. Family: Married Lynn Weinstein, 6 June 1976; children: Lila, Ari. Career: Buyer, then director of merchandise, Louis of Boston, 1968-80; designer, Southwick, 1980; associate director of menswear design, Polo/Ralph Lauren, New York, 1980-84; launched signature menswear collection, 1986; designer, Barry Bricken, New York, 1987-88. J.A. (Joseph Abboud) Apparel Corporation, a joint venture with GFT USA, formed, 1988; Joseph Abboud Womenswear and menswear collection of tailored clothing and furnishings introduced, 1990; opened first retail store, Boston, 1990; collections first shown in Europe, 1990; JA II line introduced, 1991; fragrance line introduced in Japan, 1992, in America, 1993; introduced J.O.E. (Just One Earth) sportswear line, 1992; designed wardrobes for male television announcers for 1992 Winter Olympics, Albertville, France, 1992; Joseph Abboud Environments bed and bath collection launched, 1993; Joseph Abboud fragrance launched, 1994; formed Joseph Abboud Worldwide to oversee labels and licensing, 1996; forged strategic partnership with GFT, 1997; introduced black label line for men, 1999; company acquired by GFT for $65 million, 2000. Awards: Cutty Sark award, 1988; Woolmark award, 1988; Menswear Designer of the Year award from Council of Fashion Designers of America Award, 1989, 1990; honored by Japanese Government in conjunction with the Association of Total Fashion in Osaka, 1993; Special Achievement award from Neckwear Association of America Inc., 1994. Address: 650 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10019, USA.
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Joseph Abboud has said that his clothing is as much about lifestyle as design. Since 1986, after breaking away from Ralph Lauren, he has filled a niche in the fashion world with his creations for men and, more recently, for women as well. For the contemporary individual seeking a façade that is as casual, elegant, and as international as the accompanying life, the Abboud wardrobe offers comfort, beauty, and a modernity that is equally suitable in New York, Milan, or Australia. Abboud was the first menswear designer in the United States to revolutionize the concept of American style.
Born in Boston, Abboud is hardly provincial. Something of an outsider, he did not come to fashion through the usual design school training and had no pre-established world in which to fit. Instead he
Color, texture, and the cut of Abboud fashions express a style that lies between, and sometimes overlaps, that of Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani. The palette of the Joseph Abboud and the 1992 J.O.E. (Just One Earth) lines for both sexes is more subtle than the traditional Anglo-American colors of the preppie or Sloane Ranger genre, yet more varied in tone and hue than the sublimely unstated Armani colors. Neutrals from burnt sienna to cream, stucco, straw, and the colors of winter birch, together with naturals such as indigo and faded burgundy, are examples of some of the most alluring of Abboud dyestuffs.
The Pacific Northwest Collection, fall 1987, manifested rich hues, from black to maroon, but even these were harmonious, never ostentatious. The black of his leather jackets, fall 1992, appears like soft patches of the night sky due to the suppleness and unique surface treatment of the skins. The fabrics for Abboud designs represent the artist's diligent search for the world's finest materials and craftsman-ship. His respect for textile traditions does not mean that his work is retrospective but that his inventiveness is grounded in the integrity of the classics. His interpretation of tweed, for example, although based on fine Scottish wool weavings, which he compares to the most beautiful artistic landscapes, differs from the conventional Harris-type tweed. Silk, alpaca, or llama are occasionally combined with the traditional wool to yield a lighter fabric.
Unique and demanding in his working methods, Abboud is at the forefront of contemporary fashion-fabric design. His fabrics drape with a grace and elegance that is enhanced by the oversize cut and fluid lines of his suits. His characteristically full, double-pleated trousers, for example, are luxurious. The romantic malt mohair gossamer-like fabrics for women in the fall 1993 collection are cut simply with no extraneous details. Even the intricate embroideries that ornament the surfaces of many of his most memorable designs, from North African suede vests with a Kashmiri boteh design to the jewel-like beadwork for evening, have a wearability uncommon in the contemporary artistic fashion.
Nature is Abboud's muse. Beyond the obvious J.O.E. line appellation, the theme of the bucolic environment provides inspiration for the garments. Country stone walls, pebbles on a beach, the light and earthtones of the Southwest are interpreted in exquisitely cut fabrics that embrace the body with a style that becomes an individual's second skin.
Abboud's easy, elegant style had translated into a $100 million business by 1997, with overseas sales accounting for about 35 percent of turnover. It was considered a healthy operation, but did not reach the heights of some of his better-known peers. In 1998 Abboud sought to boost his profile by entering into a strategic alliance with his 10-year licensee GFT USA, a subsidiary of the Italian company Holding de Participazioni Industriali (HdP). With the move, he hoped to increase synergies between Joseph Abboud Worldwide and GFT's J.A. Apparel subsidiary, both formed in 1996. The two businesses developed an integrated management structure and increased coordination among licensees.
Abboud launched an upscale black label line for men over 35 in 1999, intending to supplement his existing upper-moderate tailored clothing business. The products are sold in the designer's own shops and about 40 select doors at 10 leading retailers. They are manufactured in the U.S. using European fabrics.
In 2000 Abboud further cemented his relationship with GFT when the latter purchased Abboud's label and licensing rights for $65 million. Abboud plans to continue as creative director and chairman emeritus for at least five years. The Abboud labels generated an estimated $250 million in sales in 2000, with about 80 percent of that business from GFT, which produces and distributes Abboud's black and diamond label tailored clothing, sportswear and golfwear. The remaining sales come from 27 other licensees; Abboud's licensed lines include fragrances, furs, coats, lounge-and sleepwear, swimwear, timepieces, and home furnishings.
The GFT acquisition will enable expansion in key areas such as international distribution, golf, and women's wear, as well as boosting the company's retailing operation and enhancing the Joseph Abboud Environments bed and bath collection. GFT and Abboud are also considering the introduction of new collections, such as one geared toward younger men.
Abboud's business, at times, has been overshadowed by trendier labels such as Tommy Hilfiger, as well as by Italian designers who appeal to the same clientele. But his customer base—which includes several high-profile sports anchors and news anchor Bryant Gumbel— has long been loyal his earthy colors, use of texture, and his ability to combine the classic with the modern.
—Marianne T. Carlano;
updated by Karen Raugust