Born: Gloria Harris in Scarsdale, New York, circa 1927. Education: Graduated in fine arts, Skidmore College, New York, 1947; studied textile design, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Michigan, 1947; studied painting with Fernand Léger, Paris, 1949; studied architecture with Gió Ponti and Franco Albini, Italy. Family: Married Irwin Sachs, 1953; children: Nancy, Charles. Career: Worked as a model for Balenciaga and Balmain, Paris, 1949; textile designer, Hans Knoll, Herman Miller, 1948-49; apprentice, Domus magazine, Milan, 1949-50; executive trainee, assistant buyer, then fashion coordinator, Bloomingdale's, New York, 1951-56; preteen clothing designer, Gloria Sachs Red Barn company, 1958-60; fashion director for children's wear, Bloomingdale's, 1960-62; preteen clothing designer, Saks Fifth Avenue, New York, 1962-65; formed own sportswear company, Gloria Sachs Designs, Ltd., 1970; showed first evening collection, 1983; private label introduced, 1986; closed firm, 1991-92; also paints, sculpts, and weaves. Exhibitions: paintings and sculpture shown at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York, 1949, Art Alliance of Philadelphia, 1950, Art Institute of Chicago, 1950, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1951. Awards: Saks Fifth Avenue Creator award, 1969; Woolknit Design award, 1974, 1976.
Milbank, Caroline Rennolds, New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style, New York, 1989.
Morris, Bernadine, "Low-Key Elegrance by Gloria Sachs," in the New York Times, 22 September 1984.
Green, Wendy, "Gloria Sachs: Designing Her Own Business," in WWD, 14 July 1986.
Morris, Bernadine, "Sportswear Steps Up to Gold, Lace, and Velvet," in the New York Times, 15 April 1988.
Buck, Geneviéve, "Barneys, Buddy and Bo—New Style, Old Style and No Style," in Chicago Tribune, 15 July 1992.
Gloria Sachs' intensive artistic education played a major part in her fashion work and its development. A fine arts graduate of the Skidmore College, she went on to study textiles at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan in 1947. Her first job was as a textile designer, noted for designing her own yarns in distinctive and individual color combinations. She used her earnings from this job to finance a cultural year in Europe. She was lucky enough to study painting at the atelier of Fernand Léger in Paris and architecture with both Gió Ponti and Franco Albini in Italy, which further developed her sense of color and proportion.
Returning to New York, Sachs worked in textiles at Bloomingdale's department store, eventually becoming their fashion coordinator. She later joined Saks Fifth Avenue as an in-house designer and her success there gave her the confidence to establish her own business on Seventh Avenue in 1970. Her first designs established her as a smart, casual separates designer. Mix-and-match pleated skirts, jackets, and coats, teamed with tailored shirts, were particularly distinctive. A glamorous, sporty evening look was another favorite with buyers. She later made glossy ensembles of color-blocked sweaters, teamed with uncoordinated skirts and trousers. Alongside other New York designers, including John Antony and Calvin Klein, she pioneered the New York look for casual sportswear shapes in supple and expensive fabrics.
Sachs is famous for her clever development of textile designs in her fashion. She worked very closely with the mills that produced her fabrics and even opened her own mill in Scotland to produce contrast trim and embroidered cashmere sweaters. She often used classic and antique patterns, developed with her own particular twist. Paisleys and plaids were reworked in unusual color combinations to be fresh and unexpected, always subtle and never brash. Experimentation with English gentlemen's neck-tie prints further allowed Sachs to originate and rescale exciting new patterns and shapes; in turn the fabrics served as inspiration for the creation of new clothing designs.
In her later work in the 1980s Sachs continued her development of signature, revamped textiles in beautiful fabrics. She also introduced looser, more unstructured clothing. Supple, fluid shapes that were simply cut and balanced were very flattering to wear and proved extremely popular. She sold her work through many top retailers, including Saks Fifth Avenue. Unfortunately, the early 1990s proved difficult for Sachs and a number of talented designers, including Mary Ann Restivo and Rebecca Moses, who were forced to close their businesses.
Gloria Sachs' major contribution to fashion was her easy, glamorous sportswear, dressed up for the evening or down for the day. These clothes were for professional, executive women who wanted to retain their femininity in the boardroom with taste and style. More relaxed than power dressing, it is dressing for success with dash and individuality.
updated by Nelly Rhodes