Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis: Stan Herman

Despite torrential rain, friends, designers, and fashion industry personnel turned out to celebrate the publication of Stan Herman’s memoir Uncross Your Legs. (Fashion Week tents at Bryant Park were often close together. Those in front rows inevitably crossed their legs, impeding photographers.) Fern Mallis’s Fashion Icons at 92NY seems to vibrate with warm, anticipatory, cross audience greetings.

Ninety-five years young, Stan Herman is lithe, dapper, cheerful, articulate and charming. To some of you, the name won’t resonate. A notable designer in the junior market – think Mr. Mort and Russ Togs, he additionally created uniforms for such as TWA, JetBlue, McDonalds, Amtrak, Fedex – the list is long and growing. Herman also seemed to come out of nowhere to serve 16 pivotal years as president of the CFDA: Council of Fashion Designers of America. The headline in Women’s Wear Daily read “Stan Who?” During his tenure, the designer implemented then Executive Director Fern Mallis’s idea to centralize showings in tents at Bryant Park. (Mallis is now president of her own fashion design consultancy.) Interviewer and subject are long time friends.

Soft spoken Ralph Rucci, the only American designer invited to show in Paris by the French Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, speaks for many. “Stan, you gave credibility and integrity to the CFDA. You have been the gentleman that influenced everybody.” High praise from an extraordinary artist. Still on the board, Herman remains a man to whom people come for advice.

We begin the evening with a screened photo montage from the book. Accompanying soundtrack is Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here.” In fact, Herman continues to design both uniforms – he and Michael Schwartz are currently working on all 24 Sandals Hotels and robes and loungewear – what he himself calls house dresses – which sell as many as 100,000 a day on QVC. The designer has been with QVC 31 years and just signed a new two year contract.

Fern Mallis and Stan Herman

Raised in Passaic, New Jersey, Herman sold patterns at his father’s silk shop. “My father mesmerized me with his skill. Till the very end of his life he could measure and treasure fabric like no one I ever knew.” His mother lived in simple, practical dresses she herself sewed. (She died at 36.) A statuesque stepmother, became the clotheshorse he later enjoyed dressing. After fashion school and the army, the young man garnered several industry jobs before achieving his own label. He found a niche in the burgeoning junior market with girls who no longer wanted to look like their mothers. “The word sportswear was just a whisper…I put women in pants the same year St. Laurent did.”

At 24, in a bar, Herman met writer/teacher Gene Horowitz, the love of his life. They spent the next 40 years together before Horowitz’s untimely death. Later, reading a passage about the home they shared on Long Island, the self-avowed romantic cries. Why do men always apologize for this?

Mallis’s first question is why the book, why now? Herman apparently kept notes for years and once before attempted a volume. Finding himself in the country during COVID, it was time to tackle the memoir again. “It came easy. What I found out as I wrote was that I like myself,” he unabashedly tells us. The new author wrote in longhand. “My father said Jews don’t type.”

“How much did you leave out?” she asks. “Some of the sex- which is none of your business,” the nonagenarian smiles. “Is there enough for a sequel?” Jeffrey Banks (in the front row) is nodding yes. “I think every designer should write a memoir. We don’t have enough history,” Herman responds thoughtfully changing the subject. “The party’s over…” “Any scores you want to settle?” the interviewer continues. “Oscar (Oscar de la Renta) and I did have a problem. He didn’t feel I should be president of CFDA. I wasn’t to the manor born…We made peace at the end of his life.”

Uncross Your Legs published by Pointed Leaf Press

“Any shocks or surprises?” Mallis inquires. “No. I’m a good lesson in aging. I still think like a young person.” “Anything you would do differently?” “If I’d had a partner who could take the weight of the business like Barry Schwartz did for Calvin Klein, I might’ve been Ralph Lauren – well, maybe not Ralph.” “Regrets?” “Gene died too young, but then, when I was about to retire, I had the CFDA.” “Any apologies?” “No. I’m a centrist. I became political during the gay movement, but I don’t have the energy to throw myself into it now.”

“I’m sure Perry Ellis never knew he changed my life when he stepped aside from the CFDA,” Herman reflects. “For years I couldn’t even join because my clothes were too inexpensive…” The designer calls out milliner Patricia Underwood, designers Mary Ann Restivo and Monica Tilley as his women, Mallis as his fashion wife. This is clearly a man who appreciates females.

He talks about the origin of 7th on Fifth and the extravagant CFDA Fashion Awards at which, in his time, 400-500 students occupied the balcony, then mixed with designers afterwards. “It’s all changed now, it’s exclusive,” Mallis ruefully adds. Herman beautifully reads three excerpts from the book aloud: One about his maternal influences, one about emergence into the spotlight of the CFDA, one about domestic life at the “compound” on Long Island, the latter extremely poetic.

“I don’t know how much longer I can dance the dance, but my dance card’s still full.” (Stan Herman)

Stan Herman received three Coty Awards between 1969 & 1974
In 2006 he was awarded the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award by the CFDA

Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis: Stan Herman
92NY  92nd Street and Lexington Avenue
Event Photos by Andrew Werner

NEXT UP: Fashion Icons: Hal Rubenstein, a founding editor of InStyle Magazine in a conversation with Fern Mallis on television’s outsized impact on contemporary fashion — and Rubenstein’s new book, Dressing the Part: Television’s Most Stylish Shows. January 22, 2024 7 p.m.

About Alix Cohen (1720 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.