Like many women of a certain age, I remember Arnold Scaasi, born Arnold Isaacs, who died yesterday at 85 of a heart attack. Forgetting that he was an important CFDA winning designer for first ladies and other icons such as Barbra Streisand, he was also the designer of my wedding gown.
Flash back to the late ’80s (I know it’s painful, but just for a moment), to a bridal boutique on the Philadelphia Main Line known as Suky Rosan, Philly’s version of Kleinfeld. Approximately seven months before my wedding date you could find me here trying on wedding dresses for an audience of two: my stepmother and her bestie/ longtime family friend. At that time, the main choices for fashion-forward bridal wear designers were Carolina Herrera, Bob Mackie, Mary McFadden and Arnold Scaasi. This was before the bridal market was completely revamped by someone bearing the initials of a small German car.(More about that later). I don’t remember trying on or seeing a Carolina, however I definitely gave Bob and Mary a whirl.
The Mackie design that I tried on was a tight, beaded and otherwise heavily embellished, high necked creation with an hourglass silhouette and a fishtail. My stepmother dismissed it as “great looking for a second wedding” while Family Friend told me that I looked like “Cher coming out to do the eleven o’ clock show.” Ba-dum…next…The McFadden gown was all fortuny pleated with a beaded empire waist (weren’t they all?) and very au courant in the Grecian girl meets woodland nymph style that she’s known for. It was less than figure enhancing and gave off a slightly grayish cast, earning it two thumbs down. Initially a fan, I ended up relieved that I hadn’t selected it when my aunt showed up at my wedding in a cobalt blue, long sleeved, much more flattering McFadden.
|Scaasi from Museum of Fine Arts Boston|
I tried several other gowns, some in a more traditional vein, most that I didn’t even leave the dressing room in, until they brought me the Scaasi. Devoid of lace, beading or any other embellishments, the gown was a heavy silk satin that exuded elegance. It was strapless, which at the time, was a bit daring (who knew that strapless would become the bane of the bridal world?). It fit tightly to the bodice, then became a modified ball gown skirt that flared out with tiered layers at the top of the hip resembling huge sloping petals. The piece de resistance: matching fingerless gauntlets which covered the arm from above the elbow ending in a pointed V at the wrist. I’m still a sucker for an arm warmer.
|My wedding dress by Arnold Scaasi|
As I walked to the three way mirror in the middle of the bridal shop I felt all eyes on me. The Main Line brides-to-be in their traditional lace and beaded gowns stared, all but open-mouthed; it was the closest I’d ever come to feeling like a celebrity. Stepmom and friend oohed and aahed and said this was my dress. I was concerned about the weight of the fabric vis a vis the size (or lack there of) of my chest in order to support it. The bridal consultants assured me that this would be worked out, they could pad me in a corset and double-stick-tape-me within an inch of my life so that I felt secure. (Somehow the double stick tape never happened; I’m not sure it would have made a measurable difference). They even convinced me that a crinoline would help the bodice stay up (“You may feel like it’s falling down but it’s not going anywhere”) I was told. At that point, I was putty in their hands and they could have sold me the proverbial Brooklyn Bridge; I was over it and caving fast.
In the following months while I waited for my size 2 dress (the smallest size they made) to arrive and be taken in to a size 0 (those were the days!), I had the fortune, totally by chance, to speak with the future queen of the bridal wear industry. Of course, I had no earthly idea that the woman on the other end of the phone would become synonymous with luxury wedding gowns until years later when she opened her store at the Carlyle.
|Scaasi Bride for Eva Haynal Forsyth|
Here is how it all went down: a visiting family friend/ antique dealer heard that I was planning my wedding. He decided that I should have a chat with another friend/client’s daughter, also in the throes of wedding planning who “knows everything about this.” He dialed up Ms. Wang and after a few pleasantries handed me the receiver. We discussed the rarity of decent bridesmaid and flower girl attire, eventually getting around to the main event. When she asked me whose dress I was wearing, I told her it was from Scaasi. In actuality, his bridal line was licensed and known as Scaasi Bride for Eva Haynal Forsyth; my dress was straight off the rack. “Oh,” she said, “Arnold is making your dress?” Nearly doubled over with laughter, I assured her that indeed Mr. Scaasi himself was sketching and sewing away in his studio on my behalf.
As legend has it, Ms. Wang was not content with anything she saw for her wedding, finally sketching out a dress and having it made. Her designing background (Ralph Lauren and ice skating competition costumes) did indeed contribute to her experience… in hindsight, I bet that she could have predicted the inability of a heavy satin dress to defy gravity. Not only do I remember pulling and tugging on the sides of that gown all night, the wedding video (I cringed through it once) affirms that I couldn’t make a move without the dress migrating south. Almost no one had multiple gowns in those days, thanks to “Say Yes To The Dress,” brides are now willing to change into something more hora-friendly for the reception.
|Museum of Fine Arts in Boston Scaasi retrospective|
I wish I could say that I still have that gown. In 1996 the New York Historical Society had a charity party for the opening exhibition entitled “Scaasi: The Joy of Dressing Up” affording those who attended a chance to bring out their best example. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston had a 2010-11 retrospective of Scaasi fashions as well, which featured at least one bridal gown: a feathered creation from the same era as mine.
|Croquembouche wedding cake trend|
After the wedding, my dress was sent to the cleaners to remove the massive cream puff stains. These were a direct result of the explosion which occurred when my husband launched a champagne bottle at our croquembuche (an ill advised tower of cream puffs customary in le mariage francaise ). “Eeet iz much chicer zhan a wedding cake,” our French chef proclaimed as he instructed us to destroy the confectionary creation, in the Gallic tradition, by wielding a magnum of Veuve Cliquot like a baseball bat.
The last I saw of the dress it was hanging in plastic and tissue paper in a back closet (sans arm sheaths) at my parents house. I proceeded to forget about it until years later, when I went to show it to my daughter but it had vanished. I was sad because it was a piece of my history; much like its designer Arnold Scaasi will continue to be.
– Laurel Marcus