“Stan Herman Is An Open Book”

Uncross Your Legs: A Life in Fashion (Pointed Leaf Press). Publication date is Dec.5, 2023 – Order Book Now!

In “Uncross Your Legs: A Life in Fashion,” 95-year-old clothing designer/activist/leading figure in the world of fashion Stan Herman tells his life story through words, photos, and minimalist sketches with a flourish. Due to his penchant for uniform design, more people wear his fashion than any other designer in the Americas. This coffee table book (available December 5th) will give Barbra Streisand a run for her money as a weightlifting aid despite its relative brevity — instead of close to 1,000 pages, it is only about a third as long but still hefty.

La Streisand is not mentioned here, but despite the 14-year age gap, I believe a game of Jewish Geography between these two legends would unearth many common acquaintances going back to the old country — Brooklyn. Incidentally, Herman is a lover of “sound,” particularly of classical music and opera. Like Babs, Stan has also appeared on Broadway — in “La Plume de Ma Tante” — an athletic role in which he had to swing on ropes to open the stage curtain. They are both dyed-in-the-wool Democrats highly critical of a particular president, but I digress…

Stan Herman – Photo courtesy Stan Herman

Herman was raised in Passaic, NJ, although his mother’s family was Brooklyn-ese. The grandson of a furrier (“He made some of the ugliest Peter Pan-collared seal coats I would ever see”), young Stan much preferred his father’s silk fabric shop. Of his paternal grandfather, he writes, “I always picture him sitting, arms crossed in his little storefront immediately across the street from his son’s luxurious silk shop, a store that captured the patronage of home sewers from every corner of northern Jersey, the shop that more than anything in my young life prepared me for my eventual life in fashion.”

His mother, who was warned not to have children due to a chronic heart condition, gave birth to Stan and his younger brother Harvey. Stan laments not really getting to know “die mutter” as she passed away when he was 12, yet he gives her credit for recognizing his talents — making sure he had piano lessons, tap dancing lessons and drawing lessons. She wore homemade housedresses which he notes she somehow made look chic.

Stan Herman’s TWA uniform designs from 1975 – Courtesy Stan Herman

Such is the humble beginning of the man who would head the Council of Fashion Designers of America for over 16 years during an unprecedented growth period and helped make NYC the epicenter of fashion by promoting the garment center. He’s also a frequent guest on QVC with his miraculous best-selling loungewear (more on that later), and the chief uniform designer for people in service industries on the move from the airlines (he was Jet Blue’s designer from day one), the now-defunct TWA (hilarious story in the book about trying to run a pattern of this acronym down the side of a uniform and coming up with an unfortunate slur due to a spacing error), McDonald’s, FedEx and most recently on Bryant Park maintenance workers.

In the 1960’s Stan had a hit with a series of trompe l’oeil dresses which “set Seventh Avenue on its ears.” After a decade designing at Mr. Mort and for Russtogs and loungewear for Van Raalte, Stan had perhaps his most high profile fashion job — a coveted boutique at the original Henri Bendel under Geraldine Stutz for almost two years. “We produced some of the most exciting clothes, but the dream ended abruptly, as often happens in our business, and I licked my wounds and moved on,” he writes.

Stan Herman, Fern Mallis, and Diane Von Furstenberg attend “Fashion Lives” book launch>> at Saks Fifth Avenue on April 20, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Thomas Concordia/Getty Images)

“Biting off the edges has made my moments in the hot center of fashion possible. I am in awe of those who flourish in the waves of the center’s heat,” begins Part 3. It is probably the most interesting to fashion historians detailing how Bryant Park became the fashion mecca for the tents known as 7th on Sixth, of which Stan was president. Of course, he gives credit to Fern Mallis and loves to share the spotlight with his fashion peers, running the gamut from his first friend in NYC, Arnold Scaasi (or Isaacs as his real name), to Ralph Lauren. This section also namedrops many of his famous friends across fashion, Hollywood (Bernadette Peters is a BFF), and the political world. When I randomly flip open the book for the first time is goes right to the photo of Stan and Princess Diana.

If you’re wondering from whence the title of this book derives, Stan explains it this way. “Uncross your legs – the call from the darkened rooms to get those privileged first-row power players to clear the sight lines. The first time I heard it was in the second year of the fashion shows. It came from one particular photographer, Richard Renda. Still, after a while, it became the clarion call from every photographer standing on their postage-sized stamp on the edge of the runway.”

That’s all well and good; however, the author also wants to take you on a little bit of a side journey – one in which his sexuality and life as a gay man are in the forefront, implying a secondary meaning to the phrase. A substantial portion of the book chronicles his one true love of 40 years, Gene Horowitz, a writer who passed away 30 years ago of a sudden heart attack (not of AIDS as so many of his other colleagues had), and his other love – Mo (short for Mozart) his Standard Poodle.

Herman and Horowitz were early purchasers of a compound with a lake in the Hamptons before the elite set in, which he still owns. Here, his ashes will be scattered to join his human and canine loves. The book also goes into more detail about previous amorous adventures during his WWII army service in Europe when it was all “underground – in many ways more intoxicating, forbidden fruit” (yes, way before “don’t ask, don’t tell” was a thing) and other dalliances along the way.

In a recent appearance at Rizzoli to promote the upcoming book, Herman mentions to interviewer Jeffrey Banks that he had written a book about 20 years ago that was not published. He alludes to the fact that it was not suggestive enough or didn’t have enough dirt – I hypothesize that he went a little overboard with some details to rectify this criticism. As far as spilling some tea – he gives Diane von Furstenberg a little dig about how she had him seated back by the toilets in the year after his reign at the CFDA awards, yet he quickly negates this by saying she called him as he was in the cab returning home to apologize.

On a personal note, I met Stan a few years ago at an FGI “Night of Stars” gala and instantly thought he was one of the nicer people in fashion. I regaled him with how I still wore a leopard collared and cuffed bathrobe purchased on QVC in the mid-’90s. “That thing will not die,” I told him. He laughed almost sheepishly. Both Stan and his designs have stood the test of time. Here’s to longevity!

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Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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