Arnold Scaasi, the Canadian-born designer whose custom gowns graced celebrities such as Barbra Streisand and Elizabeth Taylor as well as a number of American first ladies, has died, according to friends and associates. He was 85.
Scaasi was surrounded by family and friends when he died from cardiac arrest early Tuesday at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, according to his close friend Michael Selleck.
His prolific designs were celebrated in a 2011 exhibition at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts entitled, "Scaasi: American Couturier."
The exhibit grew out of the museum's acquisition of his archive and more than 100 custom designs for some of the 20th century's "most celebrated artists and most fashionable socialites, including Broadway, TV, and movie stars, such as Arlene Francis, Mitzi Gaynor, Barbra Streisand, Diahann Carroll, Mary Tyler Moore, and Elizabeth Taylor; Palm Beach and New York socialites including Mary Sanford, Ivana Trump, Joetta Norban, Gayfryd Steinberg, and Edna Morris; and first ladies Mamie Eisenhower and Barbara and Laura Bush," according to the museum.
One of his most talked about designs was a black sequined pantsuit Barbra Streisand wore to collect her 1969 Academy Award for Funny Girl.
His work was also featured at the Museum of Lifestyle & Fashion History in Florida.
"The Arnold Scaasi designs definitely made a statement with high quality fabric and bold colors, and some of them incorporated geometric shape and ornamentation," the museum's executive director and chief curator, Lori Durante, said. "He had memorable personality ... a lot of spirit in his personality."
When Scaasi went into business in New York in the mid-1950s, he was one of few designers concentrating on custom-made clothing rather than ready-to-wear, according to the Boston museum. He launched his first ready-to-wear line in 1956.
Before Scaasi was 30, he had won the Coty American Fashion Critics Award for best designer of the year, and his designs graced the covers of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, according to the Boston Museum.
Scaasi has said that he preferred working directly with custom clientele on "luxurious and dramatic garments that suited their lifestyles," according to the museum.
"Mr. Scaasi was a character. He was a wonderful man and designer -- certain days I wanted to strangle him," said Glendina West, who said she worked for the designer for 40 years -- starting out housekeeper and eventually becoming his confidant. "He was temperamental, strong willed and always had to get the last say. And he was a wonderful boss."
The designer was married to his longtime partner, Parker Ladd, a former publishing executive who is 86, according to friends.
Scaasi published several books including a 2004 memoir titled "Women I Have Dressed (And Undressed)."
Born in Montreal as Arnold Martin Isaacs, Scaasi later changed his name.
West said a private funeral service is being planned for later this week, and a memorial service after Labor Day.