When Arnold Scaasi opened his couture salon in 1964, he soon became a couturier to the stars. He was already a favoured designer for Barbra Streisand when he famously dressed her for the 1969 Oscars. Streisand was up for Best Actress for her movie debut in Funny Girl and was established as something of an ‘individual’; usually described as ‘kooky’, she was completely different from anyone else, an innovator of style, and challenging and changing the ideas of beauty. So it is no surprise that when it came to her clothing choice for the Oscars, Streisand resisted the usual protocol of an evening gown and instead opted for a most extraordinary Scaasi-designed pant suit. Made from black, sheer, sequined net fabric, the over-blouse had a white peter-pan collar with black pussy bow and over-sized white cuffs, while in Scaasi’s own words, the ‘bell-bottomed trousers were exaggerated and had many godets flaring out widely from the knee down, almost giving the appearance of a trumpet-shape evening skirt when she stood still.’ What neither designer nor star realised was that under the glare of the theatrical lights combined with photographer’s flashes, Streisand appeared to be naked under the black netting. As Barbra climbed the stairs to the stage to collect her award from Ingrid Bergman, gasps from the audience were not a result of her tripping over her bell-bottoms, but from what appeared to be the Streisand derriere on full view. She was not, of course, actually just wearing sequined netting; the outfit had a flesh-coloured georgette lining with additional patches and strips of black fabric covering her breasts and between the buttocks. Still, it did look like you could see her tukus and Bergman is seen to be having a good stare at it as they both leave the stage.
Scaasi continued to provide Streisand with many striking outfits over the next few years. When Babs returned to present the Best Actor Academy Award the following year, she was again dressed by Scaasi, this time in a pale pink rhinestone studded gown and matching pill box hat. A Canadian and son of a furrier, coincidentally (or perhaps not?) Scaasi created another Streisand outfit – a white fur ensemble – that she wore during a trip to Canada when she was dating the Prime Minster Pierre Trudeau.
But, apart from the Oscar pant-suit, the most famous and perhaps important Scaasi-Streisand costumes were for her third film On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970). In the movie Barbra plays two roles – Daisy Gamble and her past-self Melinda Tentrees. Melinda was exquisitely outfitted by the lush and extravagant costumes of Cecil Beaton, while Daisy’s contemporary clothes were left to Scaasi. He took the role very seriously, creating a series of meticulous get-ups that at once painted Daisy as individual and incredibly fashionable. Their exactness actually jars slightly with the dippy, kooky, scattered character of Daisy Gamble, but it doesn’t matter at all. Daisy’s clothes are so beautiful, so outlandish yet controlled and Barbra is so delightful in the role that you can forgive this odd film anything.
Amongst the many delights, Daisy wears a floral-print mini-shift dress with a white collarless, three-quarter length coat with a matching lining. An absolute joy. In the scene where Daisy and her conscience sing ‘Go To Sleep’, Daisy is wearing a babydoll nightdress that matches her bed linen. Her conscience wears a dress that matches the chair, curtains, wallpaper and screen in the bedroom. All are dense florals, Daisy in a pale yellows and pinks, the conscience in a pattern predominantly of muddy greens. Talk about hello gorgeous.
A rather infamous Scaasi outfit was actually cut from Clear Day. Often referred to as the Futuristic’ outfit, and alternatively known as the ‘Yellow Zebra’ costume, this crazy get-up wasn’t actually intended for a deleted scene set in the future as is often assumed; it was trimmed from the number ‘Come Back To Me’ where she wore it for a few lines that were cut from the final number.
Scaasi’s creations were a cornucopia of patterns, fabrics and effect. He played fast and loose with the main camp couture food groups of fur, sequins and feathers. He dressed 80s Elizabeth Taylor in some incredible gowns and draped First Lady Barbara Bush in so much velvet and satin that her dresses appeared as if they would stay standing were she to step out of them. Over the years there were many museum retrospectives of his work, with his colourful, often over-stated creations receiving the attention and acclaim they so rightly deserved. His couture has gained a resurgence of popularity as part of the vintage movement of this century and still grace the screen occasionally; Anna Sofia-Robb wore vintage Scaasi in The Carrie Diaries, the prequel series of Sex and The City where she played the teen Carrie Bradshaw. In a world of important and exciting designers, Scaasi stood out as an imaginative, fun and daring visionary whose work could be severely controlled or excessively extravagant. He died of cardiac arrest in New York on 3rd August 2015.
By Corinna Tomrley
Corinna Tomrley is a doctor of pop culture, an ex-academic of film, media and gender studies, and a writer, filmmaker and an artist who lives in London. She writes for many publications including Civilian, Loverboy, Mermania and Stargayzing. Her latest work is the multi-media project For The Love of Judy. She is 87% glitter.
© 2015, Lord Christopher Laverty.