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Perry Ellis

Fashion designer Perry Ellis was born in Portsmouth Virginia, in 1940. Ellis attended The College of William and Mary and after earning his Degree in Business Administration in 1961, after taking 6 months off, he enrolled at New York University and graduated with a Masters Degree in Retailing in 1963.

After graduating from New York University, Ellis worked as a buyer and merchandiser for Miller Rhodes department store in Richmond, Virginia. Afterwards, Ellis went to work in New York for a Connecticut based women's sportswear company named John Meyer.

Meyer sold his company when he learned that he had cancer so Ellis went to work for the Vera Companies, which was known for it's polyester double knit pantsuits. Ellis was asked to design a collection of sportswear for women and although it was his first line of sportswear, he approached the task with creativity and innovation. The collection, called Portfolio, was well received by fashion critics and enjoyed some success.

In 1978, with the backing of the Vera Companies' parent company, Ellis formed his own label called Perry Ellis International in New York City. He developed and launched the Perry Ellis Menswear Collection which became very successful. Afterwards, the Perry Ellis name was added to collections of shoes, hats, furs, perfumes, leatherwear, and accessories.

Ellis was praised for his clean cut, casual designs that were loved by the critics and the buying public, especially women who saw his designs as sexy, but not sophisticated.

The first half of the 1980s proved to be great for Perry Ellis as he expanded his business to include labels such as the Perry Ellis Portfolio, the Perry Ellis Collection, and Perry Ellis America, which was launched in partnership with Levi Strauss.

In 1983, Ellis was presented with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Fashion Award and also served as it's president.

By 1986, wholesale profits were soaring to the tune of $250 million and Perry Ellis was on top of the fashion world, but in a turn of events, Ellis became ill and died that year.

  • To honor Perry Ellis for his contributions to fashion design, The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) created an annual award for New Talent in the Field of Fashion Design and named it the Perry Ellis Award for Ready to Wear Fashions and Accessories.

Ellis left his company to his daughter, Tyler Alexandra, and her mother Barbara Gallagher. Ellis and Gallagher, a screenwriter and producer, had been friends for a number of years and had mutually decided to have a baby. When Perry Ellis died, Tyler was just 18 months old.

Before his death, Ellis had asked a longtime friend, Robert McDonald, to serve as executor and trustee of his estate and to take over as president of Perry Ellis International. With no background in the fashion industry, McDonald took control and kept the company running.

Two of Ellis' assistants, Marc Jacobs, who at that time was a young, up and coming designer in his own right, was chosen to head the womenswear department, and Roger Forsythe was chosen to run the meanswear department.

In 1988, McDonald hired Claudia Thomas, another longtime friend of Perry Ellis, and groomed her to take over the company. McDonald died in March 1990 and Thomas became president. Forsythe died in 1991.

Jacobs earned a certain amount of praise from the industry for his extreme fashion, in particular a notorious 'grunge' collection, yet, Thomas decided in 1993 to discontinue manufacturing the womenswear line. Perry Ellis, in effect, resigned itself to designing and licensing, and turned away from the risks of manufacturing and distribution.

Thomas left Perry Ellis when her contract expired in 1994 and was replaced by Max J. Garelick, who had been the chief executive officer of a North American subsidiary of Rodier Paris. Under Garelick's direction, Perry Ellis did fairly well. The company expanded into licensing such areas as watches, luggage, and home fashions.

By 1998, the Perry Ellis brands was generating close to $900 million a year in retail sales, but Salant, holders of one of its most important licenses, was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

In January 1999, Perry Ellis was sold to Supreme International, a company owned by George and Oscar Feldenkreis. They paid $75 million for Perry Ellis in an all cash transaction. At the time of the purchase, Supreme International has a growing clothing business that owned the brand name "Natural Issue," which made clothing out of environmentally friendly materials. The Feldenkres family wanted to manufacture their own fashion goods.

Supreme International changed decided to change its name to Perry Ellis International, which would handle the licensing and marketing for all of the corporation's other labels.

The Feldenkreis brothers then set out to regain the popularity of the Perry Ellis name, which had declined since the year of his death. In 2000, they launched an outdoor advertising campaign that featured images of simi-nude models and garnered a lot of free publicity when the outdoor company decided that the ads were not appropriate for posting in Times Square.

The intentions of the Feldenkreis brothers is to build Perry Ellis International into a mega-business by aggressively purchasing other brand names and putting them under the Perry Ellis banner.

In 2002, the city of New York decided to honor American fashion designers by embedding bronze plaques along the pavement of 7th Avenue, the great street of fashion in New York, called the "FASHION WALK OF FAME." Perry Ellis was one of the first to be honored with a plaque.

In April of 2003, it was announced that Patrick Robinson would take over as Creative Director of Perry Ellis Womenswear. Robinson had worked for Giorgio Armani and Ann Klein. Perry Ellis also launched a men's fragrance in 2003 called Perry Man.

Today, Perry Ellis continues to be one of the leading American fashion labels and it's fashion designs are still in demand. Among the many Perry Ellis collections are dresses, evening gowns, coats and jackets, leatherwear, perfumes and body oils, shoes, sportswear, bras, bikinis, dresses, men's suits, slacks, belts, hats, underwear, umbrellas, sunglasses, gloves, and other accessories.

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