Styles come and styles go, but Stan Herman has been in fashion for decades.
Just last month, Mr. Herman, 95, the king of cozy couture, was moving the merch — velour loungewear — on QVC, where his creations have been a durable staple for 30 years, and where has he sold close to 900,000 units since 2017.
“They buy more each season. I’ve retained my viability, which is not so easy,” said Mr. Herman, who has a particular affinity for chenille. “It’s my secret weapon.”
When he’s not outfitting people for repose, Mr. Herman is dressing them for work. In 1975, after a successful run with a line of stylish, affordable women’s clothing under the label Mr. Mort, he began designing uniforms for hotels, casinos and businesses of all stripes, among them Avis, Amtrak, McDonald’s and United Airlines. More recent clients include JetBlue, FedEx, Sandals Resorts and New York’s Central Park Conservancy.
For the record, Mr. Herman’s own uniform leans toward cashmere and turtlenecks — generally in the earth tones that comport with his astrological sign, Virgo. If you meet him, plan on talking horoscopes. And plan on being charmed, wherever you fall on the zodiac.
Now Mr. Herman, a former president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, has chronicled his adventures in apparel (and out) in a memoir, “Uncross Your Legs: A Life in Fashion,” out this month.
He still has a work space in Manhattan, overlooking Bryant Park, and a house in the Hamptons where he waited out the pandemic. But his home base for more than half a century has been a rented duplex with high ceilings, two terraces and multiple closets in an Art Deco building in Murray Hill.
“I started here as one of the young whippersnappers, and now I’m the elder statesman,” Mr. Herman said. “Everybody points to me and says to their kids, ‘Do you know how old that man is?’”
That old man showed his form early: As a 9-year-old in Passaic, N.J., he was selling Vogue and Butterick sewing patterns at one of his father’s fabric stores. After college in Cincinnati and military service, Mr. Herman moved to New York and met the man who would become his life partner, Gene Horowitz, a teacher and writer. The two settled for a time in Greenwich Village, first in a raffish fifth-floor walk-up on West Fourth Street and then in less bohemian quarters on West 12th Street. “We had a beautiful view of the Hudson River and of the ships bound for Bermuda,” Mr. Herman recalled.
Still, with the success of the Mr. Mort label, he wanted to live closer to the fashion district.
Stan Herman, 95
Occupation: Fashion designer
Step up: “I’ve spent my life looking for stairs. That’s why I’m still walking well.”
As it happened, a close friend and fellow designer, Chester Weinberg, was also looking for a new apartment.
“Somebody told him about this place in Murray Hill. Chester had to go out of town, and he asked me to go see it and give him my feelings about it,” Mr. Herman said. “And the second I walked in, I said, ‘This isn’t for Chester; it’s for me.’ I knew I could make it a home for myself. It was like having a little house in the middle of Manhattan.”
Mr. Weinberg, he continued, “would have painted it black, which was what everybody was doing at the time to imitate Calvin Klein and his black apartment. And that’s not what this apartment should be.”
Mr. Herman claimed the space, painted it white and filled it with furniture from Roche Bobois, a choice he came to regret because once people sat down, they couldn’t get up: “I lost four friends in the cracks.”
He updated the kitchen a mite and preserved the bathrooms’ original gray tiles and burgundy sinks and tubs. For the record, he also preserved his friendship with Mr. Weinberg, who was sadly an early casualty of AIDS.
Life in the duplex was idyllic. In the evening, Mr. Horowitz would read aloud. Opera music — Mr. Herman is a perfervid fan and creditable singer — poured out of the stereo. And the woman who lived in the maid’s apartment next door became a surrogate mother to the two men. “We let her use our kitchen, and she would make breakfast every morning and sing Schubert Lieder,” Mr. Herman said. “It made me feel so comfortable.”
Mr. Horowitz died of a heart attack in early 1991. Some months later, Mr. Herman was a guest at a birthday party for the playwright and screenwriter Arthur Laurents in Quogue, N.Y.
“Arthur was all in white, and I looked at him with my Virgo laser eyes and I thought, ‘God, those pants are old, and he’s washed them a lot.’ And the shirt had stains on it,” Mr. Herman said. “And I thought to myself, he’s one of those guys who’s getting older and is thinking, ‘Oh, I don’t need to buy a new shirt.’ And I didn’t want to be like that. When I went back home, it was Gene all over the apartment, and I thought, ‘I need to change it.’”
Within a month, Mr. Herman had hired a decorator. He held on to the most cherished of Mr. Horowitz’s possessions, but otherwise sought to make the apartment a reflection of its occupant, now a single man.
It started with the custom-made chocolate-brown sofa upholstered in chenille (of course). ABC Carpet & Home was the source of most of the furnishings, including a cabinet with a chinois cast and, in the dining alcove, a round yellow table patterned with green diamonds and ringed by metal chairs.
Before the pandemic, a rubber tree that Mr. Herman, a plant lover, had tended for half a century canopied the table and chairs. “It was wonderful giving dinner parties because you felt you were in the country,” he said. “But during Covid, I wasn’t there for a week or two, and the tree died on me. And it’s the only thing I’ve lost in the apartment other than my partner.”
Not long ago, he walked into his apartment and decided that it looked like a museum. Everywhere he turned, there was “stuff” — paintings on the walls; an oversized tennis racket (Mr. Herman plays doubles twice a week); posters from the Metropolitan Opera; handmade birthday cards from Mr. Herman’s friend, the artist and illustrator James McMullan; and watercolors and sketches by Mr. Herman himself.
The top of the piano was covered with photos: photos of Mr. Herman’s family, photos of Mr. Herman with Princess Diana, Lauren Hutton, Demi Moore, Elizabeth Taylor, Anna Wintour. And a dozen or so green porcelain parrots, gifts from the designer Oleg Cassini, perched on the fireplace mantel.
“But it’s not bad that it looks like a museum,” Mr. Herman said. “It’s good. Everything here reminds me of stuff that happened in my life.”
Stuff is still happening. He’s designing collections for QVC into 2025. He’s a member of the Garment District Alliance and on the board of Bryant Park Corporation. And he still has occasion to wear the tuxedo that Donna Karan insisted on making for him when he became president of the Council of Fashion Designers in 1991. It fits wonderfully, he said, making a gesture that seems to be the fashionista’s version of a chef’s kiss.
“My father was very upset with me when he found out I was gay,” Mr. Herman said. “He sat me down and said, ‘The reason I’m so upset is what’s going to happen when you’re old and you have nobody? You won’t have children. You won’t have grandchildren. You’re asking for real trouble.’”
Mr. Herman went briefly silent. “I wish he were here today,” he said, “to see that as an old man I have a home, a house, friends and family.”
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