Boom or Bust, Wall Street Finds Designer Alan Flusser's Stock Is Secure
When movie costume designer Ellen Mirojnick needed a wardrobe that quietly bespoke power, elegance and arrogance for Wall Street—something just right for corporate raider Gordon Gekko as played by Michael Douglas—she went looking for Manhattan menswear maestro Alan Flusser. Not because Flusser had film experience (he dressed Brooke Shields in 1984’s forgettable Sahara), but because the Coty award-winning designer had made his reputation as the plutocrat of the power look, a master of impeccable tailoring. If greed is good, as Gekko proclaims, then owning a decent Flusser suit is better.
Flusser, however, found the offscreen Douglas less given to natty New Yorker gray flannel than to California casual. At their first meeting last March at Douglas’ New York apartment, Flusser says he arrived wearing “pretty much what I always do: double-breasted suit with cuffs on the jacket sleeves, wing-tip suede shoes and a horizontal-stripe shirt with a white collar.” Douglas was less formal in a white broadcloth shirt and dark pants.
Though they hardly shaped up as sartorial soulmates, Douglas proved a quick study. “He loved my shirt,” recalls Flusser, 42. Douglas was even more impressed with the designer’s white suspenders, imprinted with Sylvesters (as in the cat) and yellow Tweety Birds (as in the cat’s nemesis), and said he wanted a pair for his buddy Jack Nicholson. (Nicholson, however, will have to do without; the suspenders aren’t being made anymore.) For the next three weeks Douglas was a fixture in Flusser’s two-year-old midtown boutique, where the look is Old Money English, from the antique display cases filled with $350 cashmere sweaters to the art nouveau brass racks on which the $550 paisley smoking jackets are hung. In the end the bulk of Douglas’ $28,000 film wardrobe consisted of 11 suits ($975 to $1,500 each, made of English and Italian worsteds), 24 Swiss and English cotton shirts ($250 each) and assorted handmade silk ties, all of which now reside in the actor’s closet. Mirojnick says the money spent on Douglas—about 17 percent of the movie’s $165,000 wardrobe budget—was worth it: “Michael comes across as someone incredibly strong and awesome.”
To burnish that image, Flusser used some tricks of his trade to beef up Douglas’ 5’10”, 150-lb. frame. Wider cuffs and sharply pointed collars gave Douglas “more powerful proportions,” he says, and little shoulder pads were sewn into the star’s shirts. His power suspenders were both stylish and functional. “Douglas is very thin through the hips,” says Flusser. “If he hadn’t worn suspenders, I doubt his pants would’ve stayed up.”
With his glossy black hair parted high on the side, the shine of his manicured nails rivaling that of his gold ball-and-tee cuff links, Flusser is the epitome of unabashed nattiness. His late father, a New Jersey real estate man, had “wonderful taste,” says Flusser, and his mother, who owned a dress shop, also had a strong sense of style. “I was crazy about clothes,” he says. “I never wore dungarees or jeans. I always wanted to dress up.”
As a teenager in West Orange, N.J., Flusser demonstrated his gift of garb early on. He would tell older friends and relatives what to wear, and at 15, he accompanied his girlfriend’s millionaire father to a tailor to help him pick out fabrics for his suits. Two years later, while at the University of Pennsylvania, Flusser showed his entrepreneurial bent when he bought used motorcycles and rented them out to fellow students. The money financed a trip to London, where his first stop was a men’s shop near Savile Row to have two suits made for $350 each.
Flusser transferred to Temple University in 1964, graduated in 1968 in liberal arts and went to work designing shirts for Van Heusen and men’s sportswear for Pierre Cardin, before going into business for himself in 1979. His line, the Alan Flusser Collection, was being sold in such tony department stores as Saks, Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf Goodman. In 1985, tired of seeing customers improperly fitted in his off-the-rack suits, he stopped selling ready-to-wear and went into custom tailoring. For more modest tastes—and pocketbooks—he still produces a sportswear line for J.C. Penney, and he has nine licensees in Japan manufacturing such items as home furnishings (including sheets and towels) and eyeglasses. Last year his mini-empire pulled in $22 million.
Home in Manhattan for Flusser, his wife, Marilise, 43, a fashion consultant, and their two daughters, Morgan Skye, 7, and Kaitlin Piper, 4, is an eclectic 10-room Upper West Side apartment. On weekends they escape to their three-story log house in upstate New York. Although Marilise, whose tastes are as eccentric as her husband’s are classic, was raised as a Catholic, she has been a member of Nichiren Sho-shu, a Japanese Buddhist sect, for the past 15 years. Flusser, raised as a Jew, joined soon after, and one wall of their dining room has an altar where the two of them chant 90 minutes daily. “We were very liberal Jews, so my family was not surprised when I took it up,” he explains. “They said if it did me some good, then fine.” That it did. “Chanting calms me,” he says. “It helps me deal better with problems of everyday life. It’s a conditioning process where you hope to attain world peace through individual happiness.”
Another aspect of his faith is his belief that crash or no crash, there will always be Gordon Gekkos to clothe. Since the release of Wall Street tour weeks ago, customers have been clamoring for the polka-dot suspenders and horizontal-stripe shirts worn by Douglas. If the stock market has struggled, Flusser’s business has not; he plans to open a branch on Wall Street later this year. “In November of 1986 in this one store we did about $70,000,” he says. “Last November we did $195,000. For the year we’ll do maybe $2 million. It’s a life-style for these guys, and they aren’t going to change it.”