Perry Ellis (fashion designer)

Perry Ellis (fashion designer)

Infobox Fashion Designer

name=Perry Ellis
birth_date=birth date|1940|3|3|mf=y
birth_place= Portsmouth, Virginia
death_date=death date and age|1986|5|30|1940|3|3|mf=y
death_place=New York, New York, U.S.
education=College of William and Mary
New York University
label_name=Perry Ellis
awards=1979 -1984 Coty Awards (eight)
1983 Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Fashion Award
2002 commemorative white bronze plaque|

Perry Ellis (March 3, 1940 – May 30, 1986) was an American fashion designer who founded a sportswear house in the mid-1970s.

The Rise of Perry Ellis

Perry Edwin Ellis was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, on March 3, 1940, as the only child of Edwin and Winifred Rountree Ellis. His father owned a Coal & Oil company which enabled the family to live a comfortable middle-class life. Perry graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1957. Perry then studied at the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia, and graduated with a degree in business administration in 1961. He enlisted in the United States Coast Guard reserve to avoid the military draft and after six months he enrolled at New York University, from which he graduated with a master's degree in retailing in 1963.

He then started out in department store retailing in the Richmond, Virginia area to gain experience in the fashion industry as a buyer and merchandiser at the department store Miller & Rhoads. While there, he was co-founder of a Richmond retail shop "A Sunny Day". He later joined the sportswear company John Meyer in New York. In the mid-1970s, eventually, he was approached by his then employer, The Vera Companies, famous for their polyester double-knit pantsuits, to design a fashion collection for them. Soon after that, Ellis presented his first women's sportswear line, called Portfolio, in November 1976. Although he could not sketch, he knew exactly how the industry worked and proved a master of innovative ideas who created 'new classics' that American women longed for at the time.

Praised by critics as the ideal American sportswear designer of the time and loved by female consumers for his clean-cut yet casual style, Ellis, together with The Vera Companies' parent company, founded his own fashion house, Perry Ellis International, in 1978. He opened his showroom on New York's fashionable Seventh Avenue. As the company's chairman and head designer he later developed Perry Ellis Menswear Collection — widely successful, and marked by "non-traditional, modern classics". Step by step, he added shoes, accessories, furs and perfume that all bore his name. It became his trademark to skip down the runway at the end of his fashion shows.

Throughout the 1980s the company continued to expand and include various labels such as Perry Ellis Collection and Perry Ellis Portfolio. By 1982, the company had more than 75 staff. In 1984, Perry Ellis America was created in cooperation with Levi Strauss. In 1985, he revived his lesser-priced Portfolio line. In the early 1980s, wholesale revenues had figured at about $60 million. By 1986 that number had risen to about $250 million.

Perry Ellis died in May 1986.

Private Life

In November 1984, Barbara Gallagher, a Hollywood screenwriter and long-time Ellis friend, gave birth to Ellis' daughter Tyler Alexandra Gallagher Ellis. Mother and daughter used to live in a house in Brentwood, California, that Ellis had bought. These days, the two live in Pacific Palisades and New York.

Perry Ellis fell seriously ill during the mid-1980s. Initially, it was not said what he was suffering from although he had been treated for hepatitis in a previous year. At the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) annual awards ceremony in January 1986 he had to be accompanied to the podium by an aide to receive his award. On May 8 of that year, Ellis was not able to perform his traditional skip down the runway anymore and, looking shockingly gaunt and frail, had to be supported by two of his employees when he briefly appeared at the end of the runway. It was to be his last fashion show and he received standing ovations for it. Immediately after the show, he was admitted to New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center where he fell into a coma and died two weeks later of viral encephalitis, an AIDS-related disease, on May 30, 1986. A memorial was held at the New York Ethical Culture Society on June 12. Perry Ellis was dead at 46 and one of the first prominent American figures to succumb to AIDS.

Ellis' long-time partner Laughlin Barker since 1980, an attorney, became president and legal counsel for Perry Ellis International in 1981. Barker's health deteriorated seriously in the early 1980s and when he died on January 2, 1986, aged 37, it was said in a whisper that he had suffered from HIV and AIDS although officially only lung cancer was mentioned. "It's been a difficult time for me", said Ellis of Barker's death in 1986: "Laughlin was an extraordinary man, and I loved him. We worked together 24 hours a day, and he brought genius and humor to this business. We were together five years, and there was never an argument or a disagreement."

In 1987, the designer's restored town house at 37 West 70th Street in New York City was sold for $5.7 million - an incredibly high price at that time.


*Perry Ellis won eight Coty Awards between 1979 and 1984, the last year that they were given.
*He was presented with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Fashion Award in 1983.
*Perry Ellis also served as president of the CFDA.
*In 1986, the annual "Perry Ellis Award" - these days known as "Swarovski's Perry Ellis Award for Ready-to-Wear and Accessories" - was created to honor emerging talents in the world of men's and women's fashion designers. The first designer to receive it in 1986 was David Cameron, the more recently Zac Posen in 2004, Trovata in 2006, and Derek Lam in 2005.
*Also in 1986, during the CFDA awards at New York's Lincoln Center a Special Tribute was awarded to Perry Ellis who died that year.
*In 2002, Ellis was honored with a commemorative white bronze plaque embedded into the sidewalk on New York's Seventh "Fashion" Avenue (east side sidewalk between 41st Street to 35th Street), the so-called "Fashion Walk of Fame".


* [ Announcement of Perry Ellis' death in the New York Times - May 31, 1986]
* [ 2001 W magazine article on Tyler Alexandra Gallagher Ellis, Perry Ellis' own daughter]
* [ Perry Ellis Fashion shoot at his high school, Woodrow Wilson]

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