Jerry Springer, Harold Ford Jr. and the Designer Who Dressed Bryant Gumbel

The roster of media mavens, moguls and bold face names spotted today at Michael's.

lunch at michaelsWe missed Sigourney Weaver by a day. Oh well. As much as we felt like heading to the beach today, the siren’s call of Michael’s beckoned, so we made our way to 55th and Fifth for our weekly Wednesday lunch. The scene was bustling with a smattering of famous faces (Jerry Springer and Harold Ford Jr.) among the media mavens and everything was decidedly more upbeat than it’s been all winter. It turns out spring may actually happen after all.

Diane Clehane and Joseph Abboud
Diane Clehane and Joseph Abboud
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I was joined today by legendary menswear designer Joseph Abboud, who I first met several years ago when I was a fledgling reporter at People. I had been given, as my first assignment, the then-impossible task of landing an interview with Bryant Gumbel, who was not exactly feeling warm and fuzzy towards reporters at the time. After not having much success getting Bryant on the phone, I turned to calling his friends, Joseph among them. I had pretty much resigned myself to having to turn in a write-around when Joseph came to the rescue. After our chat, he told me he’d suggest that Bryant talk to me. And voilà ! I got the story.

When our mutual friend Judy Twersky suggested we all get together for lunch, I jumped at the chance, since it’s been years since I’ve seen Joseph. He arrived at the stroke of noon, looking as dapper as ever in a suit of his own design (gorgeous grey Italian cashmere) and it was as if we’d just spoken last week. “Italians do everything beautifully,” he said when I complimented him. “Their country is beautiful, the people are beautiful, the food is a amazing, but God wanted to prove they’re not divine, so they can’t sew on a button,” he told me with a laugh. “With our Italian partners we had a big problem with the buttons.” I knew we’d have plenty to talk about.

Joseph has always been incredibly warm and approachable — not exactly the qualities you find in abundance in the fashion business. A true gentleman, he’s a great supporter of fashion and the industry has returned the favor in kind. He was the first to be named Menswear Designer of the Year for two consecutive years by the Council of Fashion Designers (CFDA). On March 27, he’ll unveil his new flagship store on Madison Avenue, which will feature the Joseph Abboud Collection, as well as custom clothing in Zegna and Loro Piana fabrics, which will be made in his own factory in New Bedford, Massachusetts. “It’s an American Savile Row,” he told me. “This one of the most exciting times ever to be in the fashion industry.” It certainly is for Joseph. Having had his brand go through several incarnations (“In our world, survival is success”), he is now happily part of Men’s Wearhouse and couldn’t be happier. “A public company with a strategic vision for the future is the best place for a brand instead of with investment bankers who use you as a stock to trade.”

I was fascinated to learn that the menswear business is experiencing something of a renaissance, thanks to twentysomethings whose fathers have embraced the ‘Casual Friday’ ethos and constantly underdress. “These guys are dressing up not because they need to, but because they want to.” With his decades in the business, Joseph says, “It’s about credibility and young thinking, but not about being young. The 25-year-old and the 55-year-old both need to know the same things about fashion.” When it comes to tapping into what the younger customers want, he laughingly told me that his two twentysomething daughters and their boyfriends provide an in-house focus group for any and all things related to millennials. “I get instant feedback. They’re plugged into everything!”