When I heard that East Boston fashion designer Alfred Fiandaca had passed away in February, I was at New York Fashion Week, notebook in hand, trying to keep up with the grind of multiple shows each day. I knew little about Fiandaca, aside from his designing for Ann Romney, and after hearing the news I immediately ran back to the Lincoln Center tents.
In keeping up with the new, I’m often guilty of not looking in the taffeta-covered rearview mirror as often as I should. So I operated under the assumption that Fiandaca was the man who designed solely for those moneyed women who lunched. The ladies of a bygone era who enjoyed an occasional cucumber sandwich and a round of bridge.
The more I learned, the more I realized Fiandaca is a Boston institution. On Saturday afternoon Fiandaca’s story will be on display at MassArt, where there will be a reception and retrospective of his work from 4 to 6 p.m. [In the interest of full disclosure, I teach a course at MassArt.]
A series of harried calls from Boston grande dame Doris Yaffe corrected all my misconceptions. Yaffe wrote me, called, and wrote me some more about how Fiandaca helped to define the city’s style as Boston’s most fashionable women flocked to his shop. At one time, Yaffe, now in her 80s, worked for Fiandaca.
“Oh, honey,” she told me. “All the most important women shopped there.”
In his day he was Boston fashion. A suave, handsome, immensely talented fashion powerhouse who made beautifully sculpted clothing that burst with color. His gowns, dresses, and coats of the 1950s and 1960s were marvels of engineering. They added curves where needed while discretely hiding others. As the decades progressed, he rebelled against the miniskirt with the midiskirt. He was one of the first designers to sell hot pants in the 1970s, and in the 1980s he embraced the luxe fabrics and subtly played with pattern (more polka dots, please). He did not need to be a shameless self-promoter; his clothes spoke for him.
When I did finally pore over his collections, I could see that he was a master with prints. His flattering, flirty silhouettes were the type that make women feel beautiful.
A conversation with Sondra Grace, chairwoman of the fashion design department at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, also helped set me straight. Having interviewed Grace for multiple stories over the years, I trust her taste and her eye for craftsmanship. In a casual conversation about Fiandaca, she began raving and didn’t stop.
“He was Boston’s biggest. Our foremost designer,” she told me.
I’m always one of the first to admit when I’m wrong, and in the case of Fiandaca, I was a muttonhead.
If you can’t make the MassArt retrospective, here’s some information that you should know. In addition to designing for Romney, he also created looks for political wives Joan Kennedy and Nancy Reagan.
Then there were the celebrity clients: Connie Francis, Lauren Bacall, Nancy Sinatra, Julie Andrews, Dionne Warwick, Shelley Winters, Joan Rivers, Stephanie Mills, Cher, Oprah Winfrey, and Susan Lucci. That’s right, people, I said Cher.
As the 1980s loomed, Fiandaca perfected the power suit. His luxurious designs also caught the eye of “Dynasty” costume designer Nolan Miller. Fiandaca was commissioned to create a dress for Joan Collins. The most expensive dress commissioned for television at the time, the frock cost $3,200 and appeared on the air for less than four minutes.
“Alfred Fiandaca: A Celebration” takes place Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. in the President’s Gallery of the Tower Building at MassArt, 621 Huntington Ave., 11th floor. For additional information call 617-879-7025.Christopher Muther can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.