Elie Tahari enjoys being a man of many questions: Every day, the designer says, thoughts stream through his mind as he surveys the hundreds of pieces—ranging from sleekly structured dresses to peplum-adorned tops, leather jackets, or easy knits in an array of lush colors—that comprise his men’s and women’s collections. “For the woman who wears my clothes,” he says, “I ask myself: Where is she going? Is she the best-looking woman in the room? Is she showing off? Is the shape good on her? Does it look new and cool and fresh? Is it going to fit well?
And that’s just the start. To feel good about what you’re doing, you have to always be having these conversations with yourself.” Those internal queries extend beyond the 12 collections of men’s and women’s ready-to-wear and accessories he produces yearly. Lately Tahari is applying similar thoughts to the design of his stand-alone stores, starting with his Forum Shops boutique, which opened in 2004 as his second US flagship store. “When we first started, we were so focused on being modern and hip and cool,” he says. “That’s all wonderful, but now it feels like something is missing—that the environment, like the clothes, should feel very luxurious. It has to be about servicing the customer, that they feel inspired and are made to feel good. For me it’s not just about selling, but about putting another drop of good energy in the world.”
Tahari likes to pepper his conversation with mentions of positive energy and the reciprocal, karmic value one garners from such a resolute attitude. Indeed, one could make an easy association between the tenets he applies to his work and life and how those thoughts find their way into his designs, which always hit the right notes of classic sensibilities, sublime tailoring, and just the right touch of luxe details, an aesthetic that has garnered him a fan base that includes Katie Couric and Kelly Ripa. For his just-arrived Resort 2013 collection, Tahari describes his women’s looks as “happy clothes,” most easily seen in a duo of palettes—rosy tones of reds, pinks, and corals, and then an ocean-inspired grouping of blues and turquoises—used to add a splash of joyous color against the neutrals that form the base of the collection. Meanwhile, Tahari lately has been putting a greater emphasis on his men’s collection, and for Resort 2013 the increased attention shows in the easy, sophisticated elegance seen in the buttersoft knits and button-down shirts in a luxe color palette of navy and teals, on through to some exquisitely cut—and Vegas-friendly—leather jackets.
His focus on the men’s collection is another reason Tahari is rethinking his store design and considering a Las Vegas visit for early next year. “I’d like it to be bigger, because we have so much more to say than when we first opened that store,” he says. “The men’s collection will be given a bit more importance, and I want the accessories to feel like they have a proper home as well.”
Tahari enters 2013 with a major milestone to celebrate— it’s the 40th year since he founded his label—and yet you get the undeniable sense that he never wants to stop learning. Case in point: You can catch Tahari on the December 27 episode of Project Runway: All Stars as a guest judge for the Lifetime reality show that bestows a hefty prize package at each season finale to a budding fashion designer. Tahari was one of the first designers on the program to venture into the workroom and directly mentor the fledgling designers through their projects. When I asked him why it was important for him to make that part of the experience, his answer was, “I’ve always thought the best form of teaching is when you walk away having learned something yourself. And the more you give, the more you receive.”