Elie Tahari has done well for himself. He presides over a sprawling West 42nd Street office filled with midcentury furniture, impressive photographs by Nan Goldin, David LaChapelle and Herb Ritts, and bowls of green apples and almonds. He also owns one of Manhattan’s architectural landmarks, Gordon Bunshaft’s linear glass building at 510 Fifth Avenue, which houses his design studio and a Chase Manhattan Bank, his tenant. In three years’ time, he expects his firm’s annual revenue to exceed $1 billion—growth that will be fueled by a recent global push, starting in London, Istanbul, Seoul and Moscow.
In other words, Elie Tahari is a massive success. So much so that even in this glum economy, the company’s sales are reportedly up 20 percent. Yet despite the robust health of his business, and a bit to his chagrin, Tahari is not typically among the designers who cause fits of editorial excitement. (Last year, at his fall 2007 presentation, he lamented to The New York Times the lack of attention lavished on him by high-end fashion magazines. “I guess I’m not important enough,” he said.) But he hasn’t been entirely overlooked. In fact, preinterview, Tahari’s publicist sent over a folder full of clippings from Time, Women’s Wear Daily, Haute Living and Interior Design, almost all of which touch on his rags-to-riches tale, from Israeli orphan to Seventh Avenue sensation. Then there’s his failed bid to buy Barneys New York for $400 million in 2004 and, prior to that, the much ballyhooed history with Theory: Tahari cofounded the label in 1997 with Andrew Rosen, sold his stake in 2003, and later tried to sue the great-fitting pants off Rosen when he took Theory public, thus making a fortune on the heels of Tahari’s withdrawal. Tahari lost the case.
Those stories have been widely chronicled. But, perched in his plush, professionally feng shui–ed office, Tahari, with his back to the windows—very un-shui—makes it clear that he’s not interested in another by-his-bootstraps story. “You know what everybody wrote about,” he says. “We should do something nobody wrote about.” Which is? “About the collection itself,” he answers. “People don’t realize how much I love and am involved in getting the collection out. It’s doing very well, and it’s not by accident. It’s by design.”
There’s no question Tahari engineers a lineup composed of the type of clothes that are a retailer’s dream—meaning they sell, sell, sell. “We love Elie,” notes Michael Fink, vice president and women’s fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue, which has long carried Tahari’s collection and last year opened a 5,000-square-foot shop-in-shop in Beverly Hills. “There are lots of reasons why. He’s always right on fashion trend, which is important for our customer because she sees it on the runway and she wants to be part of whatever mood that is.”