From my first job at Vogue where I barely designed, (think Devil Wears Prada, I’m Anne Hathaway’s character getting coats thrown at me) to Henri Bendel’s AD where my timing wasn’t so great and I was easily hired away to relaunch a counter-culture magazine, Rags, (that didn’t float), to my ongoing efforts to relaunch my acting career, I set up in 1978 in NYC’s wholesale flower market as a graphic design studio. It was a small patch of real estate in a cojoined loft building. Fabric designers worked up front and a photography studio that played non-stop Donna Summers was in the back. I found a room-sized space just off the elevators. It was in that space that I designed my first Perry Ellis pieces.
Phillip Matthews and my friend David Lewis had launched a decorative pillow business, the showroom for which was also in the front loft. Before staking out the elevator space, I shared a corner in the big loft with Phillip and David, and used their phone for the few calls I made or got. Home furnishings market week was approaching and they had no graphics–no sell sheets, nor hangtags, no press release. I asked Phillip if I could help; he said his friend in PR, Rea Lubar was going to provide that. Fast forward to too late, and I opted in. I shot some Polaroids and statted them up across the street, used typewriter type, statted it down and threw it all together.
The next week Rea came in to see the line. Phillip introduced us. She was impressed with the copy I’d written and asked if I wanted to write for her company. I said, ” Well, I’m a graphic designer.”
“Eh,” in that Elmer Fudd voice that Rea could emit, “graphic designers, they’re a dime a dozen.” Phillip quipped, “Not this one, you should see her book.” Rea took the time right then.
“You know I’m working for this designer, Perry Ellis, heard of him? well, he’s up for a Coty and he needs an invitation to his new show. Can you do it? His line’s all pink and white, you make it pink and white and it will fly. It’s 500 bucks and don’t ask for a penny more. I want you to go see him tomorrow.”
I’d already illustrated Robert Renn’s book on haircoloring–another Dead Designer–and I had early Donghia Showroom pieces in the book, plus the Vogue and Bendel’s work. I might have even had my Gilda Radner cover for the short-lived Rags. I showed him and Jed and Patricia the book in a sunny corner of the Vera offices. Vera was a Manhattan Industries line and they were about to launch Perry’s own collection; that’s what they needed the invite for. He closed the book, looked up said well, “I think you can do it. I’m nominated for a Coty tonight and I’m having a win or lose party at Cafe Un Deux Trois, would you like to come?” He handed me an invitation.
That was the start of a very long relationship. He didn’t win the Coty that night for the Portfolio line, but he won me. I walked over–having only just met him—Carey Donovan and people all around. He extended his arms and said, “Martha, It’s so good you could make it.” And he hugged me. We’d both make it; it was a winning combination.