Our Crowd

Perry On Top

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Lisa Perry has turned her passion for all things sixties and pop into a mini-fashion empire

Story by Nandini D’Souza Wolfe

Photographed by Carlos Ruiz

Styled by Rory McDonough

Weirdly, it’s the Duane Reade candy you notice first. In every room of Lisa Perry’s Sutton Place penthouse, which is filled with a Pop and Modern art collection worthy of a gallery, there’s a bowl of color-coordinated M&Ms or jellybeans. In the all-white living room, white candies sit atop two Yves Klein Lucite coffee tables. In the black lacquer and red-couched library, red and black jellybeans are separated into square and circle bowls. Yellow sweets fill a question mark-shaped dish in the kitchen that is completely outfitted with Andy Warhol plates, mugs and platters.

It’s a charming detail that reflects Perry’s Mid-Western roots, sense of humor and desire to put people at ease. You can take the girl out of Illinois, but why would you want to take that awfully nice, welcoming streak out of her? Perry, a perky, petite brunette, strikes this folksy-meets-fancy balance across her life, from her manner to her home to her eponymous fashion line, all of which are synonymous with a ’60s-loving Pop minimalist sensibility. It’s a talent that will serve her well as her profile in the fashion industry rises and the press focuses on her — she was just accepted into the CFDA; she recently launched an e-commerce site for the Lisa Perry collection; she just opened her flagship boutique on Madison, and her husband — Richard Perry, founder of the hedge fund Perry Capital — is the proud new owner Barneys.

The Perrys live in a U-shaped pre-war penthouse overlooking the East River, but she gets around in a minivan. Souped-up, perhaps, but still a minivan. The apartment was once owned by CZ Guest, who posed with a gaggle of her society girlfriends — including Jacqueline Bouvier — for a 1950s cover of Life magazine in front of an ornate fireplace in the heavily wood-paneled living room. When the Perrys bought the apartment in 2011, they stripped it of the dark wood, raised the windows to let more light in and replaced the fireplace with a mammoth Lichtenstein (Perry’s favorite). Like any couple with a new place, they set about making it feel like home. The Perrys just happen to love and feel at home with Pop art…American, French, Italian, all of it. Perry keeps a copy of Life with Guest in the library and reverently brings it out to show guests the before and after, with a sincere appreciation of the space’s history no matter how drastically she may have changed it.

“For me, it’s all about walking into an environment and making people smile,” she says. “And, you know, being happy. I think this does it.” It’s in this home that one understands how Perry’s collection, which pulls so deeply from the 1960s oeuvre, came together in 2007. Pop Art color-blocking and graphics aren’t just a sartorial gimmick — they are the lens through which Perry views the world. When she talks about the art, pointing out Rauschenbergs, Raysses and Wesselmanns, she is so enthusiastic about the era that one senses she could sway a die-hard goth into giving into wearing hot pink and polkadots.

Surprisingly, Perry’s passion for all things Sixties was born relatively recently, around 15 years ago, when she visited the Courrege boutique in Paris. “You walk through this bubble…and it hit me,” she recalls. “It’s modern and futuristic but it was designed in the ’60s. I thought it was brilliant.” It piqued her curiosity about the entire era, from fashion and art to furniture and architecture. “I wanted to see what else is going on this world. It was a genius time for design.” Andre Courrege was a titan of Mod ’60s fashion and an inspiration of current masters like Marc Jacobs and Miuccia Prada, one of Perry’s favorite designers.

While this was a lightning bolt moment for her, she might argue that it was already written in the stars. She grew up in Chicago in a family that was in the fabric business. Her mother loved colorful fashion, like Missoni, and allowed her daughter a certain amount of creative freedom when it came to dressing herself — including once tying a skinny scarf around her head for a grade school picture, that Perry now laughs about. Her father’s hobby was painting in the style of Jackson Pollock splatters on the floor. She spent summer vacations in New York, once staying in a hotel in the heart the Garment District, watching rolling racks zigzag across Seventh Avenue. Perry eventually studied textiles at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Throughout, Perry frequented vintage stores in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, graduating her purchases from purple tie-dyed bellbottoms in her teens to more cultivated, savvy finds, like Courreges, Rudi Gernreich and Pierre Cardin as an adult. “For 10 years before I launched my own collection, I was only wearing vintage,” she says. “I don’t like to walk into a room and see that someone could be wearing what I’m wearing. I like to be unique.”

People constantly asked her what she was wearing, and she saw an opportunity for a new collection of vintage-inspired modern looks, as it were. “The vintage that I collected from‑‑the late ’60s and early ’70s‑‑is very modern, ahead of its time. You couldn’t identify it, which I think is amazing. There’s something about this look, this style that people love and relate to,” she explains.

So she took her all-time favorite looks and tweaked, altered and focused on fabrics like jersey that she felt most comfortable in. And, importantly, because she can’t actually sew and wanted to understand the start-to-finish of garment production, she decided to manufacture in New York City. “I love Made in America, but even more than that, keeping Seventh Ave alive.”

When she launched, she thought, “It would be great to just sell some dresses to my friends out of my studio.” Today, she sells dresses to her friends and fans out of her Madison Avenue boutique at the corner of 77th Street. Perry benefited from some early (and continuing) support from Ann Curry when she made LP a part of her regular Today show wardrobe. “It’s hard to express how important Ann was to this,” says Perry. “She was willing to break the mold that an anchor should be in a jacket and shirt. She was phenomenal for our brand.”

Tiffany Dubin, who works for Sotheby’s Private Client Group and a renowned vintage collector, was another early supporter. When she was putting together the fashion auctions at Sotheby’s, Dubin had heard of Perry’s yen for vintage and knew they would be kindred spirits if their paths crossed. The two eventually met socially, discussed their shared love of Gernreich and how easy and stylish those looks were, and Dubin ultimately introduced Perry to her first patternmaker. “When I met Lisa, I realized she exemplified my vision of a truly creative person. Her art and clothing collection, her self-discipline and her taste level continue to inspire me,” says Dubin. “I found a good friend in Lisa and a soulmate who also believes in vinyl, polyester and tunics that fit on both good and bad days.”

But for all this high-profile support, nobody sells the collection better than Perry and her young staff. They are two different generations and yet both have worked the collection in their own ways. Lisa, who is mom to 25-year-old twins, looks sophisticated and modern in white sleeveless sheath printed with Lichtenstein’s “On” switch, her hands tucked casually in the dresses pockets as she chats. Her assistant Jennifer gets away with something a little more literal and youthfully fun. She has coordinated her bright swingy dress with color-blocked lavender and sea green nail polish.

Perry’s Lichtenstein dress is part of a capsule collection she did in collaboration with the late artist’s estate. She also did capsules with the Warhol estate and, earlier this year, with Jeff Koons. The Perry-Koons partnership garnered rave reviews from the fashion industry.

Perry points out a clear plastic tote on which Koons’ green “Diamond” looks almost 3D — the real deal is currently under a battened-down tarp on the Perry’s deck, a hint of emerald brilliance reflecting on the ground.

Equally under wraps is Perry’s personal life. She is mama-bearishly protective and silent about her children. She gives a little bit more about Richard — her affection for him is so clear, she can’t help but talk about him. Kind of like you do your first love.

Was it love at first sight? “Well, probably for him,” she jokes about the first time they met, at a party in 1981. “Because I had ?? pink and a little mini skirt and purple cowboy boots on. We have been together ever since. It was love at first sight.”

There are little inklings, reflected in small details around the home, that they share a sense of humor as well as a love of Pop Art. Bobble-head versions of themselves sit on their home office desk, their plastic arms linked. She is wearing one of her signature dresses with floral appliques; he is wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the LP logo. The toy was a gift from a family friend for their 25th wedding anniversary. In the den, twin frames hold a picture of them in nearly the same hugging pose — one on their wedding day, the other nearly 20 years later.

“There was no better cheerleader than my husband,” she says of his support of her designs. And she speaks equally proudly of his place in the fashion industry — both style- and business-wise. “Richard has great style. He wore Armani before anyone wore it, certainly on Wall Street. He loves fashion, and that’s why the Barneys thing is so cool for him. He thinks that fashion is about having fun.”

But back to that minivan as it rolls up to Perry’s boutique on Madison. On a sweltering summer afternoon right around lunchtime, the sidewalk looks like a typical Upper East Side snapshot — a lot of office-appropriate navy and black, a smattering of tourists with backpacks and well-shod women carrying the requisite Celine, Chopard or Chanel shopping bags. When one of Perry’s sales associates steps outside to greet her, she not only stands out but commands attention in her brightly hued Mod swing dress. It offers something refreshingly pretty, fun and flattering. It’s bold — consistently so — and unapologetically different from what’s going on in the rest of the oh-so-serious world of fashion.

“It makes women feel 10 years younger. They’re comfortable. Working women can travel with it and it doesn’t wrinkle,” she says. “It’s like, ‘Wow, we created this,’” Perry takes a moment. “We created something that makes women happy — and what could be better?”


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