As I continue to make preparations to close our doors this summer, I can’t help but reflect on the people that have had an impact on Louis, and ultimately some of the best fashion Boston has ever seen.
When it comes to our vendors, one man, Massimo Bizzocchi, has always stood out to me as being “The best of the best.” The founder of his namesake company, Massimo produces the best ties and pocket squares in Italy, and truly embodies everything that is wonderful about Italian manufacturing – and Italians period. Like Louis Sales Consultant, Arthur Jordan, Massimo is one of the great romancers of our industry. It saddens me to think that his presence will be diminished in Boston.
When I first began to travel to Italy to buy for Louis I was always met by a warm, welcoming committee. The Italian manufacturers would invite you to “…come in, sit, and have a drink.” They would invite you to dinner and take the time to get to know you and see if you were like-minded in our goals. They weren’t just selling me “something,” because they understood that if you only talk in dollars and cents, you eliminate the soul and beauty and romance that come from buying a beautifully made product.
One thing I love about Massimo is his ability to tell a wonderful story. He is very passionate about what he does. He lives and breathes his work and gives his product a personality, and character, and integrity. He truly makes you believe.
I can only liken it to when you go to an Italian restaurant (in Italy). Your not just given a list of specials, you are told what’s fresh and how it can be prepared and then you are asked, “What can we do for you?” and there are no limits. When it comes to clothes, Italian manufacturers ask how you want to see it and they make it for you that way. And when you succeed they don’t take any credit, they say, “You were so smart to do it…and we’ll do it that way now, with everyone…and thank you for the information.”
This is what it’s like to work with Massimo. It gives him great pleasure to present what he has and deliver it to you exactly how you want it. This makes him happy.
It’s becoming a lost art.
I’m so glad my daughter, Sam, got to meet and know Massimo. She knows him well -and has experienced and now possesses his gift. While I know she uses Snapchat like the rest of her generation, I also know that as she enters the world on her own she also understands how important romancing something is. She knows how to make something rise up and off of the page, and for that I am grateful.
Once again, I asked my friend and writer, Jamie Kohn, to speak to Massimo so he could share his relationship with Louis, with all of you…
By Jamie Kohn
I can’t take much of the credit here I can only confirm that what Debi says it true. Massimo is a wonderful, passionate storyteller, and it was with pleasure and ease that we spoke about his relationship with Murray and Debi, and all of his experiences with Louis. I spoke with him on a Saturday, and from the moment he began to speak I was mesmerized. As you read, the nuances of his native language are apparent and contribute tremendously to the charm of this decades long relationship.
Massimo, It’s wonderful to speak with you. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today…
Thank you, Jamie. It is nice to speak with you too. I look forward to telling you about 40 years of my beautiful adventure with Louis.
In 1974-75, Louis was my first customer in the United States. It was known as the #1 store in the United States, not only for the size of the store but the precise direction and unique way that they bought the line and communicated with the manufacturer. I had the pleasure to meet Murray for the first time in New York, at the Waldorf Astoria. I was working with a small company called Berto Modes from Biella, Italy, and had traveled to New York to show previews of the fabric for the season. I selected the fabric for the American market and it was there that my education with Murray began. He was open and sincere in giving me advice and making me understand what I needed to do for the American market. Slowly I understood that it was not the “American” market, but the “Louis” market, because his direction was advanced with color palettes and everything that was related to style. He was always quite a few seasons earlier than the rest of the market would accept or understand. And that was the beginning of my relationship with Murray.
After that I traveled to Boston to better understand the market and the store. At the time Louis was an incredible new source of ideas and also experiences with the sales consultants and young generation that that worked there. I remember they had a jeans parlor downstairs which at the time was quite a new idea. Having the jeans and the music and the ambiance made everything so incredibly young and attractive. The windows were decorated impeccably – I remember once they were decorated with the influence of the Broadway show Les Miserables – and it was fantastic. Everything Louis did was a message of how to show and how to make people part of the style that Murray was promoting and selling.
I have heard a lot about Murray Pearlstein, but didn’t have the honor of meeting him. For someone who knew him for so long, can you tell me, what was Murray Pearlstein like?
Murray was unique. But he was not only unique, he was a leader in the industry and he had a vision. He was a visionary of elegance and an interpreter of designer lines with the sophistication of someone who wanted to adapt fashion to daily life – not only the runway.
I used to travel to Como with Arthur Jordan and woman named Mrs. Lupini who owned a company called “Personality.” Together we would travel from place to place to choose fabric for the ties for Louis. Everything that was shiny or loud made Murray very upset to the point where he said, “I will teach you for a couple of seasons, but then you need to prepare what you know I want to see.” He told me, “I don’t have much time and I want you to do it fast.” He was like a tornado coming into the manufacturers. They would have 3-4,000 designs he would grab 5 in 5 different colors. His major request always reflected the kind of finishing on the silk he wanted to make the color soft. And the fabric would have a touch of cashmere – something that took 30 years to develop – but he had the sensibility to request it already.
The school that he presented to us, and the vision he had for colors and product made myself and the company develop a sensibility that in the end, many times, we made just for Murray and his store. Others were not mirroring his direction, and I know this made him very happy. We had many interesting adventures in Italy and Milano and after 5 or 6 years he thought I knew enough (but never really enough) to go by my self and do research for my own line of ties that he helped me to promote. He helped me start my own brand, Massimo Bizzochi.
Murray and Debi were extreme supporters of my tie line. When Mrs. Lupini passed away, the small factory that she owned was going to close, but Murray helped me transition and take over the company and helped me build my business. He encouraged me to use my own label along with Louis of Boston label.
What is your relationship with Kiton?
I started to work with Kiton in 1984, almost 10 years after I met Murray, and I dedicated my attention to the American market more than any other. I remember going straight to Murray with the owner of Kiton, who Murray knew through the fabric trade show in Italy – Luciano Barbera – Kiton was producing some of his garments under that name. I remember Murray bought a pin strip suit, double breasted, in pure cashmere. It was the first thing he bought from Kiton through me. After that the experience of the selection of fabric and the way to style the product was absolutely unique – and that tradition has been brought to this day through Debi. This developed over all these years, a special and unique model for Louis, with a lot of success. Kiton dedicating time and effort and took risks that they would only take for Louis, and Debi always knew exactly what she was looking for. Debi always respected our quality product, in fabric and workmanship, and she always tried to help us continue to have the Louis of Boston image on the product and give the consumer a the kind of experience that only Louis of Boston would bring to them. She would buy a different silhouette and have different measurements of the lapel and shoulder – taking a major risk, like she always did, because it was going to be unique in the market, and very early in the market.
What was it like working with Debi once she took over?
It has been a phenomenal, fantastic experience. I went from having a professor (Murray) telling me what and how to do something to somebody (Debi) who tired to help me understand the reason. She was generous in her ability to share information. It has been a friendly journey more than a business relationship. With Murray I would listen and take notes and then hopefully translate the notes properly to deliver what he wanted. With Debi she always asked me to try, she asked me if I understood, she asked me to discuss with her what she was looking for. Her patience has been one of the ingredients that made me feel comfortable giving my best to the relationship and developing with her, all that she desired. She has a fantastic knowledge of the Louis style, that never changed, and starts with the fabric. Whenever we would start a new collection she would say, “Let’s start with the best. Show me the top of the line fabric and let’s get on the (design) table the colors and styles and designs that, for me, will represent the next season.” Then she would go through the whole line (2,000-3,000 swatches), pick 20-30, and from there she would narrow it down to 12-15. She already had in mind who she would present those pieces to, what sizes she wanted for each piece, and what kind of ambience she would create visually in the store from the pieces she bought along with the rest she was buying.
My admiration for Debi is the highest it can be. I can’t describe the kind of experience we had making all of those collections together. While it stayed greatly the same, it seemed that every 6 months the Louis image would evolve, and reflect the knowledge Debi had for the young generation and the consumer that would approach the line in the way the sales consultants, like Arthur Jordan, would translate the line to the consumer. I have had a wonderful relationship with Arthur, and I have to say he was the only one who never had a problem translating the line because he was in complete symphony with the store. We spoke often and he gave me excellent advice and comments about consumer reactions as he made them try our garments.
Debi married the old Kiton world that was clothing, to the new world where Kiton started to represent lifestyle – jeans, sweaters, leather pieces, nice overcoats, etc. Debi always chose things from us that were different from the other lines. When all the pants were plain front, she bought them with one pleat. She was the one that wanted things to be a little shorter…or more flexible, etc. She was the one who said let’s design a new color, a new style, a little shorter point, a little more spread. Her sensibility for designing comes not only from her education but also from the artistic world of Art Basel and the old galleries she would visited in Paris , London and Milano – by herself. And I think we have to give a lot of credit to Debi for traveling all these years, at least 6 times to Europe per year, talking to herself about the selection she was making. Being sure that what she was going to invest in was going to be received in the store the way that she meant it to be. I understand because this is how I learned myself – traveling alone to suffer in silence while making great decisions.
What will it mean when Louis closes?
We will all miss so much when Louis closes. The only thing I can hope is that Debi will continue to help us, through whatever medium she can, continue to see her vision of the future. I hope to belong to a small club of people who can follow her as closely as we can, in the future. When she moved from Newbury Street, which became “The Louis Building” to the waterfront she had a vision. She had been hunting property down at Fan Pier when she first brought me to the area. The Volvo Ocean Race was passing through the city on its 37,000-mile journey, and I said to her, ‘It’s a parking lot with a great view,’ and she said, “exactly.” I understood immediately and smiled at her. I always supported her vision and she made a success of it, as she always does. She continued to share with me how she imagined the restaurant, and the store, and the light coming through, and the way she would present the garments to her customers. I know Debi still has plenty to share with us if she wants to.
I think we will all try to chase, in any way, the future of Louis of Boston, and Debi’s visions. The doors might be closing, but hopefully we will see something from her again.
We need to wait until Debi tells us something. So, we will wait.
Fashion in Boston will never be the same because what she did was so special. It’s like when you have a beautiful painting, created in a beautiful light. You can ask the painter to do it again, and he will always say, “I’m sorry, I can paint another painting, but not the same as the one that I already did. There is only one.”
As we began to conclude our conversation, Massimo stopped me and said…
“This is one little thing that I have to share. When Murray passed things to Debi, I was so nervous, especially during the first seasons, not knowing what would be. Once, she came to Milano and I was to pick her up at her hotel. After she got in the car I began to drive away. However, I was listening to her so intently that I didn’t notice a car parked on the side of the street…and smashed right into it. Debi said with her wonderful laugh, ‘Are you trying to kill me before we even start?’ I told her I was paying close attention to what she was saying and she said, ‘Well, you have to drive too!'”
And with that, Massimo and I shared a hearty laugh and a fond farewell. A lovely man. Truly one of a kind.