Perry Ellis- Fashion history.

Perry Ellis- Fashion history.

Perry Edwin Ellis (March 3, 1940 – May 30, 1986) was an American fashion designer who founded his eponymous sportswear house in the mid-1970s. Ellis’ influence on the fashion industry has been called “a huge turning point” because he introduced new patterns and proportions to a market which was dominated by more traditional men’s clothing.


Like many from the fashion world he too made his way to Fire Island. First the Pines then Water Island.
For men of a certain generation, the Perry Ellis look of the early ‘80s was a classic: impeccably constructed khaki pants and a crisp white or blue cotton shirt, perhaps paired with a buttery soft trench coat, all of it conveying a kind of effortless elegance.

Perry Ellis grew up in Churchland Virginia. He attended William and Mary College, where he earned his degree in business administration, and in 1963 he received a masters in retailing from NYU. In 1976 he got a job with Portfolio a division of Vera. Three years later, Perry Ellis Inc. was formed.

Near Churchland was a beach called Nags Head. Nags Head is in North Carolina. It had a similar feeling to Fire Island. It is there that his love of the beach began.

He began designing women’s clothing in 1976 and started his men’s line in 1980. He soon was acknowledged as one of the Big Three of American fashion design, along with Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren.
“In my first collection,” Ellis recalls, “I showed wrinkled clothes. Everyone said, ‘Women will never buy clothes like that.’ But it was my first big success. It gave me courage to develop.”

He first bought a home in the Pines. Being a private person this did not suit his lifestyle. He soon rented the house (one renter being designer Donna Karan), and moved to a more secluded nearby community called Water Island.

Perry Ellis on Fire Island with designers Chester Weinberg, Edward Carracci and Joe D’Urso. Photo by Barbara Walz.

Unaffected by fame after winning eight Coty awards and a studio and showroom on 7th avenue he had both a bayfront and oceanfront home, a seaplane, sailboat, and small runabout on Water Island where he could invite friends and still have his privacy. His friends tended to be “very Perry” too. He surrounded himself with corps of talented attractive people. He turned employees into loyal friends and, loyal friends into employees. That way he could pretty much guarantee his privacy.

He met Laughlin Barker , a lawyer born in Santa Fe who was divorced and had a child. They would live together and Ellis would make him President of Perry Ellis International. Ellis and Barker were the perfect match and very much in love. Still Ellis was not completely satisfied. He loved children and wanted one of his own. He would have one with a friend from Los Angeles named Barbara Gallagher a former TV executive who wanted a child also.
Tyler Alexandra Gallagher Ellis would be that child.

All seemed perfect, but perfect it was not. In 1986 Barker had a health decline that many feared was AIDS. This was a time when that word could kill a business as well as a person. He passed quickly. At the CDFA Awards Perry against the wishes of friends made an appearance. He too was now ill, but in denial. Many were shocked by his appearance. He pushed on to the May 8th fall show and again determined to walk the runway at the end of the show. Fashion editors praised the collection which made him happy. The end had come on May 30th . There was a memorial service held on June 12th. Calvin, Donna, Bill,and Ralph arrived, and after all, the major American designers minus one, climbed into their limousines and headed back to seventh Avenue…

Leave a Reply