Arnold Scassi is a legendary American fashion designer, having dressed many a First Lady, movie star and debutante from the 1950’s and beyond. I happened to pick up a copy of his book, “Women I Have Dressed (and Undressed!)” at a library sale at one of my all-time favorite spots, The Society of the Four Arts King Library, located in one of my favorite places on Earth, Palm Beach.
The book was a fun read, and one of the things that stuck to me is this: At the outset of his career, Scassi decided that he would not give away his clothes for free. To anyone. Ever.
So when Jacqueline Onassis came calling, her staff interested in having Scassi dress the First Lady – but for free – Scassi had to refuse. Bear in mind that being a designer whose gowns are worn by a First Lady is like being automatically crowned King of the Design Universe, so it must have been very painfully hard for the young designer to utter, “Pass.”
But here’s the thing – he did – and it was a smart, smart move. If he gave away his designs, he would be perpetually fending off requests for free stuff for the rest of his career. Plus, the rebuffed women would no doubt feel a trace of bitterness as they signed their checks to him, feeling that they did not rate enough for a free Scassi gown. Given the gargantuan egos of the women he dressed (Barbra Streisand and so forth), this would be a problem and dilute his super-luxury brand over the long run. Not to mention be a persistent, Grade-A annoyance.
Putting aside the supreme tackiness of someone asking you to hand over your art, your skill, your work and effort for zip, zero, zilch compensation — financial or otherwise — Arnold Scassi had a tactful way of dealing with those who came asking.
He would explain that his no-free-gowns rule had to do with the fact that he didn’t sing, dance or act. He created clothes. That was his skill and his gift and how he earned his living.
Perhaps Scassi’s standard is a helpful reminder if you are a person who is perpetually being asked to give, give and give your products, work and time. And have a hard or itchy time saying no. It has helped me.
And remember, it is easier if you outline your standards at the outset and stick to them — but it’s never too late to change.