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Costa, Victor

line costa’s designing award

B. December 17, 1935

Birthplace: Houston, Texas

Awards: May Company American Design Award, 1967
         Stix, Baer and Fuller Golden Fashion Award, 1975
         Wild Basin Award from the State of Texas, 1979, 1982
         Dallas Fashion Award, 1980, 1987, 1991
         American Printed Fabrics Council Tommy Award, 1983, 1984, 1988, 1989
         University of Houston Distinguished Alumni Award, 1990
         Fashion Group of San Antonio, Night of the Stars Award, 1991

Houston-based designer Victor Costa, often referred to as the “king of knockoffs” or the “king of Copycats,” blossomed at an early age. He discovered his talent for designing and sketching clothes at the age of nine when he found himself designing paper-doll outfits for his friends. Costa continued designing and sketching into his early teens, focusing on bridal wear and creating his first sample garments.

After high school, at age seventeen, Costa enrolled in the Fashion Design Department at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, for one year, and then transferred to the University of Houston. In 1954, still in his early twenties, Costa traveled to Paris to attend L’ Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. After his training, in 1958, Costa moved to New York to begin his career in fashion. He began working his way into the industry by selling his European-inspired sketches to established designers such as Oleg Cassini, Ceil Chapman, and others. Costa’s first design jobs were with bridal designers Murray Hamberger, from 1959 to 1961, and Pandora, from 1962 to 1965. His experiences with these firms, combined with his talent for recalling every detail of garments presented on the runway, enabled him to gain a position with Suzy Perette. Costa worked for Perette, copying European designs and translating them for the American market from 1965 to 1973.

Shortly after his work with Suzy Perette, Costa designed his first collection and sold over 1,000 pieces to Bloomingdale’s. A few years later, in Dallas, Texas, Costa partnered with Robert Licht, a former employee of Suzy Perette, to form Victor Costa, Inc. Costa designed a signature bridge line consisting of special occasion wear, cocktail dresses, and suits. His inspiration for his lines came from visiting the European haute couture and prêt-a-porter fashion shows. Costa, known for having a pictorial memory and a swift hand for sketching, made a name for himself by reinterpreting and refabricating the European couture collections for the bridge and better markets. Costa, who produced his collection in Dallas, oversaw all facets of the production even training employees with the necessary skills for sewing his clothing. His garments were distributed to more than 450 specialty and department stores including Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Nordstrom, and Lord and Taylor.

In 1989 Costa opened his first Victor Costa Boutique in Highland Park Village in Dallas. The freestanding store carried his Victor Costa, Victor Costa Taille (suits), Victor Costa Bridal, and accessory lines. The boutique offered Costa’s special customers a chance to view his lines five times a year. Costa dresses both the very young and the very mature. The typical Costa client is fit and wealthy and attends numerous social functions.

Costa’s business peaked in 1990 with retail sales of $50 million at which point he was designing for six divisions: a signature bridge line, a bridal line, a girls’ line, an accessories line, a leisure at-home line, and a suit division, Tailleur. He was also designing a dress and suit line for Christian Dior’s American market. In 1993 Costa further expanded his product offerings by creating a new, lower price point line, Victor Costa Boutique, to meet the increased demand in the better special occasion dressing market. Another expansion came in 1994, when Costa entered into a licensing agreement with retailer J.C. Penney to produce a collection of holiday evening suits under the label Victor Costa Romantica. Unfortunately, Costa’s new additions were short lived. In 1994 Costa declared personal bankruptcy and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy for his business in 1995. There has been a great deal of speculation as to the cause of Costa’s personal and professional bankruptcy; contributing factors include a 1993 sexual harassment lawsuit against Costa, employee thefts, and the damage to his reputation from designing a line for J.C. Penney. After seventeen years of business, and having accounts with such prestigious stores as Saks Fifth Avenue, Marshall Field’s, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Harvey Nickols in London, and Holt Renfrew in Toronto, Costa closed his doors. Costa’s reaction to the closing was, “Every time one door has closed, a window has opened” and “I hope to embark on an exciting new stage in my career and return to my true love—designing” (Williamson).

Costa followed his own advice and signed with a multiple-line sales firm called A.S. A.S. was responsible for showing Costa’s collection in regional markets including Dallas, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. Costa’s true reason for designing was to create beautiful clothing for women for social functions. He wanted his customers to feel confident and fashionable. His talent to interpret European couture fashions into successful bridge-priced social attire was unique. Costa, like many designers before him, started his business by redesigning Paris originals; however, unlike most designers, Costa never tried to conceal this practice, nor did he ever stop it.

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