Boston State College alumnus Fred Scopa (’78) said he knew early on that UMass Boston alumnus Joseph Abboud (’72) had a knack for dressing well. Abboud was the one wearing sport coats when everyone else was wearing T-shirts and sweatshirts. The two played football together at Roslindale High School, where, as a senior, Abboud was named best dressed.
Abboud worked part-time at men’s clothing store Louis Boston while in high school and while studying English and French comparative literature at UMass Boston. But it wasn’t until Abboud’s French professor, Monique Simson Stern, encouraged him to go to Paris that his career in fashion really took off.
Stern helped Abboud get a scholarship that allowed him to go to Paris his junior year.
“I think that year was a defining moment,” Abboud said. “What Paris did for me was open a world that I never saw before. It defined that I loved a sense of architecture and a sense of style. Madame Stern opened a lot of doors for me and changed my life. That’s really what the university is all about--how professors can truly make a difference. I loved my experience at UMass Boston."
Abboud said it was Stern’s teaching and his time in Paris that prepared him for a full-time job as a buyer at Louis Boston after college.
“I wrote all the correspondence for Louis Boston. I could write business letters to French suppliers. My background allowed me to go on those trips,” Abboud said.
While at Louis Boston, Abboud caught the eye of Ralph Lauren. Abboud worked for him for five years before launching his own brand in 1986. Abboud’s clothes have been worn by broadcasters Tom Brokaw, Bob Costas, Bill O’Reilly, and Senator John Kerry, among others. The Council of Fashion Designers of America named him the Menswear Designer of the Year two years in a row, in 1989 and 1990.
Abboud sold his trademarks and name to JA Apparel in 2000. He became the chief creative officer for the HMX Group in 2010. He is currently working on branding for HMX brands Hickey Freeman and Hart Schaffner Marx.
Abboud wasn’t willing to make any edicts on whether two or three button suits are the best, but he was willing to give some fashion advice.
“People sometimes try too hard. Clothes should move with your body; you shouldn’t have to fight too hard. I like clothes that aren’t precious. Style is important, but you need to make it work for you,” he said.
He also had this advice for students: “Stay focused on what you do well. You can only build a brand by being better than the competition.”