One of the great pleasures of working with our collection is rediscovering the myriad of designers represented who—while well-known during their own time—have now faded into annals of history. The name Youssef Rizkallah will ring a bell with few, yet FIT Library Special Collections houses a formidable collection of both working and finished sketches from his time designing exceptionally high-end ready to wear on New York City’s 7th Avenue.
Born likely sometime in the 1920s in Cairo, Egypt, Rizkallah moved to Paris at the age of 19 to study at the prestigious École des Arts Decoratifs. The young Rizkallah then apprenticed under top Parisian couturiers Jacques Griffe and Pierre Balmain before returning to Cairo to set up his own couture salon. Soon the preeminent couturier in the Middle East, Rizkallah counted the Queen of Jordan and wives of Arab diplomats amongst his clients. In 1950, Rizkallah moved his operations to Beirut, Lebanon for a brief period before moving to Los Angeles at the invitation of noted Hollywood costume designer Jean Louis.
This parlayed into working behind the scenes with top American designers Luis Estevez and Malcolm Starr, whose names—much like Rizkallah’s—have also fallen from the public conscious. In 1975, Rizkallah launched his own eponymous line, Youssef Rizkallah, of “easy” womenswear.
His unique sketching style with harsh black lines offset by the deep jewel-tones he preferenced underscores his statement, “I do not like somber. I feel always the sun must seem to light up the clothes and the woman.” The selection of sketches here document his work during the early 1960s, prior to launching his own line; their affiliation with a brand or label remains unclear.
Dark, handsome and bearing a striking resemblance to a young Sean Connery, Rizkallah was himself a fashion plate; the collection at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art holds many examples of menswear from his personal wardrobe.