Meanwhile in Chelsea, Ian Heath, eight weeks out of school, is already totally sick of looking for a job. It’s late on a sweltering Friday afternoon, and Heath, 26, is wearing very small white tennis shorts. “I was totally supposed to be in the senior show,” he tells me. “But then the honoree changed from Tom Ford to Marc Jacobs and I was out. It was all, like, dirty antiques.
I mean, have you met Ashleigh Verrier?” Indeed, Heath’s clothes are more in the tradition of Ford—outré sex appeal, bronze leather motorcycle suits, lots and lots of zippers—than Marc Jacobs. A bit older than his classmmates, he took some time off after his sophomore year and lent his services to a few different labels, including Nicole Miller. It didn’t work out, he explains, because he was “totally her bitch.”
This time around, he’s got a degree, and he’s ready to work. But it’s been tough, he says, when so many people find him “way too designer for them.” John Varvatos felt he would “be bored with” the position. “Though they said if I want it, to just call John and show that I really, really want it. To beg.”
He’d rather not.
An apprenticeship with Hugo Boss outside Lugano, Switzerland, stalled briefly when they told Heath he’d have to buy his own plane ticket. “But it would be close to my diva Donatella,” he says. “I would love to be her bitch.” Finally, in August, Hugo Boss sends him a ticket—but the job will only last six months. And Donatella’s in rehab, anyway.
His most recent interview was at Brooks Brothers. “I meet, like, the VP of design, who was wearing that $15,000 Rolex. He asked me if I needed discipline, and I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘I like a man who can admit to his needs.’ It was hot. But not in a sexual way. More like daddy and son.” Heath pauses and sighs. “I told him I’m at that crossroads of selling out and being fab.” For now, it seems, he’s stuck being fab.
It’s likely Ashleigh Verrier’s stiff-postured formality that Ian Heath, with all his double-kissing familiarity, can’t relate to. Even as the 23-year-old lugs her winning thesis collection to the Saks Fifth Avenue buying office, she speaks in perfect sound bites: “Saks is a wonderful store” and “I feel that my primary loyalty is to Saks.” She’s wearing her usual uniform: skirt, stockings, and stacked heels. Verrier lives with her mother and teenage brother in a three-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side. “My mother is really my muse,” she says. “I don’t want to just appeal to a 20-year-old.”
Her presentation today consists of 24 pieces inspired by a girl stepping out of a twenties speakeasy: big coats with winged sleeves, knee-length skirts, lots of crushed velvet. “I like unsuspecting combinations,” Verrier tells the Saks team, holding up the fairly predictable pairing of short white cashmere jacket and high-waisted black skirt.
She drops the skirt.
Four sets of eyes regard her as she picks it up and continues. “Like I said, Saks is my favorite store. I have such an allegiance for all of the efforts you’ve rendered.”
A few days later, Saks has called, prepared to do something they’ve never done before: They’ll buy her thesis collection, plus a limited production run. It’s going right between Marc Jacobs and Stella McCartney, and the separates will be priced from $300 to $3,300.
Verrier estimates the startup costs at around $50,000—and her muse Jude, of the Cool Mom spiky blonde hair, has agreed to front the money. But Verrier is quick to point out that the arrangement’s not indefinite. Soon she’ll be hunting for an investor.