You see her in airports, that sleek female traveler, gliding past, a small piece of luggage in hand, or, these days, on wheels, a Kelly bag tossed over her shoulder. She is, of course, in black; even if she's wearing charcoal or chocolate or navy blue, in the poetic, the platonic sense, it is always black. She is unburdened, unmessy, ineluctably cool, usually thin, and probably rich.
I, on the other hand, am a mess. Envy dripping, I watch: Burdened by a suitcase crammed with sweaters and shawls, boots and bags—a shoulder bag, computer bag, carry-on bag—things no one could possibly need for a six-hour flight or a one-week trip, I look like my grandmother when she disembarked in America, an emigrant from Russia. I am laden with stuff. Except, that is, when I stick strictly to Zoran.
In Zoran's black Tasmanian wool pants, a black silk-and-cashmere pullover, black suede flats, and my chocolate alpaca coat, I am as minimal, as functional as a Bauhaus building, and I move faster. In my bag is more Zoran, folded in his special way: the sleeves tucked backward into each other; the silk tops folded over so they do not wrinkle; sheets of sturdy tissue paper between each piece. When you're on the road, these pieces can be tossed on in a matter of seconds. Shall I dress up the cotton tee and black linen pants with the ivory taffeta wrap? Dress down the navy silk satin skirt with a sleeveless Tasmanian wool top?
Wearing his clothes, which have no buttons, no snaps, no zippers (the pants and skirts all have elastic waists), is as easy and sexy and comfortable as wearing a fabulous pair of pajamas. With Zoran, God is in the fabrics—sumptuous, expensive silks, cashmeres, wools. "I am," says Zoran, "Gap for rich people."
When he talks to design students, Zoran (he goes only by his first name), who came to New York from the former Yugoslavia more than 30 years ago, shows them his Jet Pack. From a slim silver Halliburton-style briefcase, he plucks with the air of a magician: three pairs of black pants, one each in Tasmanian wool, silk georgette, and cashmere; four black tops—cashmere and silk, a silk satin long-sleeved shirt, another without sleeves, a taffeta wrap. Everything a woman needs, he says, for a quick trip to Paris. It is quintessential Zoran, as much idea or philosophy as it is clothing.
What about underwear? I ask. What about shoes and coats and panty hose and bags and makeup, and well, my teddy bear?! With his unerring eye for overload, Zoran looks at me with mock severity and says, "You're staying at the Ritz in Paris, you can send out for underwear and panty hose. You don't need all those things."
Before Calvin showed his slip dress, before man-tailored Armani suits were ubiquitous, there was Zoran. It was the age of the Disco Queen and the platform shoe when Zoran showed his first collection in 1976 at Henri Bendel, and it was stunning in its simplicity: black pants, a black skirt, and three ivory tops. "Five Easy Pieces" he called it, and I've been buying his clothes ever since.
There followed more of the same, the tunics and T-shirts, the shorts, pants, and sweaters. A few colors are added and subtracted every year, along with different fabrics—cashmere and silk tweed for winter, evening skirts and tops in silk chiffon for summer. Women collect pieces from one year to the next; no Zoran ever goes out of style. You can put on last year's ivory silk pants and top and throw this year's khaki taffeta top over it and look like a million bucks after taxes.
Over the years, he's remained a purist. Zoran does not have franchises; he doesn't do sunglasses or scent. He doesn't much like makeup or jewelry. In Zoran's showroom in New York's Tribeca, there are almost no mirrors; he will tell you how you look in his clothes.
But the designer, who divides his time between New York and his homes in Milan and Naples, Florida, is no fashion fascist. He knows his customers sometimes put snaps on his coats to keep out the cold. He loves to talk politics (his are to the right of Genghis Khan) and is funny and kind and doesn't take himself too seriously. When I ask what his current collection is called, he sips from a glass of vodka, grins from inside the big gray beard, and says in his growly Balkan accent, "I call it the Emperor's New Clothes."
Zoran doesn't care about the fashion mainstream; he never has. He has a loyal, obsessed following that besieges Saks Fifth Avenue (and Brown's in London) as soon as his clothes come in each season. Zoran has dressed Jacqueline Onassis (who bought his entire first collection), Candice Bergen, Gloria Vanderbilt, and others who guard and trade his unlisted number like gold dust (a secret he has, for the first time, agreed to share here: 212-233-2025). This is the man who turned down Elizabeth Taylor. As the legendary Zoran anecdote goes, he received a call from her assistant, who wanted a discount. "I don't call Tiffany and ask for wholesale, do I?" Zoran says.
Not long ago, at a party in a grand club in London, I spotted a woman exquisitely dressed in a dark blue velvet pantsuit. God, I thought, I want that, and then realized she was, head to toe, in Zoran. I complimented her. She said worriedly, "You don't have his private phone number, do you? I'm desperate for more pieces. There is never enough."
It's been this way almost from the first. Zoran makes clothing for women—there are plenty of them—who are discreet and utterly confident and who do not need to wear their money on their sleeves. If you have to ask why a simple quilted silk jacket, no lining, no fastening, costs two grand, you're probably not a Zoranista.
Minimalist dressing as it's meant to be: Zoran makes a kind of modern uniform, in which everyone who wears him—young, old, thin, fat—looks ageless, understated, impeccable, original; these are clothes in which you can reveal yourself as yourself or, on the road, hide in plain sight.
Prices range from $300 to $2,000. At Saks Fifth Avenue, 800-871-7257. For the first time in the history of print, the elusive Zoran has agreed to publish his phone number: 212-233-2025.
ZORAN'S JET PACK
THE ITINERARY You're going from New York to Paris and London.
IN TRANSIT YOU'LL WEAR Zoran's cashmere or alpaca coat, Tasmanian wool pants, a silk-and-cashmere top, and plain black suede flats
IN A SLIM-LINE HALLIBURTON-STYLE SUITCASE, YOU'LL PACK
3 PAIRS OF PANTS Tasmanian wool or cashmere in winter, linen in summer
1 TASMANIAN WOOL SKIRT
1 TASMANIAN WOOL JACKET
1 TAFFETA WRAP
3 TOPS A cashmere-and-silk pullover, a long-sleeved crepe top, a sleeveless silk satin top
NEED A BAG? Only a plain black Hermès Kelly will do—yes, for summer, winter, spring, and fall.
THE ITINERARY This Zoran pack will take you through a two-week trip around the world, from Atlanta to London and on to Rome and Cape Town, a few days at a great spa in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and back home. It should fit in a single suitcase, and even leave room for the teddy bear.
WHAT TO PACK
2 PAIRS TASMANIAN WOOL PANTS
1 PAIR LINEN PANTS
1 PAIR CASHMERE OR CASHMERE-AND-SILK PANTS
1 PAIR SILK GEORGETTE WIDE-LEG PANTS
1 PAIR SILK GEORGETTE OR SILK SATIN NARROW PANTS
1 TASMANIAN WOOL SKIRT
1 SILK SATIN SKIRT
1 PAIR LINEN SHORTS
2 SLEEVELESS SILK TEES
1 TASMANIAN WOOL JACKET
1 TAFFETA WRAP
1 CASHMERE-AND-SILK PULLOVER
1 COTTON SWEATER
1 CASHMERE CARDIGAN
1 CHIFFON SCARF
1 PAIR PLAIN BLACK PUMPS
1 PAIR BLACK SANDALS