Behind the Seams with Joseph Abboud
The menswear designer on Bedford, Boston, baseball, and his local life.
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Abboud, a lifelong Red Sox fan, throwing out the first pitch at Boston’s Fenway Park on September 7, 2002—it was the Blue Jays versus the Sox, with 34,000 people in the stands. photo courtesy of joseph abboud
In what little downtime he has, Abboud also loves playing squash—in fact, he played this morning before our interview, at the Saw Mill Club East in Mount Kisco. Having started in his 20s, he now plays three or four times a week, often with longtime squash partner Martin Ford of Mount Kisco, who met him 20 years ago on the court. “Squash can get quite heated,” says Ford, “and I’ve never seen him lose his temper on the court—or off. What you see is what you get,” he continues. “He’s a genuine person with no airs.”
Perhaps that’s why the down-to-earth designer is so happy in Bedford. “It’s a charming place but it’s kind of low-key,” he says. “You don’t have to play any games. I just want it to be simple,” he adds. “I have enough high energy with what I do that I don’t need this to be that.” Indeed, Abboud sums up Bedford’s appeal for the celeb set thusly: “It’s a very peaceful and beautiful place and everybody’s pretty cool about everything.” It’s clear he sees his home “in the country” as a refuge from Manhattan. “Even if I come back late from the City, I always walk outside because the sky is so much clearer here and it’s just so beautiful,” he says. “What a contrast—44 miles away from my office is like worlds away. It’s like we should have to have a passport to go from Manhattan to Bedford; it’s such a different place.”
The horsey set backdrop of Bedford is also a very different place from the blue-collar Boston where Abboud was raised—and the designer is as refreshingly unvarnished about his beginnings as he is of this building’s history. And though he now plays squash and his daughters grew up riding their own ponies, his own background is decidedly more modest. He grew up in a working-class Catholic Lebanese family—his father was a master mechanic and his mother a seamstress—and he was the first person in his family to attend and graduate from a four-year college. He received a degree in English and French Comparative Literature from the University of Massachusetts-Boston; during college, he spent a year at the Sorbonne in Paris on scholarship and calls the experience the defining one of his life. “People think I went there to learn draping,” says the designer, who is fluent in French, “but I actually studied 17th and 18th century literature,” he adds with a grin.
An unabashed romantic, Abboud grew up loving movies and had aspirations to live the glamorous life he saw depicted on the big screen. “I think being a kid in a working-class Boston family, you kind of dream about what life is like on the other side of Beacon Hill and the whole Boston Brahmin thing,” he recalls. He also realized “that dressing well opened doors. I think that comes from my parents being first-generation,” he explains, “and saying always make sure you look nice and presentable.” Not only were movies a portal into a different kind of world, they would serve as inspiration for his future collections. Years later, when Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne asked him if he ever wanted to be a movie star, “I said no. I didn’t want to be a movie star,” he recalls with a laugh. “I wanted to be those movie stars—and I wanted their clothes. I loved Errol Flynn’s movie They Died With Their Boots On because he has this great, fringed jacket that I wanted my entire life.”