Founder of the eponymous sportswear brand and fashion designer from Virginia, America – Perry Ellis lived between 1940 and 1986 and became a well-known plus an influential personality in the fashion landscape. Ellis introduced new proportions, perspective and patterns to the industry.
Ellis was born on 3rd March 1940 in Portsmouth to Winifred Rountree and Edwin Ellis. His father was a businessman with companies specializing in oil and coal. This is the reason that Perry’s family lived comfortably. Also, since he was the only child, Perry enjoyed the full attention, love and care of his parents.
In 1957, Perry earned his graduation from Woodrow Wilson High School and then joined the College of William and Mary to attain a business administration degree in 1961. In order to avoid military service, Ellis enlisted himself in the United States Coast Guard Reserve for six months and then took admission in New York University to do master in retailing.
In order to achieve experience in merchandizing and trading within the fashion industry, he started to work at Miller & Rhoads, a department store. Next, he joined John Meyer of Norwich, a sportswear company. In the mid of 70s, The Vera Companies approached him to design a range for them. In 1976, Ellis introduced his debut sportswear collection, Portfolio, for women. He was well-educated about the workings of the industry and provided original ideas.
In 1978, along with the parent company of The Vera Companies, Ellis established his own fashion company, called Perry Ellis International. Since Ellis was the head designer and chairman, in a matter of some time, he developed a menswear line. Gradually, the designer added more things to his collection, such as furs, accessories, perfumes and shoes under his name.
In 1982, the company was able to hire over seventy staff members and two years later, in collaboration with Levi Strauss, Perry Ellis America was formed. In a matter of a few years only, the labels earned him a revenue of millions of dollars. People like Michael Bastian (fashion designer) and Steven Kolb (Council of Fashion Designers of America‘s CEO) commended Ellis both personally and professionally.
Steering to Ellis’s personal aspect of life, he remained in a relationship with Laughlin Barker, until she died in 1986. Barker was an attorney and during this time she was appointed as the President of licensing department at Perry Ellis International.
Two years before Barker’s death, Ellis and his friend, writer and TV producer, Barbara Gallagher, through artificial insemination, conceived a child. In November of 1984, their daughter was born, named Tyler Alexandra Gallagher Ellis. Perry Ellis purchased a house for his daughter and Gallagher in Los Angeles. He often visited the two there.
In 1985, while Barker was under a chemotherapy treatment for Kaposi’s sarcoma, the media rumored that Ellis had contracted with AIDS. This news spread because in this year’s runway Fall show, Ellis appeared older and thinner. The stories of his sickness were denied by him until he fainted at a party in December at the Costume Institute. After the death of Barker, Ellis’s health swiftly declined. In May 1986, Ellis was struck by viral encephalitis. Despite this, Perry Ellis insisted on attending a fashion show in New York, however when he appeared on stage, he needed assistants to support him as he was very weak. Soon he was hospitalized and slid into a coma. On 30th May 1986, the great designer lost his battle for life.