Born: 17 December 1935, Houston, Texas, Education: Studied fashion design at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York, University of Houston, and école d'Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, Paris, 1954-58. Family: Married Terry Costa, 1958; children: Kevin, Adrienne. Career: Bridal designer for Murray Hamberger, New York, 1959-61; bridal designer, Pandora, 1962-65; joined Suzy Perette, and became known for "line for line" copies of European couture, 1965-73; partner, Anne Murray Company, Dallas, 1973; established Victor Costa, Inc., Dallas, Texas, 1975-85; established Victor Costa Bridal, Dallas, 1989; licensing agreement with Dior for American market, 1990; Victor Costa Boutique line, 1992; Romantica line for J.C. Penney, 1994-95; designer, A.S. Design Group, 1995-97; designer, eveningwear division of Nahdree Group, 1998-99; designer, Couture Fashions, maker of Rose Taft Couture, from 1999. Lives in Sherman, Connecticut and New York City. Awards: May Company American Design award, 1967; Stix, Baer & Fuller Golden Fashion award, 1975; Wild Basin award from the state of Texas, 1979, 1982; American Printed Fabrics Council Tommy award, 1983, 1984, 1988, 1989; Dallas Fashion award, 1980, 1987, 1991; University of Houston distinguished alumni award, 1990; Fashion Group of San Antonio, Night of Stars award, 1991; Northwood University's Outstanding Business Leader, 1991.
Fairchild, John, Chic Savages, New York, 1989. Milbank, Caroline Rennolds, New York Fashion: The Evolution of
American Style, New York, 1989.
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Swartz, Mimi, "The Fantasy World of Victor Costa: Texas' Most Famous Dress Designer Had a Dream: He Would Copy His Way to the Top," in Texas Monthly, September 1987.
Foote, Jennifer, "King of the Copycats: Costa Cashes in on the Highest Form of Flattery," in Newsweek, 4 April 1988.
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Haber, Holly, "Survivor: Victor Costa Knows How to Weather Hard Times," in Women's Wear Daily, 5 October 2000.
"The word 'fashion' would not exist if there were no copying," Costa said in the Baltimore Jewish Times in the fall of 1989. "The mirroring of the highest standard has been the basis of our society from Day One. There's a Rolls Royce, a Tiffany, a Beluga caviar— and there's a customer who knows and wants what is considered the ultimate. It takes talent to look at the world and see what is in the wind for his customer so that she always looks pretty and feels provoked to buy."
I am in the business of dressing ladies when they are seen socially in the latest fashions [which] basically has to do with social sameness. A lady goes to the same places and sees the same faces so she needs changes in social attire. Whether she is a career woman, housewife, or executive, each day she may go about her daily duties while her clothing is a secondary concern. When she is seen socially, she thinks about what she will wear and that is where I come into play. Social dressing has evolved into a "pay and play" occasion. Private parties have merged with charity events and new outfits are required frequently.
I have some customers that I have been dressing for 30 years and now I'm dressing their daughters and their granddaughters. So there are three generations of Victor Costa customers out there—it keeps you young because the younger girls, the granddaughters, have made a whole return to tradition. In the 1990s, with the AIDS epidemic, a return to traditional values has put a new emphasis on the wedding and all of its attendant parties, teas, fêtes, and receptions.
Special occasion dresses have always been the hallmark of my business. My quest for what is new sends me around the world. It is a sense of pride and fulfilment that some of the most noted and important women in the world are wearing my clothes. But also a young girl of 13 may get a Victor Costa dress which will have name recognition and make her feel special. Women adore how they look in their Victor Costa dresses.
Victor Costa has always loved fashion. Known as the "King of the Copycats," his status in the design world is unique. Costa designed dresses for childhood friends in Houston and was entranced by Hollywood film stars and their glamor. He went on to study at the Pratt Institute, New York, and later spent a year at the école of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris. This early contact with the Paris fashion world as it existed in the days when Christian Dior reigned and before changes were ushered in by the 1960s, had a great impact on Costa. His feeling for dressing women is based on a 1950s sense of style and formality.
New York's Seventh Avenue fashion business was built on copying Paris designs. Buyers and designers alike would flock to Paris to buy a model to "knock-off" or reinterpret. Hattie Carnegie built a respectable business doing this and nurtured several important designers, among them Norman Norell. The years after World War II saw an escalation of Paris couture show photographs being published in newspapers, but with a significant lag time. When Costa returned from Paris to New York in 1959 he was immediately charged with copying the latest Paris designs. Costa, who had a photographic memory and a quick hand at sketching, was able to translate what he saw on the Paris runways into successful designs for the Suzy Perette company during the 1960s.
Costa has parlayed his early training into a multimillion-dollar business. He travels to Europe frequently to attend the haute couture, prêt-á-porter fashion shows, and Premier Vision fabrics. His ability to comprehend couture and ready-to-wear fashions is a complex and masterful talent. He is not content with only a quick sketch or photography but often goes so far as to purchase the original couture design to study the construction and fabric. He chooses many fabrics in Europe and the U.S., but prefers to do construction where he can oversee it, as he did with his Dallas-based company.
Costa is openly doing what others often attempt to mask. In a rapidly changing fashion world where shopping has become a recreational hobby, Costa has at times delivered merchandise to five different markets a year. All of these dresses are not replicas but may represent a distillation of the most current fashion trends. Costa translates the essence of these trends in his work. Designers' reactions to his imitations of their work vary from being flattered to being irritated by his intrusion into their diminishing market. The voluminous designs of Arnold Scaasi are a Costa favorite, as are the silhouettes in Christian Lacroix's work. During the controversial tuxedo-dress dispute in 1994 between Ralph Lauren and Yves Saint Laurent, Costa asserted that he, in fact, had designed the dress in 1990 as a copy of a look by Parisian designer Bernard Perris. Fashion runways are not the only source for Costa. Recognizing the increasing influence of movie and television stars, Costa is quick to turn dresses seen at the Academy Awards into eveningwear available to women of all ages for a fraction of the originals' price.
Business problems, including a lawsuit by a former employee and embezzlement by an officer in the company, forced Costa to close his Dallas-based company in 1995. He has, however, continued to offer his designs with the backing of several companies. He updated his line of suits and dresses offered in 2000 by including bare dresses and glitzy evening pants, some with embellished fabrics. His attention to clothing construction now takes him to China to work with beaders and embroidery artisans. Costa welcomes the admiration of new, younger patrons but remains devoted to the mature women he has served for so many years. There are loyal customers to whom he personally caters with the loving attention of a couture designer. Costa, whose client list reads like a "Who's Who" of society and entertainment personalities, seeks to make all women feel beautiful.
updated by Janette GoffDixon