Sylvie Cachay, Va. native fashion designer, found dead in N.Y.; boyfriend charged

By Annie Gowen and Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 10, 2010; 10:05 PM

A New York fashion designer who graduated from Marymount University in Arlington and grew up in McLean, decorating the walls of her childhood bedroom with magazine cutouts of runway models, was found dead in an overflowing bathtub in a swank Manhattan hotel early Thursday. Sylvie Cachay, 33, was faceup and had bruising near her neck and an apparent bite mark on her body, according to a spokesman for the New York Police Department, but the cause of death has not been determined.

Cachay's boyfriend, Nicholas Brooks, the son of songwriter Joseph Brooks, has been charged with attempted murder and strangulation, according to the Associated Press. Officials did not explain why the charge was attempted murder.

On Friday, a steady flow of relatives and friends streamed into the Cachay family's expansive white brick house in McLean, tucked into a forested neighborhood adjacent to the Beltway. Cachay, who was a dual citizen of the United States and Peru, came from a large family of Peruvian immigrants. She was born and grew up in McLean with father Antonio, a surgeon with a private practice who is affiliated with Inova Fairfax Hospital; mother Sylvia, an artist; and brother Patrick, who works in the financial services industry.

Two of Cachay's cousins looked at photos of her Friday afternoon.

"She had amazing fashion taste even when she was a little kid," said one of them. "She did a beautiful job putting on her makeup. She had perfect skin - she never had a pimple growing up. What kind of teenager are you that you don't ever have a blemish?"

Until the market tanked in 2008 and she lost her investors, Cachay, who lived in the West Village, was starting to make waves in the New York fashion world with a line of luxury swimwear called Syla, which featured swimsuit sets that retailed at Bloomingdale's for $200 or more. She was inspired by the leisure-class portraiture of the British photographer Cecil Beaton, according to a two-page spread in Elle magazine three years ago, which also mentioned her penchant for Christian Louboutin shoes, her admiration of Austrian artists Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, and her ideal customer type: "A glamorous woman on holiday."

A former business associate of Cachay's described the young designer as "a rising star" who was stunted by a bad economy and hoped to restart her line in the near future. At the time of her death, she was the head designer for Anne Cole, a mid-range swimwear line that dabbles in trends.

"She was a very, very valued employee," said Maryann Bonardi, office manager for In Mocean Group, which owns Anne Cole. "She was extremely talented, as well as very beautiful."

Cachay had a membership at the SoHo House, a hotel and exclusive club that she had reportedly been staying at after a small bedroom fire at her apartment this week, according to family members. There were no outward signs of a struggle, and bottled prescription drugs were found in the hotel room, according to AP.

The hotel staff discovered Cachay after guests on the first floor complained of water leakage, which stemmed from the overflowing tub. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Nicholas Brooks, her boyfriend of six months, arrived with her at the hotel several hours earlier, but he was not on the scene when police were called. He returned to the room while authorities were investigating.

The investigation is ongoing, police said.

Cachay's cousins said they knew little about Brooks, the 24-year-old son of Joseph Brooks, who won an Academy Award in 1978 for penning the super-ballad "You Light Up My Life," from the film of the same name.

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