The woman taxi driver parked near the Place Vendome was laughing aloud at the antics of the the rotund man in the center of the rue Castiglone. Two cars had stopped abruptly in the middle of the crosswalk, the driver of each racing to greet animatedly the Oscar Wilde-like figure. A woman, apparently another old friend, raced against the light to join the group and giggled childishly as she was engulfed in the big man's arms and he planted hard buses on both cheeks.
"Farfalous ," said the taxi driver. "Exaggerated. Burlesque. His chapeau is too broad-brimmed. His tie too red. He loves all the adulation, and I would love to know this man."
Lots of people know Bernie Ozer. He is all over the fashion business, at showings, the flea market, shops, showrooms, restaurants, nightclubs, seeing every scene all over the world, and being seen everywhere.
That's has job. Bernard Ozer, 48, is vice president of Associated Merchandising Corporation, a buying office. His job is to see what is being designed, sold and worn everywhere in the world, then digest and distill it for American customers by way of the 30 stores and their branches that own AMC. He's a trend tracker, an editor, an instigator. He influences what a lot of people wear.
"He can see three years down the road, and knows well what has gone on in the past. And he knows how to pinpoint the proper place for everything he sees," says Kal Ruttenstein, vice president and fashion director for Bloomingdale's, an AMC store. (Woodies is the other AMC store in Washington.) "He doesn't see a dress as a dress, say, but sees it as a part of a life style."
And when he senses that something new or refreshing -- it could be as small as a button or a sleeve or a total outfit -- is on target for the American customer, he'll buy it in a boutique, from a manufacturer, even off the back of the person wearing it, and then get manufacturers to copy it and stores to buy it. "Bernie's the ultimate trend tracker," says Melvin Schneck, vice president of AMC. The stores count on him for market inspiration and innovation, adds Schneck, Bernie's boss.
Several years ago he came back from Europe with a patchwork sweater which he believed was an omen for a fresh idea. It took a while, but patchwork jeans followed and the specific patchwork sweater became one of the hottest designs in the junior market.
"Fashion is no longer on one place. That's kaput," says Ozer, fingering his diamond "O" tie-pin. "Now there are more levels to the customer. We can thank the '60s for giving us that freedom."
He spotted "jelly sandals" on a beach in Dubrovnik a couple of years ago, and they were quickly picked up by young people to wear with anklets. The style then mushroomed into cheaper as well as more expensive designs for everyone.
From the last collection in Paris there are cummerbunds, middly collars and bertha collars, sundresses and much more.
"Just this minute fashion is taking on the nuance of the part," says Ozer, a big believer in the Seven-Year-Cycle theory of fashion: that styles move on only about every seven years.
Bernie Ozer is a good example of the aggressive fashion merchant who literally started at the bottom and, Horatio Alger-style, worked himself up.
He says he was born "on the wrong side of the tracks" in the Bronx, attended City College (CCNY) and New York University, then spun through training programs at Franklin Simon and S. Klein, both aggressive promotional stores in their heyday in New York.
His first "real" job, he says, was as trainee-assistant for basement dresses at Ohrbach's in the early 1950s. "If you start in the basement and work from the ground up in makes you more realistic... and you develop a sense of humor or you go crazy," says Ozer.
He started at AMC in 1961, and was named vice president a little more than a year ago.("It's not my style to skip around much," he says.)
It is also not his style to sit still.
He takes several major trips yearly... Tokyo, Milan, Florence, Rome, Paris, St. Tropez, London. "In this business you can't live a New York ghetto existence."
He dubs St. Tropez the 59th Street and Third Avenue of France. Everything and everyone passes through this hyped-up, on-camera resort. He returned from St. Tropez last summer with pictures he had had taken of a Volkswagen bug with a black hood and yellow body and a picture of a lineup of beach umbrellas in segments of purple, blue and white. It was his way of underscoring the point that black and brights or white with bright colors will be important color trends this summer. He's exactly on target.
Ozer's pitch on the handpainted, super size T-shirts by John Berry that he also spotted in St. Tropez last summer, will undoubtedly make that shirt a hot item this coming summer. The fact that Ozer wore it himself gave the fashion a sizable boost, says the shirts' creator, John Berry.
Most newness [in fashion] starts in France," says Ozer. "Fabrics, color, design, it all starts here. And the boutiques are here to nourish all the new talent.
"It's nothing we have to be paranoid about," he says. "We have to go to a library to learn, don't we?"
Outside the Palais du Chaillot after the Yves Saint Laurent show Ozer talks animatedly with a boutique owner, an assistant, two models and a store buyer, making plans to visit boutiques in Les Halles after lunch with some, check out purchases with another, promote a dinner of buyers, models, manufacturers, a WWD reporter, assistants at a chic bistro with others.
A cab he has corralled for the day is standing by, illegally parked, its driver eager for his employer's next move. Ozer dismisses his entourage with reminder instructions to each, then dashes between moving cars to the taxi -- pleased that a photographer is marking this move. "I look good this way," he says and settles back in a Paris taxi.
As the cab slows in traffic along the Rue Faubourg St. Honore, Ozer checks out shop windows with a side glance."Your eye must be trained to look at things sideways to get an image quickly," he says.
And frontwards. And inside out. "My job is not to look at pretty things," says Ozer. "It is to weed the good and the prophetic from all the rest. Then I pass this information along to help stores get a sense of the trends for the next year."
The point is not just to be an ety-opener, he says. In the boutiques he buys clothes for American buyers to see, American manufacturers to copy. "Not to copy exactly," he insists, "but to influence what they create." He says he offers ideas to stores so that they then can come up with their own mix of merchandise. And to manufacturers so that they can have current things to offer stores.
"I called Bernie one day to find out where I could find some minisacks," says Ruttenstein, remembering the time Halston had designed above-the-knee shifts. Ruttenstein has cooked up a January promotion with Bloomingdale's on polka dots, including a junior shop called "Hot Dots" that opens next week.)
During the ready-to-wear collection here in October, Ozer shopped 200 boutiques ("Either you do it or you fake it... I prefer to do it."), saw 20 fashion shows, the booths at the Porte de Versailles, manufacturers' show rooms, and the flea market, among others.
There was lunch each day, often at a swanky restaurant with an entourage of business chums, and dinner at a swankier bistro with a bigger crowd.
"Let's go, gang," he said to his entourage after polishing off a huge bowl of mixed sorbet (ices) and cookies at the Cafe Julien. A few of his pals peeled off to go back to their hotels but six piled into two cabs and headed for the Paradis Latin, the canbert nightclub with a sense of humor, currently the most popular club in town.
The doorman greeted him by name. So did the ticket seller, the maitre d', some walters. Some guests waved and said hello. Some he knew, some he didn't.
Within a few minutes he had slipped into a white coat and sauntered out on stage in an all-white costume number tapping balloons with the transvestites and other stars of the show. After a few minutes, a few from his entourage followed him on stage, then from the balcony, two Bergdorf Goodman executives.
"Count on Bernie Ozer to catch fashion from every angle," said an exhausted buyer in the audience.