You remember Oleg Cassini. He was the tiny man with the large wit, the ladies' man of Russian-Italian aristocracy who was dubbed official dress designer to Jacqueline Kennedy at the White House. He was the man who always had dapper in front of his name, the man credited with Jackie's American look and A-line dress.
But Cassini, now a white-haried 66, calls himself "another Dorian Gray." He never got a Coty Award, the fashion industry's Oscar. He was knocked as a front for Jackie's French designer purchases and never was accepted by the fashion establishment . . . These days he doesn't even sell women's clothes in the United States.
But he is now at peace with all that.
"I am the designer of the people," he says.
He's right. A survey sponsored by Galaxy Carpets, one of the 50 or so firms that carry the Oleg Cassini label, indicate that 70 percent of those women queried recognize the Cassini name, more than those who tuned in to Coco Chanel (66 percent), Yves Saint Laurent (63 percent) and Emilo Pucci (57 percent).
"I'm a $50-million business," says Cassini. That's almost as big as the business done in two Bloomies suburban stores or three Lord & Taylor branches.
It's all part of an empire that includes menswear, furs, carpets, sheets, coffee bottles, a collection of clothes made in Milan, and now men's and women's perfumes for Jovan.
It's this latest endeavor -- perfumes -- that has brought him back to Washington. He spent yesterday promoting the product he calls "erotic," a momemto, to says, of his first seductive woman in Florence.
She was beautiful and smelled of gardenias. He was 16 and tantalized. They danced, they laughed, and as the story unfolds, whether true or not, it grows better and better.
She was pretty, but after all, "I was educated by Jesuits and I had a very uneducated point of view in these matters," he remembers. "But then she beckoned me from the room," he trails off. The rest is not for the readers.
He is still a romantic. Yesterday, at the Congressional Country Club, where he was introduced after a fashion show by Woodward & Lothrop, he quipped, "I've been presented to you as the dessert." The women loved it.
"He's attractive, isn't he. What a nice luncheon companion," said Margaret McAuliffe, a contemporary of Cassini's.
He is honest enough to admit that none of the recognition would have happened without Jackie. "Without her I wouldn't have the right to call myself a real trend-setting designer," he says.
It didn't hurt, either, that he also designed for Grace Kelly and Gene Tierney, the woman he married twice.
He is still a Jackie fan, "a loyalist, a friend," as he describes it. But if she needed one designer while she was "imprisoned" in the White House, she doesn't need to call on him anymore. Now her life is more varied and she needs more designers, he says. "Besides, I am part of the sad association of tragic events. Camelot will never be again.
He's still in touch. He just played in the RFK tennis tournament (and lost early because of a twisted ankel.) He sidesteps questions about designing for Joan Kennedy, except to mention that she was once a client, too.
When he was New York designer, the clothes sold well he says, because he fitted them on both a size 6 and size 14 model, (size 14 is the typical American size, he says). "The problem with New York designers is that they think everyone looks like Cheryl Tiegs."
He now makes clothes in Milan. "The American career woman won't spend more than $250 on a dress." And he can't afford to make quality clothes here for that. In Milan he has a collection of dresses sold successfully throughout Europe.
He turns down two for every one request he accepts for the use of his name. Among the rejections of late are food, face creams, hair rinses and bicycles. He doesn't pretend to design every item for his 50 companies. "I act as a quarterback," he says.
No one has asked him to do a book, but he is ripe for one on dieting, he says. Why not? When you see him in his tight, tight pants, he has an enviable physique. As they say in the business, he's got a "10-inch drop." Before you guess, it means his waist is 10 inches smaller than his shoulder width. Most men have a six-inch drop.
He starts with a formula borrowed from Alfred Hitchcock from the days when he was doing costumes for Grace Kelly in "To Catch a Thief." Coffee and juice for breakfast, shrimp coctail for lunch and anything you want for dinner. "So contradictory is the human spirit that when you say you can have anything you want, you don't want much," he says.
The physique and the charm still work on women, he says. "Maybe because of my age, women don't turn me down these dats. There are two kinds of women. Those who like youth -- they are in the great minority. And then there are those who like older men. It is reassuring for a woman to go out with an older man who really doesn't care about the results."
And for sure, age has not diminished the self-assured wit and style.
His problem now is to find someone to play Oleg Cassini in the upcoming film about Gene Tierney. "I don't consider myself handsome, but I'm not ugly either," he teases. He dismisses Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, then considers Omar Sharif. Or perhaps Oleg himself playing Oleg with a dark wig. He laughs, but he doesn't say no.