Allen B. Schwartz never misses the Academy Awards television broadcast. Every March, he invites his employees to his Los Angeles ranch house to watch it with him. It is not because of his love for the movies. Allen's co-workers watch the Oscars intently with him with their sketchpads in hand. They furiously sketch all of the multi-thousand dollar designer gowns worn by the movie stars. It is not their hobby.
By the next morning, Schwartz's seamstresses have taken the sketches and whipped out copies of the gowns. By Wednesday, the copies are hanging in a New York showroom for buyers to see. By the end of May, Allen B. Schwartz versions of the gowns hit the stores carrying a retail price of $200-$345 instead of the $20,000-$30,000 of the originals.
Most fashion designers search for inspiration. Allen B. Schwartz relies on what he calls interpretations. He is the "King of the Knockoffs". He takes the best ideas from the spring and fall designer shows as well as the Oscars and makes his own version of them at a fraction of the cost.
His company, A.B.S. sells over $50,000,000 worth of merchandise a year through his company stores and at high fashion department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. A.B.S.'s motto is "designer looks at affordable prices".
Schwartz makes his garments by machine instead of by hand and with less expensive material.
He asked the question in a magazine interview, "Do most customers really care if mine is made from rayon georgette instead of silk georgette? All they know is that $600 is a hell of a lot of money to pay for a skirt."
His version of the $600 skirt is priced at $140.
Allen B. Schwartz grew up in Brooklyn and never dreamed as a kid that he would be in the fashion business.
After graduating from high school in 1962, he took his first job in the rag trade in the mailroom of a Manhattan brassiere maker. The company was struggling and he was laid off by Christmas. He worked at other jobs until 1966 when he returned to the fashion industry and went to work for what became the sportswear company, Espirit. He was put in charge of selling their dress line to department stores. Allen B. Schwartz discovered a talent for seeing what young women would want to wear.
By 1977, he owned 30% of Espirit. He felt burned out and sold his shares in the company and moved to California. For five years, he was basically retired and spent his time restoring an old house. In 1982, he began feeling restless and decided to get back in the clothing business.
Schwartz took $500,000 from his savings and started A.B.S. He reasoned that the customers he had outfitted through Espirit were getting older and needed clothes that looked good for work but would not cost a fortune.
He says the secret to his success is speed. He shamelessly copies the new clothes paraded out by the designers at their fashion shows and the Oscars and has his versions out in the blink of eye while it is still fresh in the buyer's mind.
He keeps a huge inventory of material ,so he doesn't have to worry about getting supplies, and has a dozen factories lined up ready to produce 80,000-120,000 garments a month.
Department and specialty stores love A.B.S., but won't talk about it. They don't want to upset the fashion designers. But, they know his less expensive versions of designer clothes keep their cash registers ringing.