By Emy LaCroix
For more than three decades, David Josef has been steadily creating some of the most beautiful designs made in America for celebrities, politicos, and strong, confident women; and he’s done it not from New York or Los Angeles, but from the humble city of Boston, Massachusetts.
Josef’s success comes from a vast versatility, an uncanny ability to create a garment with the intention of bringing the soul of a client to the public’s eye. His designs range from delicate bridal gowns to bold dresses and chic sportswear, but each has something in common; they bring forth the inner beauty of their wearer.
A skill like David Josef’s begins in youth, honed for years beside a great teacher. Josef’s mother was not only a teacher of skill to him, but began his understanding of how to dress a woman according to the woman’s needs and feelings.
DJ: I was raised in Providence R.I. My Mother, Gloria Prignano and my grandmother, Antoinette Gafafano were expert sewers and designers in their own right. I absorbed their talent – never formally taught – at 7 years old. I would raid my mother’s linen closet….take out some beautiful sheets and cut the middle out of them to make dresses for my back yard plays to raise money for Jerry Lewis and MD. My mom wasn’t thrilled when she found out, but she decided to go with it instead of fighting that her son sewed. Later, I went on to sew ALL of the uniforms for my high school majorette squad as a student at Classical High School (1971 – 1975), and cheerleader squads…as well as all of the costumes for the Drama Club!
TS: Where did you go to college? Did you study design or did you take a different route at first? DJ: I never did go to college. I was accepted in 1975 at Parsons School of Design in NYC after making a design for comedienne Kaye Ballard that she later wore on the Merv Griffin show in LA. She wore my dress and spoke about this 16 year old boy – David Prignano – from Prov. R.I. who, “made this gown for me…” And that’s how my career began. I was such a scaredy cat, and was totally intimidated to go to NYC, so I stayed home and sewed for my mom in her dressmaker and alteration shop – Tiffany Creations in N. Providence!
DJ: Because I never formally went to college, my education came from trying and failing and trying and getting it right. It was at this time that I met an incredible woman, Annette Donahue – owner of the Annette Donahue Modeling agency. She believed in me and got me to start doing informal modelling shows at the Classic Restaurant in N. Providence. I was a legitimate designer…MY CLOTHES WERE SELLING!!! YAY!!
David Josef moved to Lexington, MA to finally begin pursuing fashion for himself. Part confidence, part naivete lead him to aim for some lofty goals using long-shot techniques to publicize himself – but all of that bravery paid off, both in his business and personal life.
DJ: I left my mother’s store in North Prov officially in 1977, pursuing my dream in Lexington Ma. I was going to attend The School of Fashion Design in Boston – night school – and find a little atelier outside of Boston to start working with clients. I was very, very (for lack of a better word) ballsy! I threw a big opening for The David Josef Fashion Studio. I had my friends modeling, some of Annette Donahue’s girls walking through the streets on that beautiful spring day, handing out flowers to potential clients. Boy, as I think about it now…..I was a marketing genius!!!! That’s how it started.
In 1980 I met my future husband. October 11 is our anniversary….and we are still going strong into our 35th year, but then we were young and gorgeous! I did my four years of on-the-job training in Lexington, but I wanted bigger things – to move into Boston!!! During my four years in Lex, I had gained some notoriety – a lot of articles about me in The (Boston) Globe and Boston Herald, a regular spot on the local WCVB – TV 5’s “Good Day Show.”
Finally, Josef was ready to take on a real city. A move to Boston, some major publicity, and the backing of a renowned company sparked the growth to the major name that he is today.
DJ: Danny and I found a wonderful loft space in Boston’s Copley Square – 3rd floor walk up in the center of Copley – THE GREATEST LOCATION A YOUNG DESIGNER COULD EVER FIND! While at this location, I was still working with the “Good Day Show” and in the winter of 1981, I was going to display my holiday collection, such as it was, on TV and needed beautiful accessories. So why not call the biggest retailer in Boston – Bonwit Teller – and ask if they would loan me some jewelry? AGAIN……such chutzpah! The general manager wanted to see my designs before he lent me anything, to see if DJ and BT were a good fit together. HE LOVED MY CLOTHES! I was 24 yrs old and over the moon!
Chuck Alpert, the GM, soon introduced me to the New York buyers of Bonwit Teller and my career started to soar! It was amazing and scary. The NYC buyer liked my pieces and took a chance on a young designer. BT was opening a new store in Kansas City and ordered a black and white silk faille pantsuit. They introduced my work to Bonwits in the one store… the suit sold and suddenly I was in every store around the country! My daytime wool jersey collections, my soft, silk jacquard dresses and pant suits, I was in Bonwit’s catalogs. SUDDENLY I was SOOOO HOT, I even had the Christmas windows at Bonwit Teller NYC, the flagship store, during the holidays of 1987…IT WAS AMAZING!
Never losing the sense of gratefulness and passion, Josef climbed to the top of the Boston fashion scene. But his designs didn’t stop in Boston, they began to fill up shelves in department stores spanning the country.
DJ: I had found my look – my niche in the market. My designs of easy to wear dresses were perfectly suited for a Mother of the Bride market or elegant cocktail clothes. With Bonwits believing in me, I soon found myself in Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Ave, Nordstrom, Lord and Taylor – every major department store across America and about 300 specialty shops as well.
My company was growing by leaps and bounds, so I moved out of Copley to a 3500 sq foot loft in the South End of Boston. It was there that I met the Menino family. Our beloved mayor, Thomas Menino and his family were a staple at ALL of my events – fashion shows, AIDS benefits and fundraisers. Mayor Menino and his family were front and center at Danny and my wedding on October 26, 2013.
David Josef’s story has helped to mold his distinct, yet versatile aesthetic, which he describes as “clean, classic, sophisticated.with a touch of va- va- voom! The mood of my most recent collection is romantic and lush!” While some of these lush and classic ladies may be famous, Josef says the connection is the same for each woman he dresses.
TS: You’ve dressed some very impressive people, including Kitty Dukakis. Who are some of your other clients that you really enjoyed dressing or created a very special outfit for?
DJ: I have had the honor of dressing thousands of women through my 37-year career. People usually think that dressing celebrities is the highlight of a career, but the women I adore are my clients who walk in to see me in a desperate state! Feeling dismissed by the department stores and designers, they come to me as a last resort – apologetic, nervous, head down. By the end of our work together, I come up with a design and fabric and start to sew, fittings, and then the final result, my client now has her shoulders back, her head held high, and CANNOT WAIT for the wedding she was sooooo not looking forward to just a few weeks earlier.
I’ve dressed many celebrities. I dressed the wonderful wife of Michael Dukakis during his run for President in 1988. Kitty was and still is a client and wonderful friend. I was also dressing the incredible actress Judith Light, who was starring in “Who’s The Boss” on ABC TV. In the 80’s and 90’s my designs were featured on television shows such as “Knots Landing,” “Designing Women,” “Golden Girls,” “All my Children” and many more!
TS: Is there one item that you’ve created that sums up your aesthetic perfectly?
DJ: One item that sums up my aesthetic perfectly is my first dress that I sold thousands of to ALL the major department stores and to hundreds of specialty stores…it’s this dress…..Here is my 1st Harpers Bazaar ad!! SO EXCITING!
TS: Who do you design for? Describe your ideal client in three words and explain.
DJ: I design for the regular gal who wants that very special dress for a special occasion…in 3 words: over the moon!
TS: You have created some absolutely breathtaking bridal gowns. How is designing for a bride different from any other event or garment need?
DJ: Designing for a bride is no different from designing for a Mother of the Bride, or a gal in need of a beautiful dress. A designer MUST listen; that is the key to designing any dress.
David Josef is an enigma; always growing and changing to suit his current world, his current feel for it. Though sometimes this world could be cold or confusing, Josef found ways to mold his business and designs to suit his needs, and the needs of his clients and keep his love for fashion fresh.
TS: Was there ever a point that you thought you couldn’t do it? How did you come out ahead?
DJ: My business was amazing, but by the time 2008 rolled along, I was exhausted. Travelling every weekend for two months at a time, four times a year to make appearances in stores, trunk shows etc. burnt me out. By March of 2008, within one hour of each other, I found out that my Mom had brain cancer and that the landlord had sold my building. We had 45 days to find a new location. I was tired, depressed and in shock. My Danny packed us up. My mother passed away in June of 2008 and I relocated my business – with only me…no more 22 employees – to Waltham, M.A., where I currently work. Designing and making custom designs just as I did in 1977 in my atelier in Lexington. I’ve come full circle! Pretty awesome. I’m happier now than I’ve ever been in my life. We share our home with our big boy Pug, Buzzy; we lost his sister in December of 2011.
TS: What do you think you would be today if not a designer?
DJ: If I were not a designer… I probably would have gone into the arts in some way: a stand up comedienne, BUT – my husband says I would have been an old hooker on the corner… after a while, you kind of respect her! Hahahahaha!
David Josef has never lost the personal touch to his designs. To this day, the only way to get your own custom David Josef Design is “to call me and we make an appointment to meet and play!” at 781 373 1355. Visit on Facebook at DavidJosefFashions, or email email@example.com. For a garment full of soul, passion, and the history of fashion in Boston, one must turn to the funny and ever-enthusiastic designer David Josef.