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The Look

Abboud had early designs on his career

At 16, future fashion designer Joseph Abboud stood outside Louis Boston with his nose pressed against the display windows, not daring to go in. These days, he's welcomed inside like a conquering hero.

In town to promote his new memoir, ''Threads: My Life Behind the Seams in the High Stakes World of Fashion," Abboud stops by the Back Bay store where he got his start in the business.

As he walks through Louis Boston, he's greeted with hugs and handshakes. He chats with Arthur Jordan, who suggested Abboud apply for a part-time job at the store when he was a teenager, and Russ Mitchell, whose family owns two upscale Connecticut stores that carry his clothes. Even people who don't know Abboud but recognize him point discreetly and smile in his direction.

Though Abboud is the consummate insider as one of the world's top menswear designers, he remains very much a regular guy from Boston.

''Louis Boston was a huge part of my career. I really landed in a world of very glamorous style, beautiful clothes, just the world of what international fashion was about," he says. ''If this had never happened, then the rest of it wouldn't have happened."

Abboud, 54, was born in the South End into a working-class Lebanese family that later moved to Roslindale. At Roslindale High in the late '60s, he wasn't the most athletic or most likely to succeed, but he was the best dressed. Abboud's mother was a seamstress and on a trip to Australia, he discovered that his great-grandfather owned the country's largest men's tailored-clothing company. As a child, Abboud watched movies at the now-defunct National Theatre on Tremont Street and learned from the glamorous stars onscreen that stylish, well-made clothes represented a better life.

After graduating from UMass-Boston, Abboud turned down a teaching job at Brookline High School to work full time at Louis Boston.

He now lives in Westchester, N.Y., with his daughters Lila and Ari and wife Lynn. He still returns to Boston frequently, often to watch his beloved Red Sox play. In 2002, he threw out the first pitch at a Sox-Blue Jays game.

As he strolls through Louis Boston, Abboud is, not surprisingly, impeccably dressed. He's wearing a black cashmere turtleneck, black pinwale corduroys, and a black pocket square with small white polka dots peeks out of a classic double breasted black-and-white herringbone jacket made in the company's New Bedford factory.

The designer is charming, funny, and down-to-earth, much as he comes across in his book. ''Threads" is an engaging read not just for fashionistas but for anyone who appreciates a good story told well. Abboud takes readers inside the fashion business, from designing and selling clothes to naming colors so that simple brown, for example, becomes bourbon, whisky, or tobacco.

He offers candid observations about other designers without being gossipy or mean-spirited. Abboud jokes the gloves may come off if he ever writes a novel about the fashion industry, but he's already secured a place in pop culture history thanks to a memorable ''Seinfeld" episode and his frequent appearances on Don Imus's radio show.

Many of Abboud's famous friends are also his customers, including Wynton Marsalis, Tom Brokaw, and former Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, a good friend whom Abboud describes as one of his heroes. Abboud clearly loves clothes -- the fabrics, color, craftsmanship -- and not just fashion as in the image, the parties, the fads.

You won't see him jump on the disposable trend bandwagon designing skirts for men or popping up on ''Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." Abboud has been talking with PBS about doing what he describes as an intelligent lifestyle show for men. He's also working on his Fall 2005 line, whose theme is rugged elegance. In his designs, Abboud draws inspiration from sources as varied as Japanese culture and the Scottish highlands to the fall colors of the Berkshires and stones on Nantucket beaches.

The designer worries about the abundance of bad information available to men that makes fashion seem more suited to runways than real life. He says men are still learning that it's OK to count style and taste among their interests.

''A lot of times I suggest using the woman in your life -- your wife or your girlfriend -- because generally they are really great sounding boards," he says.

While Abboud has had an extraordinary career, he writes about the lows as well as the highs: experiencing racial profiling after Sept. 11, a court battle over legal rights to his name, and a failed flagship store on Newbury Street, now occupied by Donna Karan, with the Joseph Abboud imprint still faintly visible on the facade.

What's gotten him through the rough times, and made the good times that much sweeter, is relying on his roots.

"I use my past as a solid foundation for whatever I'm going to do in the future," he says. ''I keep my feet on the ground, and they just happen to be on the ground in Boston."

Rhonda Stewart can be reached at