Sandy Dalal pulled a U-turn on Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn Heights in his navy blue 1986 Toyota Land Cruiser. He was shopping for a bathtub for his first apartment, a loft in his parents’ building near the Strand Book Store in Greenwich Village. In the back seat a paint-by-numbers version of The Last Supper , a wedding present he’s giving some college friends, slid from side to side. An empty Carvel sorbet smoothie container rested next to his homemade plaid and leather messenger bag. A CD by Tribe Called Quest played softly.
“Oh, how horrible this conversation is,” said Mr. Dalal, who will turn 23 in July. He was discussing being named one of People magazine’s 50 most beautiful human beings last year. He is 5 feet 8 inches tall, a slight 130 pounds with dark wavy hair that he cut to chin length for the summer. Every few minutes, he brushed it behind his ears. His eyes have been described as “celadon” and “emerald.” His arms were covered with notes he had written to himself in Magic Marker. He wore jeans, a blue T-shirt that said “Hugh O’Brian Foundation Youth Leadership Seminar,” which he got from his cousin, and Jil Sander shoes that he bought in Hong Kong.
“We declined to do it at first,” he said of the People interview. Last year, Mr. Dalal became the youngest designer to be given the Perry Ellis men’s wear award. He consults his parents-who with other friends and family represent his entire financial backing-on everything from how to run a business to whom to invite to this year’s American Fashion Awards afterparty (which he co-hosted with designer Narciso Rodriguez and model Kate Moss, though she never showed) to what’s for dinner and what time he’ll be home. He is still living with them near Union Square, where the family moved after his childhood home on Central Park South became the offices of Sandy Dalal Limited in 1997.
“At a certain point in time you are going on such a tangent, you are losing what the fuck you are supposed to be doing. But the reality of it is that the exposure level is ridiculous. It’s insane. If my company folds today, if there is one thing I will be known for, it’s [being on the People magazine list],” he said, shaking his head. “That is the weird part of it.”
Two years ago, four credits shy of a degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Dalal dropped out and started his own design company. His parents were pissed, but they still gave him his senior year tuition for start-up money.
He had spent years fooling around with fabric at his mom’s office and traveling with her to mills; she’s a freelance fabric scout. During his junior year, he and his parents showed his designs to Loving and Weintraub, a fashion publicity company, which agreed to organize a show for him in July 1997 during the spring 1998 men’s wear collections.
“The collection was coming together … We had hired one person and I was mooching off my mom’s staff a bit. It was really fun.” The show was held across the street from Bryant Park; they wheeled up the clothes on racks.
“I walk out, there are like 700 or 800 people sitting in this steaming little room,” recalled Mr. Dalal. “And I thought I walked out on the wrong runway. Everyone is clapping and screaming. You see a huge crowd dotted with friends everywhere, but the rest of it is, like, all of these people I had never seen before, like your Liz Saltzmans and all of these other people, and it is, like, ‘Why are you all here? I don’t know any of you, you don’t know any of me.’ It is just weird. Weird that the clothes themselves and the idea of coming to a fashion show attracts so many people.”
The collection was made up of clean-cut, splashily patterned clothes. Color! It blended street gear, like T-shirts and sneakers, with sleek suits. His mom is a fabric consultant to the company; his dad, a C.P.A. with his own business, does the books. A friend of his mom, Manjit Johan, 27, is the marketing director. “Everyone pooled their resources together,” said Mr. Dalal. “Family, friends, everything.”
Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s all ordered part of the line and it is now also carried in boutiques across the United States and all over Japan. A T-shirt costs $80, a suit between $900 and $2,000, and a shearling coat, $3,000. He has dressed Beck, Ricky Martin, Wyclef Jean, Ash Sood (Mr. Sarah McLachlan) and members of Tribe Called Quest.
After he won the Perry Ellis award in February 1998, he received a note from Ralph Lauren congratulating him. “It was weird to get a note from Ralph Lauren,” Mr. Dalal said. “It was basically, like, my first day as a designer. Now maybe it would be a little different because we all have our heads up our asses a bit.”
Now he has a William Morris agent, and it has been estimated that his company will do $1 million in sales in 1999.
A place on Atlantic Avenue agreed to fix up an antiquetubhehad found on MyrtleAvenue-bringing the tab to $700.” Ciao , ciao ,” said Mr. Dalal on his way out, which is the way he ends most conversations, even with the tub reglazing guy.
Hisparents,MaheshandLoma Agashiwala moved to the Bronx from India in 1970. He was born in 1976. (His name is Sangiv.) He attended the Browning School, an all-boys school on the Upper East Side, starting in the second grade. He and his brother Raj, 16, walked to school. He said he liked Browning, but it made it hard to meet girls. Raj just finished his sophomore year at Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut.
Mr. Dalal remembers playdates with kids who lived in town houses complete with butlers and internal elevators. But his family lived a fairly modest upper-middle-class life in a two-bedroom apartment on Central Park South. His parents were very protective.
“You would not go [to the East Village] or were not supposed to go there … Fourteen and 15 were the hugest years of discovery for me. That is the time I finally somehow ended up in SoHo or ended up in TriBeCa.”
Mr. Dalal made B grades at Browning and his extracurricular life consisted of fencing lessons at the New York Athletic Club. “When I got into college, it was like I had gotten lucky,” he said. “I should just cut my losses. I should just try to get through school.”
His freshman year at Penn, he lost 60 pounds from his “gut, ass and arms” by not eating red meat for a year. “I hated the food at college. I never went to the dining hall,” he said.
He majored in Asian studies, took economics classes and followed the Wharton School of Business core curriculum. “Freshman year I kind of had an idea … I wanted to do business and trading and traveling in Southeast Asia. It had nothing to do with clothes.”
He worked for his mom during vacations. “I started getting involved in the factory stuff and enjoying it. I started to try to make things seriously and some half-decent stuff came out.”
His sophomore year he made a deal with his dad to pay for part of his tuition. “You just don’t feel comfortable after a while taking that from your parents.” He had invested some money from doing construction work during high school. “I got a little lucky in the stock market,” he said.
By his junior year, he had decided he wanted to design clothes.Hestartedusing Dalal, his mother’s maiden name, and took extra classes to try to graduate a year early. At the end of the spring semester, he had one A-minus and four incompletes.
“The fashion thing just looked cool,” he said. “At the beginning, it was more of a stepping-stone idea. I became gung-ho on it when the first awesome-looking stuff came out. The idea of putting it all together as a presentation, that idea alone was fascinating.”
He went to visit the dean of undergraduate students to tell her that he was launching his own men’s wear label and was going to put off graduating. “They were really nice about it. The deal is, if I finish the work I have left over … this is the weird thing, the dean walked me into this little office and she was like, unofficially it shouldn’t go out of this room, but files at Penn are never closed … Whatever. Through all the shit that I say, Penn gets so much publicity, anyway.”
Mr. Dalal attended about half of the six-hour American Fashion Awards ceremony on June 2. At 10 P.M., before the torch was passed to another young men’s wear designer, he bolted for Club Ohm in Chelsea, where his afterparty was under way. He had invited an entire crew from Penn; his family; his doormen-”They used to wipe my ass, we moved in there so young!”-and the guy who parks his car at the garage.
He hadn’t even voted on the new men’s wear designer award-or any others-claiming that he didn’t know the clothes of any of the nominees: Matt Nye (the winner), Tony Melillo and Cynthia Rowley. (His business manager filled out the ballot for him.) He even claims to have never laid eyes on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Oscar dress.
“I enjoy what I do, but when it becomes trivial, it is a pain in the ass,” he said, still driving. “That is why the fashion part of what I do sometimes wigs me out.”
Watching Isaac Mizrahi babble about his sources of inspiration in Unzipped “grossed me out,” he said. “Well, that is a movie. That is supposed to be funny and ridiculous. He is acting. I have no beef with that. It’s when people actually say, ‘This collection is inspired by the blue hues of the Caribbean …’” he shook his head.
“But going to a factory and learning all kinds of shit! When I am at the factory”-near Union Square, where his suits are made-”at 5 in the morning, with all of these old guys in jackets and ties, every one is up and cranking, working, spiffily dressed, at 5 in the morning!” He stopped short at a red light.
“It is a different world. It is such a good feeling to wake up in the morning and pick up a coffee and walk around Seventh Avenue a little bit. You just stand in the middle of the street and you can see all the way downtown and you feel like you-actually you’re standing in the middle of everything-and you can do anything you want at that point in time.”
His afternoons are spent in his studio-the apartment where he was raised, which he has given a sleek renovation. Black cement floors in the bathroom, a gray wash on the ceilings, a mixture of cement and vegetable oil. He and his staff made a cutting table, a couple of benches, the bulletin boards, a desk and shelves. “We buy the wood and cut it, finish it and screw it together.”
Mr. Dalal doesn’t draw sketches. He takes a piece of fabric, drapes it on a form and snips and folds it until it works. “This morning, we were working on a jacket,” he said. “It is long. It has a biker jacket collar. We say it should be this long, look kind of squarish. Then you chop here and there and change the collar so many times it comes out like shit. We were about to scrap a jacket this afternoon. It just looked really bad.”
The $700 tub was scheduled to be repaired and delivered to his new apartment in a couple of weeks. He is annoyed with everyone asking him why he is spending so much time on his new apartment. “It is the most important place in my life,” he said, “Everything important in my life will happen in that space.”
He had crossed the Manhattan Bridge and was cruising Elizabeth Street, eyeing all the new boutiques. His life has been very “businessy” lately, he said; that is why. He is preparing for “intense growth”: launching a women’s line and opening his own store.
In May, Mr. Dalal went to Salt Cay, an island near the Bahamas, with a friend who is a reporter at Newsweek . She read about it on the Internet.
“We started talking about ambition,” said Mr. Dalal about the trip. “Ambition seems to be the driving force behind everything, how much ambition you actually have to do all what you want to do. It just seems that it is such a weird thing. It will make you do crazy, things, like all kinds of stuff. It will make you work hard, it will make you work 24 hours a day.
“This island is full of people who have dropped out of civilization. They don’t use money, they don’t do anything. You build a wall and they buy you a Budweiser. It is as simple as that. It is just a different culture. And it shows that you don’t really need money. It is as bad as you want it. They didn’t want it, so they didn’t have it.”
In February, his female friend is going to South Africa for a year on a Fulbright scholarship. “She is really smart, really fun. She’s a good girl.”
Her looming departure makes him uneasy. “It’s not worth it. I feel … it is weird, my life is in a stage where, um, shit has to last more than … anything has to last more than, like, five minutes, you know? Serious things. You know? She and I are friends.”
He drove uptown. On East 29th Street, he bounded out of the car after an old, classic sink in a dumpster. But his slight frame could not budge it.