Michael Leva

Early Life and Education

Michael Leva is a multidisciplinary creative who’s work spans fashion, beauty, home and food.

Starting his own progressive women’s collection at 26 years old—immediately scoring the coveted windows of Bergdorf Goodman and a Vogue profile—he has gone on to build a successful career as an executive for several fashion and beauty brands. An accomplished interior designer his homes are widely published. He was a contributing editor at Martha Stewart Living. He co-authored the cookbook and entertaining manual Recipes for Parties. Michael is a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

Michael Leva was born in 1962 and grew up with a passion for fashion that would later define his career. His early years were marked by a keen interest in design, which was nurtured by his supportive family. Leva’s education in fashion began formally when he attended a prestigious design school, where he honed his skills and developed his unique style. This foundation set the stage for his early entry into the competitive world of fashion design.

Rise to Fame in the Late 1980s

“The New Majors”

In 1989, Michael Leva was recognized by Women’s Wear Daily as one of “The New Majors,” a title that signified his emerging prominence in the fashion industry. This accolade came at a time when he was beginning to make a significant impact with his sophisticated and wearable clothing designs. His work was noted for its affordability and real-world appeal, distinguishing him from his contemporaries.

Media Recognition

Leva’s burgeoning career was further highlighted when the New York City weekly 7 Days featured him on its cover in March 1989 for its “Designers on the Verge” segment. The Los Angeles Times also recognized his talent in 1990, describing him as part of “New York’s new guard” of designers, which included notable names like Jennifer George, Rebecca Moses, and Gordon Henderson. These recognitions helped cement his status as a rising star in the fashion world.

Signature Style and Influences

First Fashion Show

Leva made a bold entrance into the fashion industry with his debut show in 1986, featuring tie-dyed taffeta evening dresses. The show, held in the Soho boutique of nightlife impresario Susanne Bartsch, was a testament to his innovative approach to fashion. This initial success was made possible by the financial support of his parents, showcasing their belief in his potential.

Design Philosophy

Michael Leva’s design philosophy was centered around creating clothes that were both special and new, yet not overly eccentric. His work was often compared to that of Geoffrey Beene, but Leva carved out his own niche with designs inspired by the natural world and the human body. His refined color palette and attention to proportions were particularly evident in his Rothko-inspired dresses, which highlighted his understanding of color’s musicality.

Collaborations and Business Ventures

Partnership with Aileen Newquist

Leva’s career was bolstered by his partnership with Aileen Newquist, a former Morgan Stanley analyst and high school friend. Newquist organized a group of investors to finance Leva’s business, enabling him to scale his operations and reach a wider audience. This collaboration was pivotal in transitioning Leva from a promising designer to a business-savvy entrepreneur.

Consulting Career

After achieving fame as a designer, Michael Leva transitioned into a career as a fashion executive and branding consultant. His expertise was sought after by various fashion companies, where he applied his design sensibilities and business acumen to help shape their brand identities. This phase of his career allowed him to remain influential in the fashion industry, even as he moved away from the spotlight.

Personal Attributes and Legacy

Sober Mien and Good Manners

Michael Leva was known not only for his design talent but also for his personal qualities. Vogue profiled him in 1989, highlighting his sober demeanor and good manners. He was described as having the mien of a “new age monk,” and was known for his genuine gratitude and politeness. These attributes endeared him to colleagues and clients alike, contributing to his lasting legacy in the fashion world.

Impact on Fashion

Leva’s impact on fashion extended beyond his innovative designs. His ability to blend affordability with sophistication set a new standard for wearable fashion. His work was celebrated for its modernity and femininity, making him a favorite among fashion historians and enthusiasts. Amy Fine Collins, an art and fashion historian, praised Leva’s unique approach to design, noting his ability to capture the essence of the natural world and translate it into refined, modern clothing.

Death and Tributes

Michael Leva passed away on September 14, 2023, in Providence, R.I., at the age of 62. The cause of death was heart failure, as reported by his friend Maggie McCormick. His death marked the end of a remarkable journey in the fashion industry, leaving behind a legacy of innovation and elegance.

Remembering a Fashion Icon

Leva’s passing prompted an outpouring of tributes from the fashion community. Colleagues, friends, and fans remembered him as a trailblazing designer whose work continued to inspire even after he left the design scene. His contributions to fashion, both as a designer and a consultant, ensured that his influence would be felt for years to come.


Michael Leva’s career was a testament to his talent, creativity, and business acumen. From his early days as a celebrated young designer to his later role as a trusted consultant, Leva made a lasting impact on the fashion industry. His legacy is one of innovation, sophistication, and genuine kindness, qualities that will be remembered and celebrated by those who knew him and those who were inspired by his work.

Michael Leva’s Career Timeline

1986Debuted tie-dyed taffeta evening dresses
1989Recognized by Women’s Wear Daily
1989Featured in Vogue
1990Highlighted by the Los Angeles Times
1991Collection inspired by Mark Rothko
2023Passed away in Providence, R.I.

Notable Mentions

Women’s Wear Daily“Evolving into a design talent to be reckoned with.”
VogueDescribed Leva as having the mien of a “new age monk.”
Los Angeles Times“Part of New York’s new guard of buzzy, young designers.”
Amy Fine Collins“His shapes were based on the natural world and the body itself.”
The New York Times“Designs with a deceptive, almost repetitive, simplicity.”