Monday, October 5, 2015

Real Housewives of the Garment District

Welcome back to those of you who were here last week, and a warm hello to the newbies! Blog Entry #2! Clearly I have a lot of stuff around our apartment that I don’t want to do.

Sadly, this entry also coincides with the week I am breaking up with Project Runway. (At least I hope I am.) Gone is the glory of the Bravo years; I need to skedaddle before they're making good use of an accessory wall courtesy of Pajama Jeans.  I’ve grown weary of manufactured drama and personalities created for auditions. I cannot allow myself to put aside an hour of my time, wait breathlessly to see what comes down the runway, and be rewarded with:


Life is too short, that is too fugly, and this would not be a smart(y) use of my time. I loved that show with all my heart, and this is what I get for it: a Valentine’s Day dress to wear to work under a street lamp. 

I had meant this entry to be a one-off about a fashion issue that’s been a thorn in my paw lately, but then I thought – why would anyone who doesn’t know me (and some of the people who think they do) – want to listen to me sound off on this? There are so many fools out there foaming at the mouth on every possible subject – why add to the noise?

With my hand on my heart, I promise never to sound off on topics without having the credentials to back up that opinion. There’s already plenty of hot air floating around out there. An opinion is just an opinion, but I (usually) shut up unless I can add something of  substance. So as for my background in fashion, it’s laid out right here:

I’ve worn clothes since shortly after I was born. 

Not enough for you?

In the early years my outfits were picked out for me, but as I grew older, like most kids, my personal taste began to assert itself, and – while restricted by access to a bank account, the choices a small town can offer, and limitations placed by parents whose tastes were more mainstream than mine (a lot more mainstream) – I began my personal fashion journey.

Time passed, it happened that one of my New York cousins was being bar mitzvahed, and I needed a dress. If you know the Miranda Priestly speech from The Devil Wears Prada about cerulean,* you understand when I say that the Yves Saint Laurent Mondrian influence had finally trickled down to my hometown, and I picked a kid’s version of that trend. (I cannot remember why; heaven knows I did NOT know YSL!)

While in Manhattan we visited the Museum of Modern Art and someone pointed out a Piet Mondrian. (“Look, your dress!”) I stood, I stared, and…something clicked. 

That moment, that painting, that dress – a whole new world opened up for me. From that time, dresses weren’t just pretty; I started gulping down books by and about fashion, fashion designers, art and artists.

Careening forward here like a drunk driver, one day I finally found myself living in New York City, filling out an application for a sales position at Saks Fifth Avenue. My thought was they must need Christmas sales help, and when your college major is essentially tap dancing that’s pretty much what you need to do. I mean why not, right?

Well, I will tell you why not. Saks employees have to look like they shop there. My outfits – including my interview outfit – looked like I marched into thrift shops and sang Hit Me With Your Best Shot (which was not far from the case). My name was called, I sat opposite an elegant woman at a desk and…silence. Finally, “Did those shoes come with that skirt?”

That day’s ensemble was a black turtleneck/long sleeved leotard with black tights (dance class that afternoon!), a black skirt featuring a large chevron rainbow, and wooden platform shoes that had elastic rainbows across the toes to hold them on my feet. It gives me a migraine just thinking about it, but I cannot apologize for all wardrobe choices made in the 70s.

                                          Yes, She Actually Hired Me Anyway

Back to the interview. No, these items weren’t even bought in the same state. The next thing I knew I had a job as a personal shopper at Saks, and – sit down – it came with clothes (and a lot of really great stories with really big movie stars, but you have to come back for those). Eventually I was part of the team that styled the store mannequins and windows, and some time down the line I left for another, less wonderful, job. (Nights when I pound my head against the wall screaming why why why, I have to remind myself how excited I was when Saks raised my salary to $11,500, which was really low in those days, too. Those jobs weren’t held in as high regard as they are now, and I wanted to be able to shop not only at Saks, but at grocery stores.)

Farther down my path I found myself working in the publishing industry; doing publicity for various books. (Again – more great stories! Big, big stars! You need to be here!) One was written by a really great guy named Axel Madsen, and while we went around to various media appointments we discussed his next project; a book he was writing about Coco Chanel. Hello – it’s still not often I get to discuss fashion history with someone who stays awake, so we really enjoyed the rest of his book tour. I happened to know some really obscure stories about Chanel – like Mamie Van Doren obscure (she designed the dresses for Mamie’s ‘Aqua Velva’ commercials!), was even able to cite source material, and am proud to report I made the acknowledgements section of a book on one of my idols (no, not Mamie, although that would have been extremely cool, too).
Oh, what the hell:

(I pop up in quite a few books over the years – both in the acknowledgements and in the editorial content – but that’s in blogs yet to come. So now you’ll either really want to subscribe or be really over me in a big way.) 

I worked hard, rose in the ranks, worked with major celebrities (yes, you guessed it, more great stories!), and eventually opened my own boutique PR firm. ('Boutique' - that's French for 'try and find me.') I wanted something…something…else though (by this time I really loathed big celebrities), so I decided to get a Masters degree so I could really explore my greatest passion: Information. Knowledge is, after all, power!

So much to everyone’s surprise – no one's more than mine – I was now doing research for international banking firms, which meant that I now could afford (well, almost) the fashion I had been wishing for all those years. After all that yearning, though, I found I was happier throwing my own ‘finds’ together rather than buying someone else’s predetermined looks. (I only wish I had also ‘found’ the secret to credit cards – there’s interest accruing! – at the same time.)

So years passed, my fashion style began to get more focused, I accumulated more pieces in my closet, accrued more interest (%) and interests, but life happened and fashion (and the rest of the world) had to chug along without me for a bit. (Some of those stories are only great in retrospect.) One night Project Runway popped up on my TV and renewed my love of sewing and design (and backbiting), and I got the push I needed to get back into the swim. 

Fun aside: One night, just when I was rejoining the world, my husband (yeah, there's a Mr. Smarty Pants) and I were at the theater, and as I was walking down a staircase – very Norma Desmond – I noticed a man who looked really familiar smiling up at me. I’m really bad at matching names to faces so I had to mentally scramble but by the time I hit the bottom step I realized who that smiling face was – Malan Breton, a former contestant on Project Runway, now one of the top luxury clothing designers in the world. I mean…maybe that was him. I really am bad at faces, so that guy could also have been someone I spilled something on at some long forgotten social disaster. I decided to circle around and see if this could possibly…well, the cut and the fabric of his suit was calling card enough for me, and sure enough Smiling Guy was Malan Breton, who – after I summoned up the nerve to introduce myself – told me he had smiled at me “because (I was) so chic.” 


My husband tells me that after that I was walking into walls and traffic, but all I remember is a bunch of foolish stutters, staring at his business card, and the thought that remains with me to this day: This makes up for all those times my mother screamed at me, “You’re not leaving the house dressed like that!”

Fast forward to today, when I’m sewing at Mood Fabrics (I made that coat – even the leather parts!), meeting designers I rooted for on Project Runway, and just generally having more adventures.

Despite my personal cheering section, I don’t have any dreams of going on the show (I am way too old and waaaaaay too pokey), and I don’t harbor any dreams of starting my own design firm (way too broke and way too lazy). I just love the creative process, love having an idea and then - Poof! - the clothes, and most of all I love having a better understanding of what I’ve been reading about all these years: how a designer garment (as opposed to ready-to-wear) is constructed. (Couture being a highly overused word.) What makes a Chanel jacket a jacket by the House of Chanel, as opposed to a Chanel-style jacket? How close can I get to making a fairly decent one? And if I can make jokes about the clothes designers are producing…can I come up with better?

In addition to all this, I live in one of the fashion capitals of the world, and you better believe I take advantage of it in any way I possibly can. I see every fashion-related exhibition, documentary, lecture, and runway show I possibly can.   

I take classes, workshops, seminars, webinars – you name it. I’ve purchased an actual Project Runway garment so I could turn it inside out to see what actually happens when you’ve got the blink of an eye to design and construct something to send down a runway before a panel of industry heavyweights (or whomever the producers foist on viewers that week) as judges on an international television show.  I still read and collect all the books (even paper dolls!), rip pages out of the magazines with hopes of either purchasing, adapting for my closet, or railing about what a rip-off that particular garment/collection is (a topic for another day).  

Fashion is my passion, or at least one of them. I’m so incredibly lucky to be living in New York City, where so much of it either originates or comes to visit, and in the age of the internet, where I can dig out what I can’t get to personally. I’d love to share that luck with you.

“Life is a banquet, and most poor bastards are starving to death,” taught Mame Dennis. 

Grab a plate, and meet me at the dessert cart.



No comments:

Post a Comment