Monday, November 7, 2011

STARTING MY FASHION BUSINESS IN NEW YORK CITY.

 
 
 
 
Garment Center New York City.

When I came back from my first visit to South Africa in 5 years, I spoke to Regina about a raise in salary.  I was offered another position with Kay Unger's company St Gillian . Regina could not match the salary so I joined the Gillian Group.


Kay also had a evening division called AJ Bari that was the biggest evening collection in the USA at that time with a $150 million turnover a year.I worked with Kay for a while in the sports division but then Ted Duckworth - who ran the AJ Bari collection -  asked me if I would like to join his division.
I was thrilled as Ted was from the old school .He lived for fashion and it was his passion in life .I also learned a lot from him, and he appreciated and respected my couture training. He retired deep in his 80's. and died when he was in his 90's.
He was a  true Southern gentleman.Seventh Avenue did not have many of those.....


Ted Duckworth.

I was still planning to go on my own but needed to save more money to do so.In 1991 a lot of things happened that steered me in the right direction.Rosella contacted me and told me that she was moving to Dallas and giving up her showroom in New York.She offered me the opportunity to take over her business and  customers.


Martha Lunzer.
 

Martha Lunzer was still working with Rosella  and had a big Orthodox Jewish clientele . These women  needed very dressy gowns but with high necks and long sleeves.To design a gown that looks good with a high neck and long sleeves is not easy. I met with Martha . She knew my work from the time that I worked with Rosella and trusted me .She encouraged me to start my own studio and she promised me she would bring me customers.We still work together and she is a great friend to me..at 96 years old!Here she is photographed in the studio with Judge Judy of TV fame.


Martha Lunzer and Judge Judy. December 2012



Me and Kay.
 

Two years later in 1994  The Gillian Group went bankrupt overnight and Kay Unger asked me to join the new company that she formed with Rob Feinberg.I agreed but I asked for a four day week with them.That way I knew I had my bases covered financially.I took Wednesdays off and worked full day at my own studio.  

 Avenue of the Americas. "The Vogue."

I took over some of Rosella's sewing machines and cutting tables and rented a space on Avenue of the Americas and 36th street.One of the seamstresses from AJ Bari - Doris Pesaud - agreed to help me making a new sample collection. We  started working after 4:00 pm till late into the night. I would cut and she would sew.We prepared a small collection.


 

Doris Pesaud.

As soon as the collection was ready Martha came over with a customer and our first order was for 8 gowns.We did both mothers for a wedding, plus the sisters and cousins.I knew this was a make or break situation for me.If they were happy -- we would be in business.Thanks heavens it all went well and the wedding was a big success and people loved the gowns .All of a sudden Martha could not keep up with all the requests-and she was just as happy.



At night, after the kids went to bed, is when the Orthodox women do business. Martha will be on the phone half the night making appoinmnets with me .If there was a crisis- she would call me at midnight .Eventaully I had to put a stop to that and my deadline was 10:00 pm .
Many a night the phone would still ring at midnight;-
 "Sorry Dharling-forgive me but..............."
I would work full day and run up over lunch time for a fitting and be there after 4:00 pm until late into the evening. Sundays we also went in for fittings.When we had too much work we would get sewers in to help.I employed Doris full time by then and she was a great help She was very good with the customers and they liked her .


These Orthodox women can  never be touched by any man - who is not their husband - according to their religion. Some  were not comfortable with me fitting them, but wanted me there to supervise the fitting.


When a girl reaches the age of 18 she is ready to be married and the mother will bring her in  for a gown that she will be wearing to every wedding in the community that season.This is like being  a debutant --   a  "coming out" for her ,and the mothers with  eligible sons, will look at the new crop of girls attending the weddings , and arrange their marriages.




 Martha was from Budapest Hungary and tough....we had many battles  but the end  result was that the customers were happy.She would take my side when she knew I was right -but  when she felt the customer was right ,she would tell me that as well. I trusted each other and looked out for each other.
I did learn a lot from her.



Budapest -Hungary.


The customers were very fussy, and you had to satisfy the whole family ,but once they trusted you they were very loyal.They would pay 50% of the selling price when they ordered the gown so we had enough money to buy the fabric and have money to run the business. It was a match made in heaven.
Martha is deep in her nineties now and we still stay in touch. Now and then she still pop in to say hello.I am in debt to her for helping  me to open my own  business.We had a great time.


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The fashion industry in New York started changing drastically by 1990 .When I arrived here in the early 80's, about 60% of all the clothing that the Americans wore, were manufactured in the USA.
It was one of the biggest industries of New York City.The Unions became so strong and unreasonable that the fashion companies started moving their manufacturing plants off shore.Very soon after that even the sample collections were done overseas.It was cheaper for a company to fly their designer to Asia and work with a sample room there .Soon designers, cutters and sewers had no work as all the work was done outside of  the USA  .The clothing was only sold  in the USA but manufactured somewhere else.This all was destroying the fashion industry in New York City.





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After working with Martha for almost 10 years I decide that I should try and branch out and do a regular collection or give it up.I was tired of working weekends and nights.

One of the people I bought fabrics from introduced me to Crysoula.She was a young Greek designer and she and her sales director was  Marion Milenovic . Their company was doing what I was doing but Crysoula did not have the experience with private customers and needed help .I decided to close my business and join her and Marion. It was great to do what I enjoyed about the fashion business but I  had no problems with running of it.I could concentrate on the designing and the customers.



Saks Fifth Avenue flagship store in  NYC.



 Crysoula did trunk shows for Saks Fifth Avenue and I enjoyed working with upscale customers where price was no object .We used beautiful fabrics and Marion was great at her job bringing in the customers. She worked with Oscar de la Renta for 18 years and a is true pro.We worked very well together.




Marion Milenovic.
 
After working together for two years things changed:-


First the terror attacks on the World Trade Center happened-and  that affected business negatively.
I think Crysoula become very disillusioned with the fashion industry as many young designers do -- when they realize that glamour is a very small part of the business . She was also going to get married again.
Marion and I was doing most of the work in any case, so we decided that we would go on ou own and start another company where we would be 50/50 partners.


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