‘Tour’ of Duty
Kathleen Beckett, the well respected journalist and founder of Friends of Fashion, http://www.friendsoffashion.com/, a membership club whose mission is to support the fashion industry through regularly scheduled events, launched her Save the Garment Center Tour (STGC) this past Tuesday. She guided a group of 10, in addition to journalists from The New York Times Online, Wall Street Journal.com, DailyCandy.com. and moi (I initially met Kathleen when she was the Assistant Features Editor and I was a Senior Market Editor at Harper’s Bazaar), through three factories, all within a two block radius (35th to 37th Streets, between 7th and 8th Avenues) giving us the opportunity to get an up close and personal behind the scenes look at the people and the factories that make the clothes and accessories we all know and love to wear. (FYI, we all wear many 'hats' these days and in addition to being editor-in-chief of the Lookonline, I am also the Style Director for Friends of Fashion, an organization I feel very strongly about).
Regal Originals factory
The first stop was Regal Originals at 247 West 37th Street, which is one of the last remaining factories for decorative stitching and pleating (there once were 400). It was there we were met by Roger Cohen, whose Holocaust survivor father-in-law founded the company 60 years ago. We were shown how the workers work their ‘magic’ on such high end labels as Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta, Nicole Miller, and Nanette Lepore, as well as the more popular priced clothing which is sold at J.C. Penny and Target. (FYI: the gorgeous red Marchesa gown worn by actress Vera Farmiga to the Academy Awards, was pleated at Regal Originals).
Custom Fabrics Flowers
Next was Custom Fabric Flowers, on West 36th Street, which has been offering their absolutely breathtaking flowers (in all sizes, shapes, colors) to the apparel, millinery and accessories industry since 1919, and is headed up by the son and daughter of its original founders, (Holocaust survivors), Debra and Warren Brand. Warren proudly took us on a tour showing how fabric flowers are actually made by hand to eventually adorn clothing by Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang, J.Crew, St. John, and Priscilla of Boston (one standout was the enormous white flower that would eventually top a couture wedding dress by the latter).
Then we toured A-OK Productions on West 35th Street, where rows of sewers create designs by Anna Sui and Nanette Lepore (such as the dress designed by Nanette that Lauren Conrad wears on the cover of this month’s Seventeen Magazine).
I was especially touched by the personal stories recounted by both Mr. Cohen and Mr. Brand (who share a similar background with Holocaust survivor parents), and the way they both made it clear how very much like a family each and every one of their employers are treated and regarded. And each was very verbal and palpably frustrated by the dire situation facing the Garment Center, explaining why something must be done to preserve it.
Nanette Lepore Showroom
At the last stop, Nanette Lepore’s headquarters on West 35th Street, we were given a tour of several of their 8 floors in the building. The Friends of Fashion group was treated to a special treat: not only was the spring 2010 line available for shopping but there was a first time ever private trunk show for her Renaissance inspired Fall 2010 collection where orders were placed. As at all Friends of Fashion events, 10% of every purchase made goes to help the fashion industry. Veuve Clicquot Champagne was served and towards the end, Nanette Lepore appeared and addressed the group. As you know, she has been one of the most outspoken designers regarding the STGC issue (s she was the brains behind the Save the Garment Center Rally this past October) and as she put it, "It's imperative to keep the little factories in New York alive because they are important in solidifying the future of fashion”. WE want to be competitive in the world”.
So, if you want to ensure that the Rogers, Warrens, and Nanettes of the world will stay in business, you can make a difference through Friends of Fashion. It’s a way for fashion loving consumers to party with designers, shop in private (and much much more), and do GOOD. Become a member of FOF and a complimentary tour will be included with your membership. For more information, click on to http://www.friendoffashion.com/ or call 212 505 2157.