In its heyday, New York’s Garment Center was a thriving, vibrant “village” of sorts. It was a gathering place where business was often carried out in the backrooms of restaurants and bars; where entrepreneurial types could get into the game with a designer and a few bucks. It was a postwar era that saw a primarily Jewish industry challenge the hegemony of Paris, turning fashion into something distinctly American.
Dressing America: Tales from the Garment Center tells this largely unknown story of how an industry was created through the rough and tumble efforts of an interesting assortment of Jewish “characters,” some of whom seem to have emerged from the pages of a Damon Runyon short story. They were fighters; mixing it up with the unions, the mob, and often enough, one another. They conspired to beg, borrow and steal fashion from the couture houses of Paris to create a ready-to-war business that grew by leaps and bounds; nurturing a legion of designers that included Anne Klein, Donna Karan, Isaac Mizrahi and Ralph Lauren.But this isn’t just the story of fashion that struts its stuff on the runways of New York’s Fashion week. It’s the story of fashion that finds itself dangling from clothing racks, manhandled down sidewalks, or pushed through narrow corridors in venerable old Seventh Avenue office buildings. The story is tinged with liberal doses of nostalgia – recollections of old-timers and early entrepreneurs – recounting the camaraderie of the business and its challenges and rewards. It’s also the story of individuals, like 86-year old Holocaust survivor, Charles Edelstein, who still travels from his home in Oceanside, Long Island, to peddle fabrics to a new generation of foreign-born Garment Center businessmen. In short, the film is a tribute to a vibrant, colorful and creative industry that has grown up and been nurtured by a Jewish presence for over a century and a half.
Original production on Dressing America: Tales from the Garment Center began, in earnest, in January 2008, with the cooperation of the Fashion Institute of Technology. Well over fifty people have participated, including fashion insiders like Arthur S. Levine, considered by many to be the master of “fit,” and Fern Mallis, the creator of New York’s legendary Fashion Week. On the other end of the spectrum there’s Jon and Neal Boyarsky, owners of Beckenstein Men's Fabrics, and Jake and Andrew Kozinn of St. Laurie Merchant Tailors; both businesses standard bearers for three-generation family traditions.
In addition to original filming, Dressing America: Tales from the Garment Center draws on the rich archival resources of FIT as well as the expertise of its faculty. Contemporary reflections, historical narrative, feature film clips together with a healthy dose of nostalgia all combine to provide an entertaining and affectionate portrait of Jewish involvement in the apparel industry. Above all, Dressing America: Tales from the Garment Center is a quintessentially American story.
Partial list of participants:
Teri Agins – fashion columnist, Wall Street Journal, author, The End of Fashion
Steven Cox – designer Duckie Brown Fashions
George Feldenkreis – CEO and Chairman, Perry Ellis International
Ruth Finley – Publisher, The Fashion Calendar
Gloria Gelfand – Gelfand Marketing Solutions
Lynn Greene – designer, Tahari -Arthur S. Levine
Stan Herman – designer, Stan Herman Studio (former head, CFDA)
Bernard Holtzman – Retired founder, Harve Benard
Bud Konheim – CEO Nicole Miller
Arthur S. Levine – Tahari-Arthur S. Levine
Fern Mallis – Creator, New York Fashion Week
Jay Mazur – President Emeritus, Unite
Nicole Miller – designer
Alana Newhouse – writer, Editor-in-chief, Tablet Magazine
John Pomerantz – Retired, Leslie Fay Brands
Laura Pomerantz – Principal, founder, PBS Real Estate
Meryl Poster – former President of production, Miramax
Herbert Poster – retired owner, Colony Sportswear
Susan Poster – former showroom model
Jack Ratusch – President, Garment Center Synagogue
Arnold Scaasi – designer Daniel Silver – Partner Duckie Brown
Rubin Singer – designer Valerie Steele – Director, Museum at FIT
Tomio Taki – Managing Partner, Takihyo LLC
David Wolfe – Creative Director, The Doneger Group