I never thought much about how and where and why my love of clothes and fashion came about but lately I have these flash memories from when I was growing up as a nice Jewish boy in the suburbs. Without question I lived this sort of Donna Reed life, not as perfect, all American or sterile, but I guess the way I thought life was supposed to be.
My mother and what gay, certainly Jewish man can’t make this claim but, my mother was a source of great inspiration and well of knowledge even it was unbeknownst to me at the time. It wasn’t as if she was schooled in fashion nor was she label conscious but what she seemed to possess is an innate sense of style which was transfused into me by being in her company so often. Unquestionably she was all about looking good, in fact, she wanted her kids, her husband and her home to be the prides of her life and indeed they were.
My parents weren’t educated in terms of schooling but somehow they had this style or this drive to look a certain way or possibly it was about how they presented themselves to the world in which they lived. My dad started as a salami slicer in my grandfather’s delicatessen (mom’s dad) and eventually he wound up in the garment center in the very early 60s. He was the ultimate garmento.. custom made suits by Mr. Tony and shirts and ties from Martin Friedman on Broadway .. he definitely had this rat pack, mafia, Sinatra fixation. All the while he was always catering to my mom bringing her all sorts of clothes that he imported as well as getting her anything she wanted from any wholesaler. It was the era of … can you get up there?
I guess I was exposed and just how much was osmosed is not certain but as I’m aging I seem to recall more and more moments of how much I remember of those times. I was all about the Sunday Times and reading and I guess subconsciously dreaming about shopping in stores like Tiffany and Van Cleef and De Dinna and Altman’s Saks, Mark Cross, Gucci and the like. Designers like Beth Levine, Emeric Partos, Norell, Galanos , Sophie at Saks, Roger Vivier, I. Miller, Jo Copeland and tons more come to mind. No one I recall was label conscious but I sure wasn’t intimidated by a name or a brand and I went on to amass and dispose of wardrobes created by some of the most prestigious and expensive clothes/brands from just about any store that would take my money. I recall standing on a tailor’s block being fitted while my mother of course indulged my whims and dutifully watched as I directed the tailor. Mr. Hirsch to be exact, directing how the side slit in my pants should have a slight curve or how narrow the pant leg would be. Keep In mind, I was not a spoiled child, money wise, so I am not quite sure how I was able to do all this.
Odd that I can recall that Dinah Shore wore Norell, or that Rosalind Russell wore Galanos or Mainbocher, Judy Garland wore Jean Louis, but it wasn’t about the names as much as it was my mother admiring the clothes and saying so.
Obviously she preferred tailored simple lines and indeed had a taste for the best. As I recall we shopped together quite a bit for her, I seem to know we shopped for her shoes, her hose, clothes, make up, I wasn’t there all the time but I was there some of the time. Oddly in those years I even recall which bra style she wore as I was always on an errand for her of some sort … hat size shoe, and visits to the Marjorie shop on Central avenue in Cedarhurst where she and her mother went to be fitted for their undergarments.
In much later years I can recall her shopping in my closets and grabbing a Rive Gauche dusty rose band collar shirt and saying “ oh I like this” and off she went with hanger in hand! I don’t think I ever got to wear it.
In retrospect I can see in my mind that regardless of her knowledge of designers, she wore clothes which were directly influenced if not copied directly. I can envision dresses and suits influenced by Dior, Balenciaga, Beene, St Laurent, Norell, Chanel and if I could clear my head a bit more I am sure I would see many more pieces with origins that I never would have known then or even conceived of.
So sort of tying this all up I can say if not for her and her desire to include me in her shopping, her ability to keep me engaged in her life, and of course her love which was without bounds… she taught me a lot, influenced me a lot and enabled me to become this fashion obsessed man that I am … Kudos to them both for being far more cultivated in many ways that I gave them credit for but with age I have realized how lucky I was to have them.
P.S. …. My dad asked once, if I recall, what I wanted to do as a profession.. I just told him I want to work … maybe I would work in the garment center… the reply was “over my dead body!” So …being the obedient, but willful, child I was, I went to college, which I considered finishing school, and the first job I took was in textiles as a designer creating men’s print shirtings… and as the saying goes… the rest is history….