By Jeffrey Felner
As said and it must be true that one’s long term memory sharpens while one’s short term memory fades as we age. With that in mind, this is a sort of collection of remembrances from high school days through my early years living in my own in New York City.
As I said in my past telling, my folks were certainly not of the highly educated or evolved variety and yet there was something about them that allowed me to have these sorts of amazing formative years. Remember. we didn’t live in politically correct times and as kids we didn’t have things like time out and let’s talk about it. Despite it all, in retrospect, they “gave me permission” to be me and truly broaden my horizons though I must say that I wasn’t aware how their acquiescence would affect my adult life.
How many kids of mid teenage years got to go to life drawing classes at the New School at 66 west 12th? By “life drawing” I mean NUDES… there were no questions asked, no examination of the course content, just a simple yes and handed over a check, I was enrolled in a semester of magical Saturday classes with 2 of my dearest friends. So every Saturday we headed into NYC via LLIRR with our tackle boxes full of art supplies and our newsprint pads under out arms and off we went to our class with A. Walter Kendra. Of course, included in these weekly trips were trips to Delsem’s the art supply store on 14th street, coffee at Little Joes on the corner of 12th street, maybe a palmier from Jon Vie on 6th Avenue and almost certainly some sort of shopping excursion uptown after class. One of my favorite stops was to Lord &Taylor where at this ripe age we already had a dedicated saleswoman by the name of Mrs. Brown who was this gray haired school marmish stocky lady who wore wire rimmed glasses and her hair in a swirl of a braid at the nape of her neck. Mrs. Brown helped us with our frequent purchases and it is was also when there was a thing called a sales book and where the salesperson manually wrote a “send!” triplicate, which became my preferred method of purchase. The capper of course was that while I was busy at school all week long, my packages would arrive all week long to the amazement of my mother.
I would be remiss if I didn’t recount that we of course had our secret stash of cigarettes which of course was to show off how cool we were. We ventured to a far off territory known as Bloomingdales. Imagine in those years the store had a post office in and was hardly as famous as it became but no matter we were on a mission to see and shop. On one particular adventure we were waiting for the subway to take us back to reality when I thought it would be a good idea to light up. Unbeknownst to me that was illegal and shortly thereafter appeared a cop to either ticket or lecture me for the violation I had just committed. Suffice to say that scared the shit out of this little Jewish boy from the suburbs and that “great idea” never occurred to me again.
What has also been recounted to me was that apparently I was offering my fashion advice to anyone who would listen. I was told how I had my friend’s mother return her Bar Mitzvah mother outfit because I deemed it inappropriate for her. The thing to keep in mind here is that I was maybe 13 if I was lucky and who was I to advise and yet that dress went back in deference to my fashion authority. One can only imagine who else I was advising but for sure my mother was first in line. Dyed to match shoes or silver or gold… long dress or short… is white appropriate at that time of year or simply does this go with this or could you please hang a picture or wrap a gift for me or address an envelope for me
So now let’s fast forward to the very early 70s in NYC in my own apartment. I was a 22 year old who was on his first job and soon to be a boss with a staff of 20 artists. Let’s say I was a quick study at a job where I had absolutely no experience but I sure knew how to move to the head of the class by paying attention. Once I learned that when the big boss asked your bass or a completion date … soon … was not the right answer so in less than 2 years I was now in charge of the art department and the word soon never crossed my lips. All the while I was honing my fashion skills personally and professionally. Personally I felt confident enough to shop at Whitehouse & Hardy on 5th avenue in the 50s where I had to have a satin backed crepe jabot neck shirt which cost as much as almost a week’s net pay but that wasn’t as important as having it and wearing it to my first black tie private dinner with burgundy velvet suit… priorities! On the business front I was exposed to an expense account which had no ceiling when it came to samples which was much like my personal acquisitive nature. Suddenly this 20 something was wearing Pierre Balmain and Pancaldi shirts which cost $100s at that time. Then, of course there were the Seventh Avenue connection to brands like Foxrun and Beged’or where I had to have a kid suede full length double breasted coat lined in uncut shearling with curly lamb shawl collar. There is no doubt that I was a pig when it came to wearing and owning more and more and more… my appetite insatiable.
Maybe the time to backtrack is now to shed some insight in my fashion psyche. There was a time when I was addicted to printed fashion media. It was the time of GQ, Vogue, Bazaar, WWD, Interview and the DNR. Life and fashion played out in print. So here I was single in my 20s and trying to figure out who I was when I stumbled across a page in GQ. It was of a blondish model astride, mid walk, carrying LV duffel wearing dark slacks, light blue or white shirts with sleeves rolled up, sunglasses atop his head and a red sweater slung and knotted over his shoulders. I should ass here as well there were tricolor Cartier rings involved and at least one gold bracelet. While I knew I would never be a blond I made up my mind that one day I would be “that” image! The rest as they say is history…..
Painting by Giovanni Boldini, The Red Curtain