I decided to make these next few blog weeks about how I worked my way up the ladder in the fashion world, and mention briefly the many people I met along the way.
This poor boy from Brooklyn didn't have much, but what he did have was a talent…so I was told. While attending Fort Hamilton High School some of my teachers took notice of a certain gift and interest I had (my love for fabrics, movies and everything desirable). It was recommended I seek out a conduit/outlet to really hon in an find my niche. That outlet and stepping stone would be The Fashion Institute Of Technology.
The first time I set foot onto the F.I.T grounds I knew this is where I needed to be. And winning a scholarship solidified that this was the right path I needed to be on. It also silenced the doubts and fears this young boy had about his talents and aspirations. As part of F.I.T's program, in the last semester a student must pick their specialty. I knew right away what my niche would be: contemporary tailoring. 50 years later on 7th Avenue, it still is.
However, my first job - the year being 1965 and I remember it vividly - was not exactly what I wanted to be doing, but it would turn out to be a blessing in disguise. The job was for a very famous coat and suit house named after the owner, Dan Millstein (who, by the way, was a coat and suit maker himself). I showed up with a myriad of sketches underneath my arm only to be told I was being put in the design room. I was so disappointed! I wanted to design not be an assistant to the head pattern maker. I didn't realize it then, but my advisors knew what they were doing. I was learning the foundation, the nuts and bolts, when all my fellow graduates were not. I can easily say that I developed a keen eye for perfection and detail while working for this company (we sold to all the high end stores - Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Ave., Nemain/Marcus and Lord and Taylor), and this is why I cannot be fooled by mediocrity. The head pattern maker was a russian man, Benny Chalif, and my mentor for three years. This guy worked his way up the chain to become a respected and well renowned artist in his own right. Head pattern maker and what a talent he was.
Unbeknownst to me was a man called, Calvin Klein. He was two years ahead of me and had also attended F.I.T. Funny thing was we were now both in the same building and working for the same company. Calvin was working on the eleventh floor for the mature line called, The Missy Division. And I was on the second floor working in the junior department titled, The Dani' Junior. Calvin was a very nice guy and we eventually formed a solid, professional friendship that would last for decades. He told me at the time that I was so lucky to have hooked up with Fay Wagner, who was the head of showroom sales and the stylist for the designer junior line (this happened when my mentor Benny Chalif retired and recommended me to take over the design room as head pattern maker - it was very exciting and a true honor). You see, if I didn't get partnered with Fay it would have been with, Dan Millstein, and people were terrified of him when he came walking down the hall. Very nice man, but very stern and tough. Hey, I don't blame him. It was his business and he ran a tight ship.
So back to Fay, who I used to call my jewish Lucille Ball. She had flaming red hair and a personality that would go on for days. I asked her how she got her start in fashion and she said, "Honey, I was a model when was broadway was a prairie." She was a riot. Little by little I slowly started to infiltrate my personal designs to Fay and slowly but surely people started to notice. I worked at my first job for six years - this was unheard of. Your first job was supposed to be one of many step's up the ladder - what a first step it was...
Stay tuned for more of my rise up the fashion ladder in next weeks blog.
Till next time.