Thursday, July 3, 2014

How I Got Started Part Two.

Thank you all for stopping by and joining me for part two of three on how I rose to the top of the fashion ladder.  

After six years of entry level work I felt it was time to spread my wings.  I was truly blessed and grateful to have started my journey working for Dan Millstein.  I met so many people along the way.  I met fabric people, trimming people, shoulder and lining people.  Yes, believe it or not, fashion is still a people business.  Forget social media and the like.  To acquire a great job you must network - in the flesh.

I was very friendly with a shoulder pad expert named, Harold Lapotta.  Harold recommended me to Fashion House Junior Profile.  To my delight, Fashion House had heard of me and was interested in bringing me on to design.   The interview went great, I was given the job as designer and off I went, but not without much sadness because I had to leave my close friend and mentor, Fay.  We always remained close friends until the day she passed away.

During those days there were always in house models.  And the head model at Fashion House (former Miss N.Y State) was drop dead gorgeous.  Unfortunately, the two gent's that ran the company were her competing suitors.  However, this unprofessionalism would be the downfall of the company.  With my ever growing list of contacts in the industry I was brought in to be head designer for a company called, Valor Division Of U.S. Industries.  Here is where I met top sales person Earl Sheldon.  He would later start a jean company called, Mushrooms, and ask me to design for the line.  He had me doing everything from jeans, jackets and skirts.  While working at Valor, I was also first to design a junior outerwear for the overseas market.  While I was in China and working at the factories there was another big company from the U.S. sharing the same facilities called, Forecaster Of Boston.  The owner of Forecaster liked what I was doing so much he surprised me with a job offer when I returned to the states.  

This was a very fine company, but my only concern was that they were producing basic merchandise.  I was so use to high end, couture fashion - this would definitely be quite the departure, but I was offered a very lucrative salary.   And as Tom Cruise would have said, they showed me the money, and I went.  While working at Forecaster I had the pleasure of meeting the fashion editor of Women's Wear Daily (WWD).  This was the fashion bible, the holy grail of the industry.  Her name was Sheila Banik and, suffice to say, we became old friends fast.  One day during a lunch meeting with Sheila, she said that she was leaving the paper and was going into showroom sales.  She got this idea from a women friend of her's out of Detroit.  This women wanted to start a high end company and aspired to sell the garments to all the top stores.  As a pleasant surprise Sheila asked me to come on as head designer of the house.  I was extremely flattered and honored due to the fact that she could have had her pick of any of the top designers, but she chose me.

Who was this mysterious women from Detroit with such ambition?  I had to meet her and, of course, I did.  I was liking what she was putting down, but - and there is always a but - she wanted me strictly as a freelancer to start.  But what sparked my interest and excitement was the idea of building a company from its inception.  You see, an established company brings a designer in and it's there way and what they want, but with a new company I personally had a great opportunity for creative freedom.  The name of the company would be called, Cest' Simone.  And the funny thing was everyone though I was part owner because it was thought that Simone was a derivative of my last name, Simonton.  Anyhow, the company started to take off like a rocket ship.  I created a complete collection that included: dresses, pants, sweaters, scarfs and blouses.  This was a designers dream come true and boy did I have to pinch myself a couple of times.  However, with all my hard work (blood, sweat and tears) I felt under - appreciated.   After two years of company growth and success I received a phone call from the owner, she said, " George, we have the tiger by the tale.  I want you to come work for me full time.  Let's get you a contract".  She also added, "I'm going to take real good care of you" ( famous last words, hint, hint).

We were in all the top stores throughout the country and eight hundred specialty stores.  The success of Cest' Simone brought me all kinds of awards and tons of exposure from regional markets through Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago.  I was featured in editorials from fashion magazines to newspapers.  Unfortunately, while little miss thing was getting rich I was being strung along on my measly salary.  Contracts were promised, but never materialized.  But I still had a lot of faith in the dear Lord and new there were better things along the horizon.  My prayers were answered when my dear friend, Marvin Goldstein, came into the showroom with an angel sent from heaven who would change my life forever.  Her name was Felice Lippart.  She came in dressed to the nines - hair, clothing, make up, jewelry - everything was impeccable.  The thing about wealthy women is they love to shop, but more than that is they love to shop wholesale.  She was pulling my designs off the racks like they were going out of style.  I asked Marvin in a whisper, "Where is she going with all these clothes?" She heard me, which made my heart go into my mouth and said, "Darling, I have three homes and I want to fill them all up."  It turned out she and her husband, Al Lippart, were the co-founders of Weight Watchers and they just recently sold their part of the company to Heinz for 78 million dollars.  She was exuding wealth and, lucky me to have been wonderful friends with Marvin, otherwise I never would have met her.  When Al started to notice all the compliments Felice was getting when she wore my designs, a light bulb went off in his head.  You see, Al himself was no stranger to the garment business.  He was the president of the Coat and Suit Association so, needless to say, he knew his stuff and wanted to meet me.

A dinner was arranged between the three of us and that very night Al said, "How would you like your own business?"  I mean, this is serious money we're talking.  To open up a business on Seventh Avenue is not for the squeamish.  So, after talking for many months and getting the logistics squared away, George Simonton LTD was established in 1985 and hasn't missed a beat since. 

That night when I went home for a nice long soak in the bath, I thought to myself, not bad for a poor boy from Brooklyn.  Not bad at all.

Stay tuned for next week and the conclusion of my rise up the fashion ladder.