This is a program about fashion – not only the kind of fashion that struts its stuff on the runways of the world’s renowned fashion shows – but the fashion that unfashionably finds itself transported in the back of trucks stuck on grid-locked streets, or dangling from clothing racks being manhandled down crowded, narrow sidewalks. It’s a film about a vibrant, colorful and creative industry that has grown up and been nurtured in the small oasis we call the island of Manhattan.
How this business grew from humble beginnings into an industry that’s dressed America and the world is the subject of this compelling program.
While this business may have changed considerably in the past several decades it still remains the home for many of the top-names in clothing design, from Donna Karan to Diane von Furstenberg to Calvin Klein, to name a few. Generating over 14 billion dollars a year, the apparel business sustains a labor force numbering in the tens of thousands and remains one of New York City’s largest employers.
Where once the sweatshop may have held sway, the Garment Center is now the destination for the style-conscious, seeking to see and be seen at twice-yearly Mercedes Benz Fashion Week celebrations. While grid-locked streets and sidewalks still offer up the noise and grit historically associated with the area, a more serene atmosphere can be found on the upper floors of buildings that house the design studios of celebrity designers like Isaac Mizrahi and Zac Posen. And in some of these same buildings, warrens of interconnecting offices and hallways provide the fashion equivalent of a Persian bazaar, with buyers and sellers from department stores worldwide engaging in a very special sort of commercial dance.
With major funding from the Leon Levy Foundation the documentary features interviews with luminaries like Fern Mallis and Arthur S. Levine but includes those whose work may not be so visible to the general public; for instance, 86-year old fabric salesman Charlie Edelstein who commutes daily to the Garment Center from his home in Long Island.
Interviewees like Bud Konheim, CEO of Nicole Miller, wax nostalgic about growing up in a business fueled by larger-than-life “garmentos” eager to succeed and along the way left their imprint on popular culture. Literature, music, movies and Broadway all became vehicles for telling and selling the virtues, and pitfalls, of the industry and Dressing America offers up musical and cinema offerings including segments from feature films like the 1954, “I Can Get It for You Wholesale.”
Dressing America takes viewers down the runways at New York’s Fashion Week and goes behind-the-scenes in the sample rooms of major manufacturers like Tahari-ASL and Nicole Miller, to reveal the creative process that fuels this unique industry.
Helping us understand the history and development of the so-called “schmatta” business are historians Reggie Blaszcyk and Steven Fraser as well as Wall Street Journal columnist and author, Teri Agins, who examines the influence of celebrity designers, like Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan.
The business of fashion is more than business. It’s a state-of-mind, an art form, and an endeavor that’s imbued with all sorts of psychological and intimate connections. Fashion touches, literally, everything and everybody. As Valerie Steele told us, “You can imagine fashion as a verb as well as a noun. Fashion is not just the things you wear but fashion is what you do, how you create the person that you are, the person who interacts with the world, and that’s why fashion is really important…”
Today, the nature of the business has changed. That’s part of the story. But the bottom line is that it’s still a commercial endeavor that’s fueled by creative inspiration.
DRESSING AMERICA will be rebroadcast on THIRTEEN, Sunday, September 7th at 10:30 PM and on WLIW on Thursday, 9/11 at 10pm & Friday, 9/12 at 1am. WNET will also offer public television syndication rights through American Public Television.