Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Wilder Happenings: A Tour of Nanette's Design Room + Regal Originals Factory (Makers of Nanette, Theory, and Many More)

 Yesterday I posted about the Nanette Lepore brunch I went to on Friday; I told you about beautiful clothes, delicious bloody marys, and great conversation. Today, I'm going to get a little more technical as I take you through the tour of Nanette's design room and some factories in the Garment District. Thanks to Erica Wolf, Special Projects Director at Nanette Lepore and Executive Director of the organization Save the Garment Center, I learned why continuing to manufacture clothes in America (and New York, specifically) is so vital to the economy, the well-being of tens of thousands, and the history of midtown Manhattan (more, including designer clothes being made, after the jump).

I, like probably many others, assumed that by now most of the beautiful clothes we see in department stores and online luxury retailers are made in China or Europe. While the majority are, there a few American designers who have banded together to support the making of clothes in New York City, including Nanette, Jason Wu, and Anna Sui. Making clothes in NYC not only allows designers more control over the process, since they're able to run over a few blocks to check on the garments, but also means that the goods get to the customer faster, and re-orders take far less time. It's a win-win for everyone.

Currently there are about 24,000 jobs in the Garment District for manufacturing, jobs that have been in existence since the mid-1800s, when clothes weren't so much designed by big names as they were made by artisans. Erica told me about the noble history of the District, and how Save the Garment Center was started as a response to landlords who would have the factories moved out of midtown and into less central burroughs. But that would ruin the direct line of communication between factories and designers, and would disrupt the lives of the workers who can easily get to the Garment District because of its proximity to public transportation. "I had no idea, even five years ago, how vital these jobs are to the Manhattan economy," Erica told me. "And now I'm doing all I can to keep them here. People think American manufacturing is dead, and it's not. Not here, at least."

Erica took me and a few other bloggers and journalists around Nanette's design room and then two factories, Regal Originals and Custom Fabric Flowers by M&S Schmalberg. I'll post about the flowers tomorrow because I have too much to say and too many pictures to combine the two into one post. Follow the photos!

Bolts of fabric at Nanette's studio. I love the bursts of neon. See that yellow on the lower right side of the picture? You'll see it again in a few photos.

I have a shirt of this fabric!

Nanette showed us the delivery schedule for her designs.

AND I have a shirt similar to the fabric on the right. In fact, that was the first Nanette shirt I ever mother bought it for me after I got my hair done for my Junior year prom, and needed a button down so I wouldn't ruin my hair pulling a shirt on and off. Oh, the good old days...sort of...if you like awkward dinner dances followed by sloppy drinking.

Signs from a rally Nanette held in 2009 and again in 2010 to gather support for the Garment District.

Roger Cohen heads up Regal Originals, the factory that his father started in the 1960s after surviving the Holocaust and coming to the U.S.

Regal Originals.

A worker elasticizes materials. Regal doesn't put together full garments, but makes intricate detailing (such as applique work, embroidery, shirring, tucking, smocking, and invisible piping) and pleats in fabric.

Some of the machines have been in use since the 1890s. Not this one, but it's definitely old.

Nathan Jervey has worked in the Garment District for over 30 years, pleating materials like the neon above (remember it from the bolts of fabric?).

He lays the cloth out along a stiff paper accordion that has the specified pleats...

...puts a top layer of paper over it...

...pulls the pleats together, and then rolls the whole thing up and steams it.

Once it comes out of the steam room, Nathan unwraps the paper to reveal a perfectly pleated piece of cloth!

And models it for us.

The finished product...which becomes the skirt second from the right!

This machine makes smaller pleats, like the ones below. 

A worker puts together a skirt for Theory.

So there you have the first tour. Pretty amazing work these people do, and it was inspiring to see beautiful things made right in front of me. Check out STGC's website, "like" their page on facebook and follow them on twitter. Tomorrow I'll show you where Carrie's fabric flowers from Sex and the City were made!

While you're at it, like The Wilder Things on Facebook, too, and follow me on Twitter, too!


  1. I NEVER knew that was how pleated fabric was made - so cool! I want one of those pleating presses...


  2. Omg, I adore pleating so what a treat! That purple pleated fabric is beyond gorgeous!
    Love the photos as well!!


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