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Garment Industry History Initiative

Dressing America: Jews in the Garment Industry

Produced in association with the Fashion Institute of Technology

New York’s fashion district – otherwise known as the Garment Center – has always held sway over the imaginations of the style-conscious and those seeking glamour. This little slice of Manhattan has nurtured the likes of retailers and designers – from Hattie Carnegie to Donna Karan – in their quest to create world-class fashions that have made generations of Americans feel and look stylish. It has also provided employment for countless metropolitan area residents and it continues to draw visitors from around the world – many of whom come to study at the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology.

With the generous support of the Leon Levy Foundation, Pacific Street Films is in production on a documentary, DRESSING AMERICA, that will tell the story of an often overlooked side of this colorful and vibrant industry – an industry which provided opportunities for countless entrepreneurs, largely Jewish, who blended business acumen with artistic flair – doing for American style what their counterparts in Hollywood did for the cinema.

Rich in storytelling and sumptuous visual detail DRESSING AMERICA will encompass one-hundred-fifty years of fashion history, populated by pioneering, larger-than-life characters. Some names are familiar: Hart, Schaffner & Marx, Levi Strauss, Hickey-Freeman, and [Lyman] Bloomingdale. Others like Nettie Rosenstein, Hattie Carnegie and Gilbert “Adrian” Greenburg are less known by their names than by their innovations: the black dress, the marketing of American “high style,” and Hollywood as a source of fashion inspiration.

But this isn’t just the story of fashion that struts its stuff on the runways of New York’s Fashion week. It’s the story of fashion that finds itself dangling from clothing racks, manhandled down sidewalks, or pushed through narrow corridors in venerable old Seventh Avenue office buildings. The story is tinged with liberal doses of nostalgia – recollections of old-timers, early entrepreneurs, recounting the camaraderie of the business and its challenges and rewards. It’s also the story of individuals, like 84-year old Holocaust survivor, Charles Edelstein, who still travels from his home in Oceanside, Long Island, to peddle fabrics to a new generation of foreign-born garment center businessmen. In short, the film is a tribute to a vibrant, colorful and creative industry that has grown up and been nurtured by a Jewish presence for over a century and a half.

In addition to original filming, Dressing America will draw upon the rich archival resources of the Fashion Institute of Technology as well as the expertise of its faculty. Phyllis Dillon, the associate producer and primary researcher, has identified an extraordinary trove of visual material for possible inclusion in the documentary. Contemporary reflections, historical narrative, existing oral histories, and music will comprise the soundtrack. Entertaining, illuminating, and affectionate, Dressing America will tell a quintessentially American story.

Participants include:

Teri Agins – Special Projects Writer, Wall Street Journal
Steven Cox – designer Duckie Brown Fashions
George Feldenkreis – CEO and Chairman, Perry Ellis International
Ruth Finley- Publisher – the Fashion Calendar
Gloria Gelfand – Gelfand Marketing Solutions
Lyn Green – designer, Tahari Arthur S. Levine
Stan Herman – designer, Stan Herman Studio (former head, CFDA)
Bernard Holtzman- Retired founder Harve Benard
Bud Konheim – CEO Nicole Miller
Arthur S. Levine – Tahari Arthur S. Levine
Fern Mallis – Senior VP, IMG Fashion (former head, CFDA)
Jay Mazur – President Emeritus, Unite
Nicole Miller – designer
John Pomerantz – Retired Leslie Fay Brands
Laura Pomerantz – Principal, founder, PBS Real Estate
Meryl Poster – former President of production, Miramax
Herbert Poster – retired owner, Colony Sportswear
Susan Poster – former showroom model
Jack Ratusch – President, Garment Center Synagogue
Arnold Scaasi – designer
Daniel Silver-Partner Duckie Brown
Rubin Singer – designer
Valerie Steele – Director, Museum at FIT
Tomio Taki – Managing Partner, Takihyo LLC
David Wolfe – Creative Director, The Doneger Group