Sunday, October 5, 2014

Scented Memories: My Father's Leather Shop

When I was a child I would accompany my father to his leather shop on 236 West 27th Street in the garment district. The world changed the moment you walked into the freight elevator and were greeted with the scent of gear oil and metal. I remember the aroma of the shop which was a combination of leather, rubber cement, tailor's chalk, spools of thread, rolls of acetate lining, coffee, manila pattern paper, pencils, wooden cutting tables, rack and hand carts, metal chairs ornamented with handmade cushions, buttered rolls and bagels, and the warm metal of zealous sewing machines stitching away.

A flock of women from the Caribbean to South America worked there. I remember watching them change from their work clothes into street clothes and admiring how lady-like they were. The changing room was aflutter with slips, skirts, dresses, pantyhose and the staccato of Spanish conversation. The women were like butterflies. When they'd leave the shop you could smell traces of soap, hand cream and eau de cologne from Spain in the changing room. The soap was different from the one we used at home and smelled of citrus, cinnamon, and white flowers.

One of the women who worked in the shop was from Cuba and her name was Dulce. I remember how hard she worked and how beautiful she was. The sound of machines and hands working inside Brand X Fashions never leaves my memory. The video "Soul of a Shirt" captures the spirit of what I remember even though it's modern and related to shirt production (my father made coats, dresses, and suits in leather and suede).  

The building that housed Brand X Fashions now leases space to the Fashion Institute of Technology as a tenant. The 12-story deco sandstone building is across the street from the fragrance lab on 27th Street where I studied perfumery with Virginia Bonofiglio of FIT. On the first day of perfumery class I met Dulce Urquiza of Givaudan. We became fast friends and no matter how much time goes by she always reminds me of the Dulce I knew in my childhood. Both are of Cuban heritage and have an interesting blend of strength and sweetness; just like a perfect cafĂ© cubano.

The aroma of Swedish Dream Sunflower Facial Soap inspired this story; it smells exactly like the soap that sat on the porcelain sink in the women's changing room at Brand X Fashions.

The video that accompanies this post is curated by The Skyscraper Museum of NYC and can be found on their YouTube channel. My experience in the Garment District took place in the early 1970's. Though the video was shot from footage in the 1950's it affords an interesting historical perspective.  

The image of my father's business card is embellished with the wooden portion of a garment rack that was used to walk finished product to a contractor or distributor. I took a few rides in these as a kid and still remember how you could hear the sounds of the city mixed in with the rumbly bumps of the rack's wheels, which swiveled out of sync at short stops and cracks in the sidewalk. I was partially camouflaged by the garments and that made every ride a true adventure.

The picture of a vintage Singer
® sewing machine was taken by Jorge Royan and was used with permission. It was remixed with an image my cousin took of the building where my father grew up. The building is in Brzeziny, Poland.

Image of "Leather Bouquet" featuring bolts of leather skins in bright colors taken by Michelle Krell Kydd.

Dulce Urquiza is Senior Creative Fragrance Development Manager at Givaudan and a chemical engineer; she puts the flower in STEM. A future story about her journey as a woman in science is planned. It is a precious story that has never been told before.

The Annette Green Fragrance Foundation Studio at The Fashion Institute of Technology is modeled on professional perfumery labs.