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High Society Fashionista
Anybody reading my account of my years at Calderon may be excused for believing that they are the the mad ravings of an embittered failure who crapped out of the fashion industry. I wouldn’t blame them, due to the lack of information and ignorance of the fashion industry that prevails in this country today. Everybody is so focused on their freakin cell phones and iPads that they are completely ignorant that any other life exists.
As luck would have it, however, the Financial Times of London has recently (April 4, 2010) published an account of the frantic panic on the part of Europe’s top fashion houses to safeguard their intellectual capital in the form of skilled hands to produce their prestigious fashion accessory lines. For European economies, skilled artisans are an irreplaceable strategic resource.
That’s quite a difference from the American attitude that places skilled artisans in the same category as illiterate bricklayers or sewer workers.
If the world had evolved differently, I would have been at the top of my industry, with a beautiful Manhattan condo and a luxury automobile. Instead, I am stuck in a circle of hell.
The reason I draw your attention to this article is not to try to arouse public indignation about the loss of artistic skill in the U.S., which has completely forgotten about these issues (if it ever knew them), but to lend credibility to my memoirs of the New York fashion industry as I knew it.
Some of the models were beautiful professional strippers from the Supersexe club, who didn't mind showing a little female charm. Comedy and strippers, a concept from past ages that hark back to Montreal’s rich burlesque traditions. I would perform a comedy monologue interrupted by musical segments of the models parading onstage. As amateur fashion shows to, it would be fairly high-gloss and glitzy.
I sent a note of invitation to Iona Monahan, the fashion editor of the Montreal Gazette, and she responded that she would send one of her reporters, Beverly Mitchell, to cover the event. I knew this Beverly Mitchell. She was an odiferous pachyderm of a person with a huge feminine ego. But this was out of my control.
The show went off great. My act was solid and the performers all had a lot of beauty and charm. The models paraded around while I did my monologue, and for a climax we had Michael Ross in a leotard, who did a slinky, sinuous modern dance around the stage, where the models were proudly assembled. The club was happy because the show was sold out and everybody drank a lot. The show even got a good review on the radio.
The only person who wasn’t thrilled was the Gazette reporter, Beverly Mitchell, an obese meatball dressed in what looked like a Persian rug and too much lipstick that made her mouth cover half her face, like a grotesque circus clown. Who appointed this elephant a fashion expert? Oh yeah, her boss, another broken-down loser. She insisted on watching the whole show standing up in the aisle with her notepad and pen in her hand, like she was covering the opening of parliament, in order to bring attention to herself, the working press blah blah blah…
This Beverly Mitchell decided that she was going to slam me good in the paper and put me in my place – a place that she had decided for me – and what was I going to do about it! When the review came out it was a slap in the face. Mitchell took a high moralistic tone for her low, sarcastic digs, reminiscent of that douchebag Andrea Peyser, the resident moralistic den mother at the New York Post. She insinuated, without frontally accusing me, that I had stolen my styling concepts from a French Canadian designer who had just shown a few weeks previously. She used my own jokes against me to portray me as “tacky” (hey, I never disputed that!). She took a smarmy, sarcastic tone to suggest my show was dreary, derivative and boring. The point of the article was to publicly humiliate me and make me look like a laughing stock.
Remember, it was a Halloween fashion show in a comedy club. I wasn’t trying to compete with Yves St. Laurent. This Mitchell individual, an obese no-talent drip, was motivated by envy and resentment. I was operating a nice boutique on Ste. Catherine Street and doing a comedy act in the clubs. She couldn’t contain her envy.
My first reaction was denial. I reasoned, this is all a big mistake. They’ll never let her get away with this, out of fairness. The Gazette is a pathetic rag of bourgeois garbage. They’ll never let Beverly Mitchell get away with this malevolent slander. They aren’t totally out of their minds, right? I wrote a letter to Iona Monahan, insisting on a retraction. A few days later I got a response stating, in effect, that if you invite the Gazette to review an event, you have to accept whatever it chooses to publish. As far as the Gazette was concerned, the matter was closed. I was the patsy.
This really sent me ballistic. What was I, a sucker for a bunch of shabby newspaper writers? There was no internet at the time, so those stooges in the print media had a lot more power than they do now. All I could immediately do was to respond in a letter, using extremely florid language, instructing them what they could do with their paper.
I filed a complaint with the Quebec Press Council, to which the Gazette was forced to respond, and they said they never meant any offense, which was the first time they offered any explanation for their asshole behavior. I sent a letter to their twerp editor reminding him that I was a nephew of Saul Bellow, who was born in Montreal and who had just recently won the Nobel Prize for literature, and who was like a god to them – and I was his nephew and a longtime commercial resident of Ste. Catherine Street. Finally, I started going on stage and referring to various anatomical aspects of Iona Monahan and Beverly Mitchell in the coarsest possible terms. I went so far as to write, “The way I see it, I could go down to the Gazett building with 20-30 Hell’s Angels and trash the whole building, and the judge would let me walk”, which, because of the conditional wording I employed, does not exactly constitute a legal threat, but it was still enough to get me arrested.
I wanted to get arrested. Then the whole affair would have hit the papers all over again, only coast-to-coast, probably. Then it would have been minutely scrutinized and analyzed, how the Gazette wrote such an incendiary article about a nephew of Saul Bellow. The Gazette had no desire to reopen the affair, and for good reason. In all the years I had been reading that piece of garbage, they had never before done such a butcher job on anybody. But as skeletal Morris Schwartzwald had so contemptuously put it, summoning up as much loathing and vitriol from his emaciated corpse of a body, trembling like the leaf on a dead tree, “You, you are special!”
I later found out that upon receipt of this charming missive, the Gazette management enhanced the security procedures of their premises. Still, they did not contact the authorities.
I got a call from High Society Magazine in New York. They had heard about my fashion show starring comedy and strippers, and they wanted to shoot a pictorial feature in my boutique. They sent porn star Annie Ample and a photographer, and I got a three-page full color feature of me bare-assed with Annie. I put it about that the next issue would feature an article written by me describing a sexual encounter between me, Beverly Mitchell and Iona Monahan underneath the merry go round at Montreal’s amusement park. How’s that for class!
The Gazette went berserk and called High Society, pleading with them not to run the article, to which High Society responded that they didn’t even know what the hell the Gazette was talking about. Nevertheless, the impact was unmistakeable. The Gazette took Beverly Mitchell off covering feature stories for a long time, although they eventually reinstated her. She never bothered me again, that’s for sure. The only loser was Mark Breslin, of Yuk Yuks’ Komedy Kabaret. The Gazette refused to cover the club or to review any of its acts after that. Breslin had to close shop and go back to Toronto.
A few months later a French designer in Paris used my comedy format for his fashion show. I don’t know whether he had heard about my show, or whether it was just a case of great minds thinking alike, but it’s not often that an American beats the French to a fashion concept?
So, what were these broken-down pieces of shit like Morris and Louie going to do to me that hadn’t been played on me before? They could curse me out all they wanted ,but they still had to train me!
But for anybody who thinks that fashion is just dreary little sketches in a notepad, drinking champagne and eating little sandwiches with the crust cut off, let these stories be a lesson to you!
© Dean Borok April 2010
High Society Part 2
How I Broke Into New York Fashion”, Dean Borok finds employment at Calderon Bags & Belts as an assistant designer
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