Giving My Regards to Broadway!
New York City, Monday, 7:15 am
I’ve got to make it to what let’s just call “my New York office” early. So, I’m really moving through Times Square before the summer humidity and tourists set in. I can’t stand the stickiness. Of both. Besides, I do have a lot of work to do. This early, it is people like me who need to get from one place to another, not wander aimlessly agog in front of everyone else, or on their way towards winning a Tony Award, who are making it on The Great White Way.
Waiting to cross, I look up at some huge billboard. It’s for this year’s latest and greatest musical. You’ve seen plenty of signs just like this one, I’m sure. This particular ditty is about a young girl from the backwoods who finds enough change in the sofa cushions to make her way to New York, and takes the town by storm, followed soon after by the whole wide world, all thanks to her authentic renditions of classical hillbilly music complete with, of all things, melodic yodeling.
This new “Break Out Singing Sensation” towers several floors above me and is quite the picture of wholesomeness showing off her great big teeth and really cute shoes. She’s using those to stand atop a milking stool, a gaggle of farm animals art directed to gaze up adorably at her. Something about that yodeling really seems to get livestock and theatre goers. I look down at my own squashed black flats. The poor things. They’ve logged more miles than the eighteen-wheeler that brought this latest chanteuse above the Mason-Dixon Line. Last glance, as the light changes. I see she’s also wearing an “outfit”. What’s that? And I’m in the fashion biz! These same black pants and knit top as last season and several more before that make up my Broadway ensemble. Even my handbag. I’ve had it so long and put up with its quirks so well, it’s practically a relative. That’s the way it always is, right? Image: the perfectly turned out, well shoed, Broadway gal, truly making it as the star of her own big show. But the reality? Me. In clothes old enough for kindergarten, trying to make it in my own solo, way-off Broadway act. Who knew yodeling was the secret to success after all?
It didn’t use to be quite so bad, but, this city takes a toll and sometimes you just run out of change. Right now, I’m calling myself a “fashion consultant”, because that sounds better than “unemployed”. No, people don’t pay me to put cute outfits together. I can’t do that, obviously. As you probably know, people who do that are called “stylists”, because that also sounds better than “out of regular paying work”.
About me really? I’m one of fashion’s countless unseen: those whose names never grace the labels. I started out in some long gone store’s back room, a buyer trainee, counting what sold and what didn’t. So began my life of one-after-the-other promotions followed by the inevitable layoff and downsizings. Let go at the drop of a spreadsheet to live on a dime in a city that feeds on C-Notes. That which is not glamourous makes us stronger, right? Now, I’m my own boss, so I can lay my own self off anytime I want. I guess that’s progress. Anyway, I make ends meet in different ways.
Ever dreamed of being in the rag trade? Why? No, I mean, I know sample makers and can contact cutters and sewers for you. And take a percentage. Want to sell your up-and-coming fashion line to a store? Just let me know. I can make arrangements on the wholesale side to get you in. And take a percentage. Need a contract worker, brand manager, visual merchandiser, you name it, for your fashion, or retail business? I’ll take some of that for myself, too. Will work for money, that’s my racket. Just don’t put me on the floor selling, dealing with actual people. That didn’t work out too well.
So who am I, really? It does take a village, mostly of underage kids working sixteen, eighteen hours a day, to make the gazillion t-shirts and jeans that get bought up each and every day without a second thought by most of the developed world. But it takes people like me to get them into stores, make them look pretty, and tell you why you, or anyone, should want more of the things they probably already have and likely don’t need any more of. The truth is, real jobs in fashion are as fickle as the fads they tout. Which is why there are more than a few of us “fashion consultants” sharing an office right here, right now, right off Broadway in New York’s Garment District, twelve floors up, on the right.
My cubicle is at the end of a line of desks, by the wall. We’re each separated by movable grey walls in what was long ago a dress factory. Crusted though it is with bird gunk, I can say I have a corner office with windows, so I guess that’s progress, too, right? I’m working on getting a door. Anything to drown out Harvey and Gloria, next to me. They have only one volume: shrieking. These two old garmentos run a factoring, or fashion finance business, and are as historic as the plaques embedded on Seventh commemorating long-ago designers. Like those markers, these two are always underfoot, so it’s no surprise they’re here already, each yelling into their phones when they’re not yelling at each other. When all of us “fashion consultants” are here, there’s quite a racket, each with different accents and attitudes.
I turn on my computer and start digging through my next-of-kin handbag, looking for the water bottle that always manages to make it to the bottom and mush up my makeup pouch. I sit back and rub my already sore ears. Being heard over those two? Not going to happen. Maybe there’s something to yodeling after all? So, there it is. Me, Fifty-one year old Toni Russo about to begin another scene in her very own one woman fashion production.