Mary’s message to fashion designers: “Women my size are your customers. As much as the fashion magazines try to tell you women should be a size 4, we're not!”

Mary’s message to fashion designers: “Women my size are your customers. As much as the fashion magazines try to tell you women should be a size 4, we’re not!”

by Mary Gulivindala

“Fashion fades; only style remains the same.” — Coco Chanel

Let’s get real about our bodies, ladies, and how we try to hide them with “fashion.”

I don’t have a career. I did have one until I had kids. Now I gig, meaning I work jobs. A snooty way to put it would be that I’m a contractor or consultant, depending upon the industry. Last month’s gig was in fashion.

September was the kickoff of fashion in New York. It is the month when fashion designers show the season’s newly inspired creations in Bryant Park. Tents are filled with editors, stylists, designers, celebrities and socialites who watch striking, androgynous models prance the catwalk displaying the next ridiculously expensive couture clothing that few can buy but many can rip off; think Target.

A few years back, while gigging at a wedding (floral), I met a woman who lived in Manhattan and worked in fashion. How exciting; we hit it off immediately. My mind envisioned her in a glamorous position surrounded by creative people in a glass office on the 67th floor of some brand empire overlooking the Hudson River. Wrong! There’s an ugly side to fashion, and it’s called wholesale; hence, trade shows.

My friend Andrea is the manager of a multi-label showroom which represents 12 designers. One day she called me and asked if I would work for her selling a line or two during “market week” (industry lingo meaning trade shows.) I told her I didn’t have any experience selling clothes, just buying them. She said, “Mary, you can sell anything. Come to New York for some quick training,” so I did.

My love of fashion was killed that week. By the end of my first show, I wanted to vomit patterns. Now I Megabus, train and taxi, suitcases and bags in hand, and schlep to work about three or four shows a year. It is hard work, and that’s just getting there. It’s not first class. Let the crazy begin!

Scenario: New York City, the Jacob Javits Convention Center, “The” Coterie show, one of the largest trade shows on the circuit for buyers and sellers. Designers’ wares are on displays in mini-booths trying to look like boutiques. Thousands of buyers come worldwide for three days to pursue the droves of aisles to see the next seasonal trend.

It’s huge, loud, chaotic pandemonium. My face muscles get a great workout from all the smiling I do; check my crows feet. It’s long days of people rushing around. Anyone in the industry longer that three years, safe to say, doesn’t look forward to this event, buyer or seller.

Location is everything, specially at the massive Javits Center. I want to be near the bathroom or food line because they’re both really, really, really long. It can get ugly. Welcome to the glamorous industry of fashion. Usually there are a few shows going on at the same time, Coterie, Moda, Stitch and Atelier. I never know which show I’m working until I get there. “Coterie” has been Queen for many years. Everyone wants to work it but me. It’s all about ego.

This year I lucked out. I worked the Atelier Show at the Doubletree Hotel in Times Square, not the drafty Javits! You show your line(s) in a hotel room with a bathroom, refrigerator and couch! Oh the luxury! Some noses turn up at The Atelier show because it is smaller, usually with brands unknown to Americans.

There are skinny girls in cat suits dressing and undressing the lines so buyers can see how they look on a non-mannequin. The sample lines are always extra-small or small. Now I’m not fat; I’m medium or large, depending on the designer. FYI, Europeans cut small. I thought, “OH NO, there is no way I’m going to fit into these samples.”

I was relieved when I was assigned to work with Matti Mamone, a contemporary/lifestyle Israeli company. Yea! I might fit into some of the pieces, which I did! It’s showtime, Mary. On and off, on and off. “Can I see that again?” All day long, in platform shoes.

Putting on sample-sized clothing in front of buyers when you’re not a sample size can be comical. Like a smiling robot, I found myself repeatedly saying, “This is a sample size, and I’m not!” Then with lightning speed I’d hand them a “look book” (more lingo for catalogue) with a model in the same garment, while I continually walk and pose. You can’t hit a moving target!

The truth is the buyers’ response is supreme. Why? Because women my size are your customers. As much as the fashion magazines try to tell you women should be a size 4, we’re not! Matti Mamone sizes from small to XXL; smart. I wrote a lot of orders for M-L-XL. Small too, but the point is that clients were buying the larger sizes.

My sales were fantastic. The success of the line is that it is designed for real-sized women, flaws and all! What I thought would be a mortifying few days work was not. I will go as far as to say I felt pretty, even in the sample sizes. Ugly was in my head, but reality was in the bank, and I got paid. Until the next show, your life is a catwalk, so walk it.

Mary Gulivindala is a long-time Chestnut Hill resident.