My Calderon Years

By on Sep 24, 2010 in Essays

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5

NYC skyline

During the course of that morning I met Jacques Haim, who filled an indeterminate role in the design room, his main qualification being that of a cousin of Murray Nathan. Ah, the joys of nepotism! Jacques Haim I remember as the one presence at Calderon who was totally inoffensive, a refreshing meadow of tranquility in that forest of big pricks. Jacques had a wife and kid and a house in the midst of New Jersey with a big, soft recliner, and that’s all he cared about. I guess Murray Nathan felt he could at least do no harm, as they say.

The same could be said for Nathan’s sister, whom I called Second-Hand Rose, and she looked the part. Rose was a good person to know, because she held the key to the storeroom that held thousands of discarded handbag samples, which were very expensive and desirable. For five or ten bucks, which went directly into her pocket, I could buy a discarded handbag sample that had cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to develop, only to be thrown in the junk pile if the department store buyers indicated that it didn’t mean anything that season. This resource fit in perfectly with my agenda of using fashion items to soften up females so that they would succumb to my advances.

The problem with my barter strategy is that New York women are a tough sell when it comes to exchanging merchandise for sexual favors. Not that they weren’t craven mercenaries. Obviously, cash works best. But women don’t like to feel that they are being discounted. Let me give you an example. Let’s say I worked on Wall Street, and I gave a girl a $500 handbag. She will immediately lie down, because the handbag represents $500 in real terms, plus the sentimental value of me going into a boutique and selecting it as a gift. Believe me, you don’t have to leave the price tag on. These girls are operating in multiple megabytes when it comes to calculating market value.

On the other hand, if she knows I’m in the handbag business, she’s going to deduce that I got the handbag on favorable terms, and she is going to be inclined to repay me in kind — nothing. She’ll tell herself, “If this guy thinks I am going to go down for him on the cheap, he’s craaaaazy!” Women figure that they are sitting on a potential fortune, which is why it’s better to go for a married woman, whose best asset is already somewhat depreciated, which is what I did. But more about that later.

I don’t know that Second-Hand Rose ever had a man. Certainly, she didn’t need any handbags. Spinster would not be too harsh a qualification to describe her physical attributes. With her comfortable sweaters and wild hair, she never got with the program. I could picture her in a cozy Manhattan apartment with some cats, and having drinks with other equally misfit old girls, who would honk at each other like geese. In fact, physical charm was not one of the characteristics that you would assign to anyone in the Nathan family or to the employees of Calderon. For a company that produced a line of luxury fashion accessories that graced the showcases of Saks, Neiman’s and Sakowitz and was featured monthly in the pages of Vogue, Bazaar and Vanity Fair, the owners and staff basically looked one step above Delancy Street fish market habitués. OK, to be fair, they most closely resembled the owners of the mom and pop notions shops that lined Sixth Avenue in the Thirties. You won’t read this in Vogue, but it’s true.

And the reason for it is that the Nathans did not start out at the high end of the market. If I correctly recall the story as it was recounted to me by leather cutter Walter Dooley, who had worked at Calderon when it was located in midtown, the Nathans started out as purveyors of cheap novelty items. Like, they had the license for Mickey Mouse. How about that? From Mickey Mouse, they rose to Anne Klein. They grew organically with the market. They went from cheap vinyl dime-store junk with little ducky patterns to exclusive cowhide, rattan, and snakeskin styling, and moved up from a sweatshop in midtown to a spacious, modern factory in a depressed area farther downtown.

But is was easier to upscale their line than it was to upscale their own personal style, and they remained a clan of dorky misfits. That is the story of New York fashion in a nutshell, and, more broadly, that is the story of New York in general: freakin’ Madoff and all those Wall Street big shots like Citigroup’s Sandy Weill, AIG’s Maurice Greenberg and Goldman Sach’s Lloyd Blankfein. Tons of money and no concept of class. One foot on a yacht and the other foot in a pickle barrel. But I only figured this out later.

Obviously, Calderon had grown so fast that the Nathans had felt compelled to bring in a real American manufacturing professional, Daniels, to keep it from spinning out of control the way Accessories By Pearl had (as evidenced by their very stupid hiring of me to run their cutting department, to give you the most obvious example). From what I could see with just my eyes, despite the global economic conundrum of the epoch, there was still continual heavy demand for luxury fashion accessories.

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5


Dean Borok, a nephew of Saul Bellow, is the winner of the 2009 New York Magazine political fictions literary competition with his award winning short story "A Wall Street Christmas Carol". He operates an experimental comedy web site at