SALESMEN AND CLIENTS I HAVE KNOWN
Above Photo: Men’s Department Salesmen, Louis, Boston., circa 1986. Left to Right: Dan DiBenedetto, Reno Camaro, Ken Vecchia, Arthur Jordan, Bob Itri, Bob Daley, Lino Zanella and Dave Gaudreau.
That crew, and their colleagues not shown in the photo, Dominic Piselli, Paul Wade, Gary Drinkwater and Kevin Clark, collectively sold in excess of thirty-five million dollars annually in a small men’s store in Boston in the 1980’s. I worked there with them. I saw it. It happened.
This article is not about those men.
This article is an affectionate caricature of several men – salesmen and consumers – I had the pleasure of working with in menswear boutiques in New York City in the late 1990’s and early to mid-2000’s. Their names and some identifying characteristics have been changed by me to protect their identities and my meager life savings.
When I worked with the men in the photo above at Louis, we were the only store in America at the time selling Kiton. We were the only store in America, along with BARNEYS, selling Ermenegildo Zegna. We were the only store in America selling Luciano Barbera, Loro Piana, and Mariano Rubinacci. BARNEYS sold Paul Smith. So did we. We debuted Joseph Abboud’s first collection, then BARNEYS did. Louis was the first store in America to have all its vendors appear at the store on the same day, to take orders from clients. We didn’t call it a trunk show then. We named that event The Designer Collective. The photo below shows the store’s legendary merchant/owner, Murray Pearlstein (left), with Luciano Barbera, at that show.
We were the first. Always. We were the best. Always. Ask anyone who was there, then. They’ll tell you. It was a glorious time.
The menswear landscape in Boston, and in New York City has changed considerably since my days at Louis.
The profiles below are of men I met in New York City, beginning about ten years after I left Louis.
Here then, are menswear salesmen and clients that I have known.
Felix Sackman, Greenhorn Salesman
Felix is a twenty-five-year-old Jewish American frat boy with a diet consisting almost wholly of deli coffee, pastrami sandwiches, Gatorade, Marlboro Lights and “well done toasted sesame bagels with a little—just a little!—cream cheese.” He’s straight, a jock, a chronic dater, and meticulously manages his fantasy football teams with the same care he manages his profiles on twelve different online dating sites. Felix was raised in a home with servants, so doesn’t know how to cook, clean, do laundry or take care of himself, generally. He lives in a high-rise studio condo owned by his parents in midtown Manhattan. He’s boyish, intelligent, self-absorbed, and playful and has an endless repertoire of character voices and impressions. He spends his discretionary income on cocaine and beer and his drug and alcohol abuse on the sly fuels his mischievous nature. Felix has no awareness of his natural-born salesman’s ability. His Secret: Uses his grandfather’s MasterCard to buy escorts and uses his stove as a laundry hamper. His Future: Will become the Senior VP of Sales, North America, for a Fortune 500 Company.
William Norvill, Sales and Sales Management
William is caucasian American, straight and single. Handsome, very intelligent, good humored and stylish, William is a loner with a perverse world-view and a weak self-image. Raised by stylish, liberal, intellectual and alcohol-addicted parents—one Jewish one Catholic—William found his way into menswear after a failed college career majoring in English which he hoped would lead to a writing career. Now in his thirties, saddled with what he calls a “double barrel blast of Catholic guilt and Jewish worry,” he spends his non-working hours writing, reading and pursuing all things sexual. At work, William is respectfully engaged by clients for his grace, professionalism and product knowledge. Outside of work, William engages with hookers, escorts, phone sex operators, porn sites, drug dealers and women he lures into his bed via the luridly creative online ads he posts for hookups. William believes there’s a better future for him, but cannot find the off-ramp leading to it, so remains in menswear, a closet idealist, holding on as best he can to his dedication to being the best menswear retailer he can be. His Secret: He volunteers at a VA Hospital on his days off, reading to infirm vets, while on the sly he teaches other vets how to surf safely online for porn in exchange for cigarette money. His Future: Bleak.
Ken Callendrella, Sales
Ken Callendrella is forty-one years old, caucasian American, married to an assistant district attorney and the father of a three-year-old boy named Timothy. Ken lives with his family in a luxury two bedroom apartment in the Financial District. Ken is wound tight: fit, handsome, stylish and incredibly health conscious, he doesn’t drink coffee or alcohol or use drugs or smoke. He also refuses to wear a belt, suspenders or watch, claiming the former two are signs of a man not in control of his own physicality and the latter of a man out of touch with reality. He has a razor-sharp tongue, and is obsessed with tailors who work on his client’s clothing, calling them, “The hyenas of the menswear Serengeti,” because, “they’re ugly as fuck, they all have hunched backs, they sound weird, and all they’re good for is cleaning up the mess after the kill.” Ken eats raw, unsalted almonds for lunch—on the sales floor—swallowing them whole; chewing would mean pulp in his teeth, which would compel him to leave the sales floor to floss. Ken never leaves the sales floor. His Secret: On weekends, and with the belief he is educating his son, “for the real world,” Ken puts Timothy on his lap and reads to him from The Wall Street Journal, or, they watch old episodes of Firing Line with William F. Buckley Jr. His Future: By the time he is fifty-three, he will be divorced, out of the closet, and living with his husband, a dog groomer, and vegan.
Allen Stanhall, Sales
Allen is a divorced forty-five-year-old African American who began selling clothing after many years selling men’s shoes for the British maker Goodyear & Blake in their Madison Avenue boutique. Allen has a rocky relationship with his ex-wife, Anita, a patrol officer in the New York City Police Department, who he refers to as “the fuzz,” “the cop” or “the pig,” depending on how badly she’s chasing him for child support payments for their son, Allen Jr. Allen refers to himself, in relation to his career, as a “diamond,” often saying that clients “Must come to me,” to mine him for his knowledge of menswear and for his good taste, both of which are questionable at best. Allen drinks and socializes at On the Rox, a low-rent lounge in Brooklyn, near his home in East New York. When Allen is not at On the Rox, he’s at home with his dog Scooby-Doo, smoking cheap cigarillos and watching reality shows. For all his foibles, Allen is a genuinely nice man. His Secret: Allen is a former heroin addict, and when stressed, he eats paper sugar packets he steals from delis which he carries in his pocket—without tearing them open. His Future: Unknown.
Wainwright Steppmann, Client
This forty-year-old bachelor is white, astronomically wealthy and incredibly self-focused. Steppman is the owner of Asherwood Capital, a private equity firm in which he’s the only employee. At six foot three, and one hundred and ninety-five pounds, he’s impossibly handsome and is rumored to have his teeth and hair insured with Lloyd’s of London for five million dollars. While pleasant and polite to salespeople in stores, Steppman doesn’t acknowledge those who serve him when he encounters them on the streets of the city. Steppman only dates Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, foreign royals, or similarly glamorous women, but these relationships never last for more than two dates, due to “problems” he perceives in the women’s’ character, physicality or spiritual makeup. Steppman lives a transient life, renting suites of rooms six months at a time in cycles between the Carlyle, Pierre, Sherry-Netherland, Lowell Hotels and The Breakers. Impossibly picky, Steppman has been known to spend an entire month pondering the purchase of a handkerchief.
Alvin Shorer, Client
Shorer is a Syrian Jew and importer of children’s toys. He is also the owner of multiple Laundromats, check cashing stores, parking garages and produce markets in Queens and The Bronx. Built like a weasel, his lithe, sinewy body is always impeccably dressed and he’s always impossibly tanned and well groomed. always wants “a deal,” and is loud, abrasive, slick and crude. He regularly flashes a huge bankroll when shopping but never pays in cash or even by credit; he demands to pay for everything in Euros, or by wire-transfer, or in gold. Shorer wears a custom-made Kevlar jockstrap instead of underwear.
Robert Rudolph, Client
Rudolph is a divorced, middle-aged billionaire, prominent on the New York charity circuit. Rudolph made his fortune as the world’s leading manufacturer of plastic orange safety cones, and now sits on the boards of several multinational corporations and also has interests in commercial real estate development. With homes in Aspen, New York, Nassau and London, Rudolph spends over one million dollars a year on clothes from dozens of stores and tailors throughout the world. He owns a 170-foot yacht named ‘Sperm,’ because, “it’s such a whale of a ship,” and has a conceal carry permit. Rudolph periodically tries to return product, but without receipt or price tags, and as many as six years after purchase, expecting a refund on his credit card. He makes impossible demands on all he deals with, but since he’s the second highest spender in his favorite store, and carries a gun, he’s accommodated. William Koons is the highest spender.
William Koons, Client, and the highest spender
This genius drug-addled attorney is a partner at Stein, Koons and Booze, America’s leading corporate law firm handling only the largest corporate clients on Earth: General Electric, Koch Industries, Microsoft, Google, Exxon, NASA, etc. Koons never leaves his apartment in 740 Park Avenue due to the prescription and non-prescription medications he’s convinced he needs, so all purchases and fittings happen inside of it, where he lives in seclusion like Howard Hughes, surrounded by a domestic staff of nurses and housemen, cooks and security. The clients of Stein, Koons and Booze have never met Koons because Stein and Booze pay him to remain behind closed doors in his residence. All legal work is passed through a “port” in his apartment door much like a food tray is slid through a jail cell’s food port. He leaves long-winded messages about his body and the way his clothes fit on store answering machines, usually after midnight. He’s obsessed with wool.
Timothy Locke, Client
Locke is a former United States Navy SEAL who saw action in Iraq during Desert Storm. After retiring from the SEALs, Locke served as a CIA analyst for several years before landing in his current career as a lobbyist for the Institute for Modern Conflict. The IMC’s mission is to drive policy in Washington that keeps the American Military Complex humming. Locke is a big, brassy, ballsy, man’s man, and entertains the staffs of stores with colorful lessons on polemology, hoplology, foreign policy and the “art” of being a man. Each year on his birthday he HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) jumps over his childhood home, landing in his old sandbox, where he hands over a check for the monthly mortgage payment to the owner as a ‘thank you’ for letting him use their yard as a landing pad. Locke regularly talks in military jargon (“Ex-fil,” “Sit-Rep,” “On your six,” “Dicked up”) when referring to his store needs, and often speaks of inviting the salesmen he knows to his shooting range, to his HALO jumps, and to his beach house in The Hamptons for dune buggy races, but never extends invitations.
Mr. Goldberg, Client
A resident of 825 Fifth Avenue, Mr. Goldberg also keeps a home in Palm Beach. He’s overweight, gassy, retired and racist. Goldberg made his fortune selling NYC garment industry remnants to third world governments. He’s a chronic complainer, and is renowned for returning socks to be “pressed” and dirty handkerchiefs for “cleaning.” He shops with Ken, but will come to adore Felix, the “real” grandson he thinks he always wanted. No one knows Mr. Goldberg’s first name. Mr. Goldberg refers to store staffs collectively as, “You people.” Over his long, miserable life, Mr. Goldberg has struck three dogs with his cars and has never stopped. He also hates zippers.