Come the Fall…

by Alden Cole on April 29, 2014 · 0 comments

FabFourSCWPfour drawings done in 1970, each 11″ x 8.5″ • collection of the artist

From August 15-18, 1969, the phenomenon known as Woodstock — “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music” — occurred. I was not there; I was in NYC. Just days short of celebrating my first anniversary in the city, I was wrapping up another week in my third month with Happy Legs, the junior sportswear company I had switched to in early June. My partner of the time had made some noises about attending the music festival that would become legendary, but I squelched the plan because I had no interest in camping out for three days with who knows how many people, just to hear a lot of music, most of which I was pretty indifferent to anyway. I was far more excited about spending the upcoming Labor Day weekend in Maine. My second job in the fashion world was exciting, getting more interesting as I learned the ropes; everything seemed to be going well. I was working with a pattern maker plus a sample room, and I was getting along well my superiors. I had no clue when I returned to work Tuesday morning after Labor Day that I’d be out of a job by noon. My supervisor Herb called me into his office in late morning and nicely came to the point: “Alden, we’re gonna have to let you go. You are our first designer; unfortunately you’re also very new to this business yourself, and we don’t really know what to do with you or how to utilize you effectively, because this change is all so new to us too. Victor the owner and I came to this difficult decision over the weekend. I’m sorry to let you go, but you’ll do fine; you’re probably more talented than we deserve anyway.” — this last comment seemingly thrown in to assuage my ego and salve his conscience. This unhappy event brought me up short, just as I was celebrating my first full year in New York. It was the first time I had ever been fired — of course ‘laid off’ is the gentler, more palatable term — but whatever you want to call it, the event shocked my naive expectations. After a few days of licking my wounds, I started contacting associates already met through the industry. A sales rep for Macy’s who admired my work gave me a lead which led to an interview which led to a job offer with another junior sportswear company. Within two weeks of walking dejectedly away from Happy Legs I was again employed, for a company whose name I have forgotten. I worked there for two weeks; at the end of the second Friday my supervisor called me into his office, handed me my check and let me know that I didn’t need to return the following Monday. No explanation offered. I was stunned. Shocked into temporary withdrawal from job hunting, my partner Juan helped me through the hard times that followed. He even arranged an interview with a friend of his employer — a designer who had a small firm specializing in elegant, more expensive womens’ wear, who was burned out from year-in year-out of designing, and needed some youthful input into his line. The first week went well, but on the following Monday the owner hesitantly let me know that our collaboration wasn’t working out as he had hoped. Once again no specific reasons were given, and once again I was jobless. At the time I was too proud to file for Unemployment Compensation; somehow I kept body and soul together with free lance work constructing clothing for various clients. The holidays came and went without my going north to visit family; I didn’t know how to account for my joblessness, so I opted to avoid those embarrassing conversations altogether by absenting myself.

January 1970, Alan Sussman, one of the two salesmen who worked for Paul Ressler, my first employer, contacted me. He was planning to start up his own company, one specializing in Unisex clothing — Hot items for Him and/or Her. He had already established a relationship with two backers who were willing to fund the enterprise. All I had to do was come up with a basic line of ten to twelve items, which included a trendy pair of overalls, a couple pairs of pants, two or three shirts, a bomber jacket plus a longer jacket, and a vest or two. Today’s drawings were part of the overall design plan I came up with initially. Once we decided which designs we wanted to include in our small line, I had to create prototypes; after which I had to draft sets of graded patterns to cover a size range of small/medium/large/extra-large, maybe even some in between. It was an enterprise that consumed hours/days/weeks of time. Just when it seemed like this new entity was about to take wing, the backers pulled out. Alan was apologetic; I was devastated. I felt like I had just been fired again, for the fourth time in less than five months. What next?

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