The Big Apple

October 24, 2009

One day, I think it was in 1994, Sevinch came home and announced: “We’re going to America. I am going to sell tassels in America”.

What else was there to say except: “Yes, dear”?

Off we went, budget airline, all the way to New York, arriving at 6 am. After checking in at a cheap but fun hotel we had chosen on the internet, The Wolcott, I was ready for a bit of a rest. Sevinch was having none of it. Oh no, we had to hit the road.

You must understand, this first foray into marketing in America was done in an utterly whimsical manner. There was no preparation, no preliminary contact with potential clients, nothing – except for the Yellow Pages in the hotel room. And a big holdall containing about 40 kilos of samples.

Green as grass in the Big Apple, we went out and did the door to door thing. It was demoralising at first: although we did manage to get to see people, generally the response was “look, lady, it’s a tough world. and I have to maximise the return on the display space that your product demands, and I can’t see that happening.”

You see, whereas other passementerie makers produce stock collections with a defined number of models and a defined number of colourways, all of which can be collated in sample books; we, Sevinch, were doing one-off custom work. No collections, no sample books, just the notion that we could make beautiful product to order, customised to match any fabric or design theme, on a project by project basis. Little did we know then how difficult it is to sell this concept. And we were selling it to the wrong people, people whose business model was fast turnover of sales, with the minimum of overhead and creative input.

Then one beautiful New York morning, we managed to get an appointment at Clarence House. We were somewhat overawed at the elegance of this firm, and of the people that agreed to meet us. There we were, novices from Cairo with our bag of samples, slightly out of breath and warm; and there they were, beautifully mannered, courteous, surrounded by a cornucopia of fabrics and passementerie on the walls of the showroom.

Louise Friedman showed us their passementerie collections. They were exquisitely made, the colours were clean and mellow, it was lovely work. Only later did we find out that they were the work of the most famous of the French passementerie makers, Declercq. And from that moment on, Claude Declercq became Sevinch’s hero, the benchmark against which she has thereafter always compared herself, and striven to equal.

But I digress. Louise explained to us very kindly that Clarence House was committed to another supplier and therefore was unable to do anything with us. But after a moment’s hesitation, she asked us to excuse her, and she went into her office to make a phone call. A few moment later she came back with a name and address on a piece of paper, and suggested that we might be welcomed there.

We returned to the hotel and called the number. It was Christopher Hyland, at the D&D Building on 3rd Avenue, and he asked us to come over straight away.

Let me simply say that this was in 1994, and we are still most happily working with Christopher. He saw the potential in our work, and backed us from that moment. He sent us swatches of the most beautiful and expensive fabrics against which to colour our trims and tassels, and fringes. At the same time, an inspired Sevinch was refining over and again the execution of the work until it became clean and crisp, and with the new colours we knew that we had entered a new phase: that we were becoming professional passementerie makers, that our work began to command respect.

We owe a debt of gratitude to both Louise and Christopher, who set us on the path which has culminated (so far) with Sevinch product hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Wallace Collection in London and many other points in between.
Metropolitan detail 4

It was a good first trip to the Big Apple.

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