For the first of my three part investigative video series into New York’s Garment District, I wanted to profile someone who worked in the Garment Center and accessed the Garment Center for his / her line of work. Savethegarmentcenter.com pointed me to current or evicted garment district tenants who had written letters voicing their concerns and personal stories as it related to the “erosion” of the garment district. I decided to contact a costume designer who indicated in her letter that her location in the garment center afforded her studio the ability to support Broadway production, and vice versa. I tried not to pin all my hopes on her because she seemed to oblige me only reluctantly. When I called the following morning, she reneged. But, she was kind enough to refer me to Arnold Levine, a milliner (person who makes hats) and also the president of The Association of Theatrical Artists and Craftspeople (ATAC). She didn’t provide his contact info but told me to look him up. Sounded easy enough.
It took me about 45 minutes to find Arnold’s contact info. Apparently, New York City is brimming with Arnold Levines. There is Arnold Levine the lawyer, Arnold Levine the Opthalmologist, and even Arnold Levine an NYU professor – all of whose contact information was readily available on the Internet. But not so for Arnold Levine the milliner. After a futile search on the Internet, I called 411. They didn’t have his business listing, but they did have the number to his private residence. Of course, he was not home when I called because he works for a living. When his answering machine greeted me, I felt despair. It felt intrusive calling him at home, but to leave a message on his private machine felt even more so. Fortunately, at the very end of the message, the answering machine spewed out the number to his shop in the garment center. “You can also reach Arnold at…. ,” it said. When I called his shop, Arnold answered and was more than willing to let me interview and tape him. Relief!
Arnold Levine’s shop is located on the twentieth floor of a high rise building in the garment district on 8th avenue and 38th street. I expected to find Arnold alone but I walked into six people all quietly working on hats. It was sort of a fantastical scene. The walls of the shop were lined with shelves that had mounds of fabric spilling over. And all varieties of hats, some festooned with feathers or lace, were strewn about the shop. Within what seemed like a 30 square foot by 20 square foot space, were six separate workstations with tables and sewing machines. Arnold was situated in the back of the shop behind a table almost as long as the width of the shop. This made taping challenging at times.
Arnold worked standing the whole time I was there, cutting and designing, while the rest of the staff remained sitting. I taped Arnold and his staff at work. Nobody seemed to mind, even when I stuck my camera close enough to see inside their nose. Each milliner was working on a specific project. One was making a hat for T-Pain, the rapper. And a couple of the milliners were creating reindeer hats for the upcoming Christmas Radio City production. During my two-hour stay, Arnold’s staff never got up. Not once. Not even for a bathroom break. They worked quietly and diligently, like Santa’s little elves.