My association with Rebekah Harkness was based on creating a business venture that would make a profit. It was not part of the Harkness Ballet, Harkness House or the Rebekah Harkness Foundation. Neither was it part of the William Hale Harkness Foundation. The fact that my couture atelier and office was on the top floor of Harkness House was merely convenience and an economical move in order to keep costs down so the investment that Rebekah assigned to my project would not be unnecessarily excessive. I noted below that when I presented myself to her my own interest was in returning to my design career and I based the cost on what I considered the collection would be. I did not ask, request or suggest that it provide any salary or money coming to me personally but included a small staff, a house model, with provisions for other models to be fitted for the runway showing and materials. My proposal did include that what ever Rebekah set up would purchase any fabrics that I designed and supplied from my own textile studio which included my prints on silk. In this way I was earning my expenses through the sale of fabrics to the overall cost of the collection since my own fabrics were necessary for the success of it.
When all this was clearly understood Rebekah instructed her lawyers to create a corporation, separate from any other operation she had existing with the Harkness investments to cover the initial capitalization going for expenses. Although I requested that I estimated a cost of $25,000.00 Rebekah formed a corporation with a $40,000.00 capitalization and named it PIROUETTE PROJECTS INC. She held 100% of PIROUETTE PROJECTS INC., however, in some honorary way I was made President and could sign checks for the account against salaries to my staff and the purchase of supplies which included fabrics, trimmings, buttons, accessories et al that was required for a final showing. I did not have any suggestions at the time for a permanent location in order to create future collections, with the hope that things would continue and her first suggestion was that I be placed on the top floor of Harkness House where, as I described below, she prepared the necessary room for a small atelier. This was more than sufficient and was not cramped or under pressure in any way. We were way up and out of the way of any Harkness Ballet or Harkness House events which continued without my intervention or presence. The time required to create a collection was perfect provided some of the fabrics ordered from France and Italy could be shipped from there and arrive in NYC before Christmas of 1967 with a deadline of December 31, 1967. As it turned out only one shipment from France was late but it did not in any way make a dent in the final selection for presentation.
My staff was small. It consisted of 10 of the finest Union Workers in the New York garment industry: Due to the small nature of my operation, its importance on the face of fashion in the world and guided by Harkness values the Garment Worker's union waved any rules governing those union workers that came to me at Harkness House. Most had come from my previous location at 550 Seventh Avenue where I had a union shop. I believe that rebekah's lawyers managed to satisfy the Union as I found listed some funds going to them on a financial report of Pirouette Projects, Inc.
My staff consisted of: GEORGETTE KARAKASHIAN, my assistant, PELLEGRINO & ALFONSA FARRUGGIA, tailor and dressmaker; HILDE HOCHLEITNER, dressmaker; RASHENDE KARACAY, dressmaker; LEVI McNAIR, tailor; MARCELLA STRATTA, dressmaker; HERMAN ZEIGER, tailor; OLGA COHEN, dressmaker; and JEAN ROBILLARD, bookkeeper/accountant.
The cost as presented to me in a Balance Sheet prepared and deliver to me by Jean Robillard came to around $32,000.00 cost for the entire collection which had other expenses added in the way of invitations, public relations, postage, advertising, telephone and other expenses not intended to be part of the original $25,000.00 cost for the collection. In addition, after it was settled that the collection would first be presented in Paris, it was arranged to have a suite at the Plaza Hotel in NYC to present a preview to selected individuals who would not be attending the Paris fashion showings and they included a few members of the press including the New York times and the buyers of Neiman Marcus from Dallas, Texas, the additional amount for the Paris Project was an additional $20,000.00. The contract with Percival Savage, Public Relations in Paris submitted a final statement for Fr.29,000.00 (French Francs which at the time was around 5 Fr per $1.00 of which he received about half for his personal use and the rest for everything else. I finally paid the Hotel Crillon bill directly and together with a suite with two bedrooms and four twin beds at $90.00 a day for two models and an assistant and myself with all food and beverages came to $10,000.00 (this was half of the Paris budget assigned by the Harkness lawyers in Paris who handled all the financial affairs for me although giving me carte blanc for signing checks and making decisions covering all financial arrangements. I must state that these American lawyers handling Rebekah Harkness's affairs were above board and exceedingly honest and helpful. Those lawyers in NYC, who I had contract negotiations pending were also very helpful and friendly. I had no reason to believe that a satsifactory contract would not be worked out once I had the time to consider exactly how I wanted my association to be. I didn't plan to be part of PIROUETTE PROJECTS INC. That was Rebekah's corporation for funding the project at the beginning. I had tentative plans for a new TZAIMS LUKSUS, INC set up created in which it would work with PIROUETTE PROJECTS INC but not be part of it and also I had found a location on Madison Avenue to locate that had all the perfect space for street level retail, Couture showrooms, sample and designing rooms as well as production rooms. I had mentioned the building to Rebekah and she felt it was a perfect investment, however, details of ownership of the building had not been settled or even discussed. That building today is the flagship store for RALPH LAUREN, who found out about my plans for it and scooped it up as soon as I decided I would not continue with a couture operation with PIROUETTE PROJECTS INC. I stated that the Harkness lawyers that I met with were Leon Frosin on 5th Avenue, but I noticed in checking over information that at the time Rebekah's lawyer was Aaron Frosch on Park Avenue. It is possible I got the names mixed up or in fact she had both these lawyers on her staff for different reasons.
I won't go into a great amount of detail in this account covering my business arrangements with Rebekah Harkness at this moment any further than this since I may have covered much of it earlier below. I can say that I was impressed with Rebekah as a beautiful and intelligent, singularly capable and elegant woman who was perfect for a couturier. It may be that I came into her life at the most perfect moment for her and Harkness House still an infant and magnificent dream operation for any artist or musician in the world. She dressed impeccably and tastefully on every occassion and she had a great capacity for listening never losing her temper or raising her voice in any kind of argument. She would get into costumy things and wear an outlandish wig on occassion for an opering for her ballet but that to me was just her way of having fun and joining in with her beloved dancers who from my observation adored her as did everyone on staff that I met. There was no confusion nor question of who did what and never was a thing hanging that caused anyone to doubt who was in charge of what. It ran as smooth as the finest Swiss clock movement.
I knew little to nothing of her personal life or her children. I assumed she was a widow and not presently married nor would marry again. I had thought that William Hale Harkness's first wife had died but I see I was wrong in a recent research and found they had divorced. I thought that their marriage had produced children, however, I found no evidence of that recently. I knew that Rebekah and William Hale Harkness had one daughter before he died. I didn't realize he was so young at his death. I knew of two other Harkness children and supposed that they belonged to the first marriage but now I know they were Rebekah's children by Allen Pierce. I didn't known their names nor did I know that she had been married and divorced before William Hale Harkness was divorced. I knew one of the older children was a boy, the other a girl, but did not know how old they were. As I was designing my collection I always had Rebekah in mind to wear the clothes, especially the evening gowns and many of the daytime suits and coats would suit her style. I knew her wardrobe was mostly Mainboucher and though I never saw the extent of her closet I assumed all the elegant clothes she wore were designed by him. Due to the time period of fashion I complied with the short skirt above the knee with much contemporary tailoring and so my daytime clothes were more in the order of Courrege of Paris and Pertigas of Madrid. I knew Rebekah wore kept her hemline at the knee. The more elegant evening gowns were more in the mood of a sober Balenciaga. These were the strongest influences for me, however, I didn't copy these designers but if one was to associate my style then it would fall in line with Balenciaga, Courrege, Pertigas and adding Luksus. My own being unique and contemporary American with the quality and construction comparable to the finest Paris could produce yet produced in the United States of America. My intention of showing in Paris was not, as some critics claimed, a desire to become a great French Couturier nor did I have plans to open an atelier in Paris. I intended to assign sales in Paris to a French staff under my Paris Directrice: Madam Genevieve Antoine-Darioux formerly Directrice for Nina Ricci also in Paris and the Doyan of Fashion in the world and sell the American couture from New York City to the French as well as the rest of Europe. How this might develop would depend upon circumstances once I set up a permanent location in NYC. I did not expect Rebekah Harkness to finance my whole operation but give me this jump-start that I based sales to cover a greater portion of the rest of the initial financing. I was extremely frugal and cautious in spending her money and I did not race in and become some lavishly ostentation character using and abusing her fortune. I did invest in what was necessary personally to make a good ambassador for her. In fact, as I stated below, when the New York press and Women's Wear Daily, considered the Fashion Bible, blasted me personally rather than give a proper accounting and evaluation of my collection in Paris I felt I should withdraw from any further spending of Rebekah Harkness' money or support having proved a disappointment for her and even perhaps an embarrassment.
There were now many reasons why this was not going to work but too I had put off my own needs financially by focusing on a successful operation under the Harkness wing so if I stepped away then I had to do something immediately to bring in some personal income or face losing everything I owned which included my house in Vermont. At the time I had a rent control apartment on West. 56th Street, a 5 floor walk-up next to Carnegie Hall at directly behind the Center City stage door under rent control for $75.00 a month and that rent was being covered by Gene Lott and Miriam Kellogg Fredenthal who both had jobs (Miriam I gave my job and salary at FIT so she felt she should help with rent and expenses) we all three shared the apartment. I had a lease/purchase option to finalize purchase of my house in Old Bennington, Vermont that expired April 30th of 1968 and I needed one third down to close the deal which meant I needed at least $10,000.00 cash immediately (less than two months) or lose all and I had a great investment in the property since my lease was based upon my making all repairs, improvements and maintainance and this over three years came to over $20,000.00 as well as a monthly rent payment that did not apply toward the purchase.
The perfect debutant socialite.
Going back to the collection at Harkness House it happened that one afternoon Rebekah and William Hale Harkness' daughter Edith visited my atelier. On the same floor next to my office the secretary for Harkness House had her office and when I returned after lunch one afternoon she introduced me to Rebekah's daughter. I don't know if her name was mentioned but. "Tzaims this is Rebekah's daughter." She was very beautiful in a modern American way and very stylish wearing what appeared to be a Courrege, Balenciaga or Pertigas simple cut suit/dress in a wonderful shade of rose. The fabric appeared to be a Forneris of Rome wool and very smooth, thick but light weight. I realized immediately that a lot of my collection would be very suitable for her and as she looked over the samples completed and the fabrics being cut and worked was very pleased and liked everything. She didn't linger and with a polite and friendly smile thanked me for showing her what I was working on. I believe now that this was Edith Harkness as she was in her late teens or appeared around 19 or 20, however, she could have been 16 or 17 mature, elegant and very MOD in just the right way. I never saw her again but later heard that she took many items from my collection and I was happy to know that she was wearing the coats, suits, cocktail dresses and gowns.
Now it is only fair to further mention how and why I shifted from Rebekah's financial support so suddenly. I did indicate that Eugenia Sheppard and John Fairchild principally humiliated me world wide and when Eugenia's scathing report and hate criticizm splashed across the streets of Paris the next day in Women's Wear Daily it shocked the world and I felt pulverized. This was strange for Eugenia to do even if she hated Rebekah with a passion since all of the European fashion press were very pleased and praised my success. A little reticense giving me too much credit by Figaro and Le Monde but even so not too bad for the Paris press to admit. Even in the US there were good reports until Eugenia's bitter bit hit the fan. I couldn't figure it out but I must say that I was not anxious to return to the US so fortunately arrangements had previously been made that I would have a two week rest between the Paris and NYC showings and Gene and I had plans to go to Venice, Italy, a city I lived in earlier and loved and wanted him to see and this time of Spring in Europe would have Venice bathed in sunlight and no flooding much too early for the heavy tourist season. We did go and like I promised Gene Venice opened to him as would a dream.
We were packing up to leave at the Crillon with Anoushka and Judy returning with the collection on the next flight for NYC and handling all the custom details getting out and getting in again and Gene and I were planning to take the train to Venice when I received a phone call from Pierre Godart. He wanted to invite me for lunch and suggested I meet him in the Hotel Crillon Grill. The Grill was a wonderful place for lunch, just across from the United States Embassy where much of the staff and dignitaries dined. I accepted and Gene and I met him there. He proposed a contract whereby I would design fabrics for his US firm called TSM, INC. He supplied the couture designers both in the US and Europe fabrics of the highest quality, woven and printed in Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland as well as NYC and other mills in the US. When finished he asked how much I would want and after a little thought, since his offer meant I had to give up couture designing so as not to compete with his fashion designer clientele, I stated $50,000.00 a year. He smiled and said..."I was afraid you would say $100,000.00 a year." and agreed that we would work out the details when we returned to NYC.
This gave me an alternative if all went badly with the press showing in New York at Harkness House three weeks from then so Gene and I finished packing up and vacating our Farah Diba Suite at the Hotel Crillon and checked most of our luggage in their storage rooms to be picked up after two weeks and I paid the bill with a PIROUETTE PROJECTS INC cheque provided by the Paris lawyers of Harkness. Percival Savage wanted me to give him the entire budget set for the Paris event but after a few things, some bills he failed to pay on Harkness' behalf, led me to be cautious and I didn't want any difficulty and in a way I didn't trust him to pay the hotel bill and expenses for the ballroom after our departure. This upset him but I instinctively knew he would blow the money and the hotel would not get paid and the Hotel was pleased I paid when I checked out and not leaving it up to Percival Savage. They had many difficulties with Percy over the years who rather lived beyond his means keeping up appearances and knew he could be a risk yet honouring him since he was Dior's most favored boy lover who had named Dior's Men's Cologne after him: Eau Savage.
In any event after I paid the hotel bill Percy then invited Gene and I to a parting Lunch at the Crillon Grill ordering the most expensive items on the menue including white blanched asparagus and dishes with black and white truffles along with a magnum of Dom Perignon. When we finished lunch he signed the checque and we said our farewells. I was pleased with how he handled the whole affair and told him so and he was thrilled for working with me and Harkness and looked forward to future Paris events that I would arrange. I didn't tell him that I could only trust him so far with money but that didn't matter since I was in control of things and learned quickly how to manage under pressure and how far to go with someone. Nothing went over budget and the trip Gene and I made to Venice and further also to Florence was provided by Gene who used some of his savings and not any money from the Harkness funds.
I will summarize this now and maybe later fill in further details so as to make it short now since I hadn't planned to do a biography in detail of my Harkness Ventures.
We returned from Venice to the Hotel Crillon to pick up our luggage and the manager presented me with a bill for lunch that Percy had signed after I had checked out. It didn't occurr to me that he was signing on the Harkness account at the Crillon for the lunch he invited us to and that the hotel would accept that he was still representing me. I had completed paying all that I was charged two weeks before. I explained this to the manager and suggested if there were any further bills signed by Savage they were his and not mine since I had paid hm as well as the hotel satisfactorily with nothing outstanding. I present the manager to consider consulting with the Harkness lawyers in Paris if they disagreed with me. They accepted this solution knowing I wan't responsible for the luncheon bill but probably thought they could get it out of me if I took this as an embarrassment. I didn't and had no intention of spending Rebekah's money on what Percy tried to charge us further than appropriate.
Later back in NYC the couture showing of TZAIMS LUKSUS at Harkness House moved beautifully and Michael Avadon, the Harkness House official photographer, took many photographs. The US fashion press was mixed. Many were influenced with what Eugenia Sheppard said earlier but added that the clothes were wonderful. They couldn't resist making comments about me and my personal life all of which was imagined or conjured up to further humiliate me as I had seen them do to Rebekah regularily and especially the Village Voice was clever but cruel in their diatribe about me, my personal character and the clothes. I had read scathing reviews on other designer collections and those designers survived only to get rave reviews later by the same people so I wasn't too bothered finally but I had to make a decision and decided to go with Pierre Godart and TSM, INC. and met him for lunch before my Harkness House presentation to clear up a few details and see if that was real. I had to be careful not to leave Harkness and end up having been tricked by Godart into a false contract. Anything can happen in this textile/fashion industry. I wanted to remain with Harkness and was reluctant to give up designing couture but I had to be practical so as greatly as this would change my life at least I would not be a hanger-on, financial drain or parasite for Rebekah Harkness and since we hadn't put any real personal relationship or emotions into this project we ended it gracefully. The way her lawyers stated in the proposed contract that I could be dropped at any time from designing for Pirouette Projects, Inc with other designers that would be considered to take my place and that I couldn't work for any other firm or do anything on my own for 10 years after I was dismissed it just didn't seem there was any real future in staying with Harkness and thereby we were both free to go our own way.
The entire cost of the PIROUETTE PROJECTS INC under my direction was on the final statement: $58,302.43 but it included all the inventory of production fabrics on hand, potential sales of clothes, a whole catalog of fashion designs by me to work with and the cost covered much of Harkness employees who handled the showings, press announcements, invitations and public relations. My own staff of 19 remained on the Pirouette Projects, Inc payroll much to my joy. After I left I never heard from them again. Not one complaint nor any kind of dissatisfaction or regrets. In fact at the final day I was thanked, wished good luck in the future with any venture I decided upon and we parted in good terms. Only one thing came from Paris some weeks later to me in Vermont and it was from Harkness lawyers informing me that Percival Savage apparently didn't pay the Paris models for the runway show and the models came to their firm for payment. I replied that they should ignor it based on the fact that Percival Savage was paid in for all his services including payment to the models he arranged and most likely he paid the models and they were only hoping to get double payment so they could share it with Percy. Besides I reminded them it was a Pirouette Projects, Inc expense should they choose to acknowledge payment a second time. They agreed with me and sent the models packing back to Percival Savage. I never mentioned before this that Percy was ordering two bottles of Johnny Walker Black and White Scotch from my room service at the Crillon and walking out of my suite every day with them in the pockets of his big Bear skin coat he wore as his identity. Percy was quite great so one could forgive his this boyish theft. None of us drank Scotch nor ever ordered it. I over looked his tricks since his fee was not exhorbitant and I supposed this was one of the perks necessary to keep him subservient to me, him hiding the fact, made him vulnurable and loyal...if that could be expected. I am sure Rebekah would have done the same thing or was doing it regularily. It was the only thing I felt as negative in my dealings with Percy but he put on a great show for us and that we can be grateful so long as it lasted.
The perfect boy.
One last thing, one person I would like to mention. Allen Pierce. Rebekah's son from her first marriage showed up in the news many years later. I had never met him nor knew if he was a Harkness or a Pierce nor what his first name was but he suffered greatly in an unfortunate encounter with a drunk. The incedent took place in Florida and was greatly disturbing. After I left Harkness I read that things were going badly for the ballet, the Harkness Theatre and she and her family but this news of Allen to me was the worse thing that could happen to that family. Now that I know his name and much of the details of his situation I must say I am happy it turned out well for him finally as he claimed and is doing well. It is one thing that the girls and mother get all the attention even if criticized also get sympathy and the boy gets nothing other than just left in the dust and then only to be mentioned if something bad happened to him which was the case here and not his doing. My gut feeling was that he had gotten railroaded in the Florida court at the time but like me, if in a similar situation, he expressed the truth as I would but the court doesn't want the truth they want what they want to hear and the best thing to say to them is nothing. Don't even take the stand. This was something that I was very upset over at the time. It has haunted me since. I read recently that much of his sentence was overturned and he is in his own design company in Florida...or at least was in 1988. Cheers to you Allen and your family. Know that I have been loyal and always a friend though we never met if you ever read this. I hope you are alive and well. CHEERS!
TZAIMS LUKSUS, FRSA
AT 16 YEARS OLD