At the beginning of May, Erin, my trusty assistant, and I flew to Los Angeles to work some wardrobe magic.
Chara Schreyer is a client we see regularly up here in Marin County but she’s spending more and more time in her completed LA home (it was a big project).
I’ve been worried about her down there. In LA she has different wardrobe needs and faces a much different climate. I know about that climate. I lived there myself for many years. Besides that, she’s always warmer than anyone in the room. We all know how hard it is to look cute in heat!
It was pretty easy to do the math: LA + heat – her BK/EK team could = fashion disaster.
LA was on our minds while working in her Tiburon home. We’d come across items in her closet and think they might be better suited for LA: The fabrics were lighter weight, the layering pieces more versatile, the dresses much cooler than ones she needs up here to protect against the chill of Bay Area fog.
After several months of saying “Let’s send that to LA” I was beginning to wonder what was going on down there with those items. Were they getting out on to the streets of LA with her in them or were they imprisoned in her high tech closet going nowhere?
A decision was made: Chara needed an LA house call. We circled the first weekend dates in May and headed south for a wardrobe intensive.
The Wardrobe Intensive gets underway
Chara wanted me to touch every item of clothing she had down there. Here was the plan: We’d edit where needed, create new outfits out of old treasures and then see if there was anything that needed to be added. It seemed a bit daunting but once we got started, we found our groove.
We started each day with a great breakfast, worked until early afternoon and then piled into her car and zoomed down the curvy hill to Sunset Boulevard for lunch, fueled up on lobster salad and espresso, headed back up the hill and worked throughout the afternoon.
It was a delight and a challenge to work with some items she’d had for fifteen years but still loved. I made them look modern and edgy in new outfit configurations for 2015. To her it was like a renovation, something she knew a lot about having built five inspiring homes in her lifetime.
Creativity was bouncing off her art-filled walls but we needed breaks. One day we went to the movies in Century City and saw Dior and I. Loved it. If you want to see how fashion works behind the scenes and how hard people work in the fashion world, this movie is for you.
One night we went to dinner at the famious Nate’n Al Delicatessen in Beverly Hills. It’s a tradition with Chara’s father, Max. We met him there along with his lady friend, Dora, and his assistant, Steve.
Max and Dora are old school. They showed up to dinner totally spiffed out. No LA casual yoga pants or flip flops! Max was wearing a dark suit, dress shoes and a dark blue dress shirt. Doris looked fabulous in black and white, pants and a jacket, with great attention to accessories.
Max was everything I’d heard about and more. He’s 98-years-old and still goes to work every day. He has an easy smile, smooth skin and engages with everyone. The minute we walked into the restaurant it was clear that Max Webb is a rock star. There was a lot of waving from diners throughout the restaurant; lots of people dropping by to say hello.
I sat across from him and the minute we were seated, he started telling me stories about Chara and her growing up years when she left for UC Berkeley in the ’60s. There were lots of details that were hidden from Chara’s mother. Her mother, who passed away years ago, couldn’t handle the stress that teenagers lay at their parent’s doorstep.
Life wasn’t easy for her. The term for it today would be Post-traumatic stress syndrome. Chara’s parents were both Holocaust survivors. “I had to be the mother and the father,” Max said.
As dinner arrived at our table, Steve, a syringe in his hand, walked over to Max and said, “Roll your sleeve up, Max.” He was about to give Max his nightly dose of insulin. Watching someone get an insulin shot is a common occurrence for me. My partner, Russ, is a Type 1 diabetic.
What is strikingly uncommon, like take-your-breath-away uncommon, is what I saw when Max rolled his sleeve up: a string of numbers tattooed on his forearm. I had to have known they were there but seeing them was like coming across a train wreck: I couldn’t help but stare.
The subject changed to those numbers on his arm. Max spent six years in eighteen concentration camps. He survived the Auschwitz death march. After the war ended he spent some years in Germany participating in programs to help survivors create lives again. After a few years in the textile business, he gave it all up and came to the US with his wife and two young daughters.
In 1952 with his two brothers-in-law, he started Shapell industries, one of the most major private homebuilding companies in California. He told me he first learned about construction in the camps when he was instructed to build the furnaces used to … I can’t even finish that sentence.
I’m a Baby Boomer. My most recent references to WWII have come from the BBC TV series on Netflix called Foyle’s War and the current movie playing in theaters now with Helen Mirren called Woman in Gold. Given my age, what would be the chances of meeting someone and hearing direct stories from one of the worst wartimes in history? Pretty nonexistent.
After the plates had all been cleared away, we got up to leave. Max got more attention and friendly “Goodbyes” from fellow diners before we reached the door. When we got outside, he wanted to know what we were going to do next. He suggested we come see the movie he had of Chara’s first wedding when she was nineteen.
“No, Dad,” Chara said. “We’re pooped. Next time.”
This Memorial Day weekend, I’m thinking about it in quite a different way. It’s not just a getaway weekend or a three-day sales event at Macy’s.
It’s a weekend of remembrance.
Oh, I’m taking advantage of being off today and going on a field trip with girlfriends to check out art in West Marin at Open Studios. But I’m also thinking about Max and the horrors of the past. I have compassion for Vets suffering from PTSD and the families that struggle to find a new “normal” once Mommy or Daddy returns from active duty. The challenges seem overwhelming.
And in the midst of it all there is also the mystery of how some people can survive the unthinkable, the unspeakable and find a way to thrive with graciousness.
There’s a lot to ponder today … and every day.
Don’t forget to remember.