Sunday, January 17, 2010


I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t book my own clients. My second assistant used to do it, but he’s proven too valuable as a cutter to pull him off patterns, so instead the new intern books the calls.

She is certainly smart enough and seemingly well qualified – Princeton English major, previous internship at Carolina Herrera, father was an Olympic hurdler, mother was an opera singer, sister works at the UN, brother is in some famous downtown band—but she is a little too kind. The clients tend to push her around a bit and cause her endless headaches with scheduling conflicts and special requests.

We never refuse a client request. We are clearly in the service of our clients, but there is a gentle way to guide a client that can actually make the experience feel even more exclusive; no one respects a pushover, and everyone loves a velvet rope – just as long as they are standing on the correct side. So the trick is to be just firm enough to illustrate the presence of the velvet rope, but then to yield at the right moment to ensure the client feels an undeniable rush of inclusion and select status. If all of this sounds calculated, it is. I am certain my clients wouldn’t want it any other way. My clients are buying swimwear fastened together with diamonds nearly the size of coconuts, with hand-carved clasps that are mini-Michelangelos, and straps that do not adjust because the suits were cut for only them and have no need to fit to any other body. My clients expect a certain amount of ritual to be performed during the preparation of a new commissioned piece. Much like a tea ceremony, the actual final act of consumption is only part of the experience.

This is all to say that I never know who is coming in each morning. Sometimes the client is an old friend and I’ll get a phone call in advance, but usually it is a surprise.

Today the client was new, unexpected and started off as a total disaster.

She wanted a way to let everyone know that she’d arrived in society and had the means to afford a bespoke Serg Riva suit. Most of my clients do not care to advertise that they work with me – those in the know simply already know. To the trained eye, my suits are identifiable across the room. Not even Kamali can match it. (She is wonderful, but like most designers today she no longer runs a couture shop. Instead, she does a high-low mix, sometimes Browns, sometimes Walmart).

I wasn’t sure how to respond to the client’s request that my suit advertise its own making in any way other than through the quality of its design. The client insisted that some type of signature print, or logo, or label would make the whole thing much better. I was in a pickle. Logo blasting is not really my style. So I began to think – how could I take this idea and go all the way? A logo is déclassé, but if something is knowingly brazen enough, it becomes genius.

I had my goldsmith forge the letters to my name one at a time into thin, perfect block letters. I then constructed a rather plain looking white bikini, made of solar-translucent fabric (the kind that the sun can pass through to avoid any tan lines). I then stitched the letters into place behind the fabric, so that they were unseen from the outside, but served as a solar block against the skin.

At first she was disappointed. All she could see was a rather basic, but beautifully made plain white bikini. Then I explained that after wearing the suit all day, her body would be tan, but the letters of my name would be written across her posterior as a type of suntan tattoo (tanttoo?). She jumped with happiness – she loved the idea! It gave her great satisfaction to imagine showing the tanttoo to friends to prove her naughtiness while demonstrating her wealth. Did I give the client what she wanted? I think so. Every day is different at a couture atelier.


Nina said...

Serg! That is soooo genius!

daisychain said...

how awesome