Saturday, March 10, 2012

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Recognize the gentleman shown above? It's the fashion designer Calvin Klein, who's about the last person I'd expect to have a connection to Permanent Record.

Klein's name came up a few days ago, when I was interviewing a woman named Stephanie Wilson. She's the granddaughter of Beatrice Gross Zelin, who studied dressmaking at Manhattan Trade in the mid-1920s and is now deceased. As Ms. Wilson explained to me, Beatrice went on to become a teacher and then a placement advisor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, where one of her students was Calvin Klein. In fact, one of Beatrice's more prized possessions was a blazer that Klein had made as part of his FIT senior project. (Ms. Wilson recently arranged to donate the blazer to Klein's company, where it will be featured in a historical exhibit about Klein and his career.)

Beatrice also co-authored several books on pattern-making, some of which are still in print. By coincidence, my upstairs neighbor is a young pattern-maker who works in the fashion district in Manhattan, so I asked her if she was familiar with these books. She immediately pointed at one of them and said, "It's on my shelf right now! It's one of the standard books in the field."

All of which is to say that Beatrice, who came from extremely modest means (according to her granddaughter, the family had to go to another house to bathe), really made the most of her Manhattan Trade School training. While the school's founders would no doubt be thrilled to hear how successful she became, they weren't really trying to prepare girls for professional careers. They just wanted to give them basic skills to help them survive in a blue collar environment. It's a testament to Beatrice's talent and ambition that she was able to go much further than that. I'll tell her story in more detail in a future article on Slate.

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Speaking of Slate, some of you have asked (and others among you are probably wondering) when Permanent Record will resurface there. Good question. I actually delivered a full-length article a few weeks ago, but my editors are overworked, so the wheels are turning slowly. My hope is that we'll get that article up in a week or so. After that, I hope to have new Slate articles roughly every six weeks. But again, my editors will have the final say on that.

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Meanwhile, for those of you in the New York area, here's something that might interest you: For the past year or so I've been hosting a monthly event called Open Mic Show-and-Tell, which is exactly what it sounds like: Anyone can show up with an object of personal significance and talk about it for up to three minutes. Some people bring objects that are very Permanent Record-ish -- found ephemera, family records and heirlooms, etc. -- and many of the stories are amazing.

The next Show-and-Tell event is this Thursday, March 15, 7:30pm, at Cabinet magazine's exhibit space in Brooklyn. Admission is free, and so is the beer (!). You can either bring an object to talk about or just be part of the audience (because you can't have show-and-tell without people to be shown and told). Either way, it's a good time. Full details here.

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