Liza with a Z Minnelli had been a customer at S&S, and she used a particular bra designed by John Kloss, since its release in the mid 1970s. The underwired, front closure bra, made from lightweight, sheer, shimmery Glissenette fabric, offered easy, natural looking support, and was favored by busty gals who wanted the no-bra look popularized by the feminists in that era. The ladies also loved the front closure because it foiled unwanted bra unhooking by overly eager dates with ‘Roman hands and Russian fingers.’
Liza’s dresser, Helen Tarr, who had been Judy Garland’s dresser and friend, stitched Hanes Alive support hose to the bra, “frankensteining” them to create a body smoothing undergarment that disappeared beneath the diva’s clothes. She bought them at Saks, and introduced to me the brand Lily of France, who manufactured Glossies. She preferred to spend the money at S$S, knowing that Joel had 4 young daughters, and needed an upgrade of the family station wagon.
Glossies came in a multitude of fashion colors every season, and as a young, 34D myself, this bra was a world apart from the Playtex contraptions I knew and hated. I spent a good chunk of my paycheck buying more colors of bras for myself. Sami would often make me sheer outfits, under which I had the perfect color bra. The tan colored glossies became invisible, and disappeared altogether, under the vintage dresses I combed the flea markets for, and loved to wear. I had several cheap dresses that Sami embellished with rhinestones, or fringe, or sequins or jet beads, turning my flea market find into a one of a kind couture garment.
At S$S, we offered a discount on Glossies, and it became an instant bestseller. Wardrobe supervisors loved the way the Glossies thongs worked under costumes, too. And that it came in a deeper nude color was off the charts revolutionary for those days.
S$S was on its way to becoming one of those “Secret New York Finds.”
I became good friends with the sales rep from that company, though in today’s climate, his behavior would be considered over the line. Joel was a prude, but when Arnie was around, ogling and salivating over my ripe young melons, making suggestive remarks, Joel turned red. And I admit, as a 22 year old who had lost her father young, I was attracted to older, daddy types, and flirted pretty good myself. And I wasn’t saying no to anyone who’d pay for the drinks after work.
I had figured out that my life was easier when I played the role, and played along, and hey, it was good for business, and good for me. At the end of each season, as colors were discontinued and sold off price, Arnie would send me whatever colors he had in my size, gratis, salesman’s samples.
Even though I was staunchly feminist, a girl needs to eat and pay rent. If flirting meant I didn’t have to spend my paycheck on underwear, I considered it a win. My sisters and I had terrible, knock down, drag out fights over panties in our household as budding young teens from 12-16. It would be a welcome relief to put underwear drama behind me once and for all!
At first I thought it was embarrassment that flushed Joel’s fat face, and perhaps it was. But in time, Joel didn’t like when people spoke about, or to me, suggestively, and by people I mean men. Let’s face it, I was young, traffic-stopping-stunning and hot without trying, and worked on a block full of businesses owned by bored, middle aged men, most long-married husbands with those same Roman hands and Russian fingers of men half their ages.
No, Joel’s face now reddened because he got angry when other people spoke that way, it made him furious. Joel had a secret. He told everyone he loved me like a daughter, but when he stood too close to me, he stopped breathing. When he greeted me in the morning with a fatherly hug, he trembled, and his penis rose to the occasion beneath his ill fitting pleated khakis. I could feel his heart hammering inside his poor befuddled body.
I was learning about life, myself, and navigating my power. As Sami liked to remind me, I had the power of the pussy.
Did I want that? I wanted to succeed on my merits, not my body parts. I wanted to be acknowledged and loved for my intelligence and sparkling wit. Was that even possible for this college dropout?
Helen Tarr succumbed to lung cancer, and time marched on. Liza’s numerous assistants continued to place orders for bras and hose whenever Liza needed to stock up, or changed sizes, which happened often. She changed assistants as often as her underwear too.
When I learned the manufacturer would discontinue the bra, in the early 90’s, I phoned Liza’s office to advise her of the latest development. Her assistant, in a near panic, called back and ordered twelve thousand dollars worth of Glossies. Because Liza’s weight fluctuated so drastically, they ordered dozens of the bras in 3 colors, in 3 band sizes, and 3 cup sizes.
I Felt enormous satisfaction making that sale, I felt validated. I was proud to help such a celebrity stay well stocked and supported, while proving to Joel that I did indeed have the Right Stuff for that partnership he’d been dangling for way too long. $12000 was the biggest sale in the store’s history.
The check came in the mail about three weeks after we delivered the bras, and Joel looked happy as a pig in shit.
“That was a good sale. Good work!” he told me.
“It would be nice if you put your money where your mouth is once in a while,” I quipped. “How about a little green thank you. Ever hear of commission?”
He shuffled his feet like a small boy. “Oh alright” and removed a wad of cash from his front pocket, peeling off a twenty, saying, “Have lunch on me.”
Joel strutted up and down 50th Street like a peacock, flaunting his jackpot to his pals who owned the other retail shops on the block. The owner of the cosmetic store across the street, a loud, obnoxious, Arab Jew, as he called himself, came by the store to congratulate me, as did the deli owner, and Joel’s brother Bobby, who worked at one of the bait and switch “luxury” goods stores peppered around Times Square, the ones that sold bronze elephants, marble statues of Achilles, knock offs of Rolexes and faux Louis Vuitton luggage. The tall, Greek, short order cook at the deli, who was handsome in a skeevy kind of way, kept asking, “you wanna make fucky with me?”
The 50th street grapevine was all atwitter. Joe’s girl done good. Asher, the hot tempered, passionate, Persian Jew who owned the shoe store asked, “So Gordo, how much commission you pay to Lori?” Though Persian by birth, Asher spoke 6 languages, often several in one conversation, and had a thick Israeli accent. He had thick black hair, a black unibrow, and intelligent hazel eyes. He’d served as a gunner in the Israeli army as a younger man. And even though Istanbul was Constantinople, Asher was Persian first, Israeli second.
When Joel explained he bought me lunch, Asher laughed. “You’re a chazer, Gordo. Give her five hundred, a thousand dollar!” He slapped Joel across the back, “Kos Omak”. (Literal translation, your mother’s pussy, in Arabic) “You love money more than you love your wife!”
When I was a relative newcomer to 50th street, I was flat broke and living on my own, and I was earning 150 a week with Joel. Asher and I had gone to Plato’s Retreat together a few times, where we’d sit in the pool, snort coke, smoke hash, sniff poppers, drink vodka in plastic tumblers, and wander around watching chains of people joined by various orafci and protuberances. When I was stoned enough, I’d blow him, as we had agreed, and he’d give me a few hundred bucks. So now I was a sex worker too. Oh joy.
Hey, desperate times called for desperate measures. I had no savings and needed a root canal. A few years earlier, I traded blow jobs for dental work because my mother couldn’t afford to fix my teeth and told me so. I’m not proud of it, but if you’ve ever had an abscess in a tooth, you’d understand that I’d do anything to make that pain stop. I sat in a closet and cried for 2 days because I had the misfortune of getting a toothache on the weekend.
Let’s say that Joel’s penny pinching and lack of appreciation was the beginning of the end of life at S&S for me. The pettiness and thanklessness disgusted me. It was around then that I started to Vision into Being, Bra Tenders. Every night I went home and journaled about how I would do it better, and I knew Bra Tenders was the only name it could have.
Fast forward to 2002, and Bra Tenders is now located in a small space at 400 West 42nd street, on the 2nd floor of an oddly configured building, above a pizza place on the corner, and a photo processing, photo booth sized store adjacent the entrance. We were across the street from Manhattan Plaza, the West Bank Cafe, Joe Scafatti the tailor, who made many suits and specialty garments for Broadway, and Citibank on the northwest corner. Theater Row had not yet been constructed.
Our wardrobe supervisor friend Robert Guy was working on a reality show with, of all people, David Gest and his wife. Robert was helping to style the couple for the show, and while he was searching through Liza's closets for outfits, he was astounded to find hundreds of brand new bras with the tags still on them, bags and bags and bags of bras, in 3 colors, and every bra size in existence.
They were all going in the trash.