Dispatches from the Garment District: Dressmaker Ari Magallanes

Ari Magallanes, 58, is an Ecuadorian dressmaker who has worked as an independent contractor in New York for 35 years. Usually he is chatty in the evenings, buzzing around his small 39th Street factory after his five employees head home. But Thursday night, he was intensely bent over a black gown by Prabal Gurung on a sewing machine in the back of his long narrow workshop. An evening with Ari, in his words:

I am rushing, rushing, working on a special dress for this lady. I don’t know where she’s going to wear it, but they need it tonight. It’s Prabal Gurung’s, Spring 2011. This one is black, but the production is white. This order came to me this week and we rushed to get it together. It came Tuesday, but the cutting table was busy. I got it started yesterday, and today has to be finished. Oh my god. It’s 6:00 already. They’re going to call me at 6:30 to see if it’s ready, but it’s not going to be. 

This dress, it takes a full two days, maybe a little more. It takes a little more than half a day to cut it: You have to take all the materials, lay it down on the table, and place the paper patterns. And then it takes a whole day to put it all together by machine. Now, I’m putting a pin where I’m going to sew it by hand after. This way the material doesn’t move when I press it and continue working on the dress -- very carefully, because it’s special, and everything takes time.

It's only one dress, this order. You don't make any money like that, not really. For the designer, it's good publicity. People like what they see in the magazines. Maybe they're going sell more of these dresses if she wears this gown at the Golden Globes. But sometimes at the last minute, they change their mind and wear something else. I'm sure she's going have ten dresses to choose from.

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