Top Ten Secrets You Didn’t Know About New York City’s Fashion World
When I started to write crime novels twenty years ago, I was still prosecuting homicides and sexual assault cases in the New York County District Attorney’s Office. My day job was courtrooms and crime scenes, while writing came after hours. As a young lawyer, I had been startled to find that many of the most benign and elegant institutions in Manhattan had a dark underside. My colleagues prosecuted a murder that occurred backstage in the midst of a performance at the Metropolitan Opera. The New York Public Library was victimized by a serial thief who stole millions of dollars worth of rare ancient maps and atlases. My highest-profile murder case involved a teenage girl who was beaten to death and suffocated by a close friend right behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Central Park.
In the eighteenth Alex Cooper crime novel, Killer Look, I decided to set the action in the world of haute couture since New York is the fashion capital of America. I didn’t want it to be the usual fare about models and their vulnerability but rather an in-depth look at what I discovered was the cutthroat world of the business side of the industry: the high-stakes action in global fashion markets. Here are some of the interesting things I discovered.
- Killer Look’s setting is the one square mile of Manhattan’s once-essential production center, known as the Garment District. I knew the District started to thrive in the middle of the nineteenth century once the invention of sewing machines made it possible to manufacture clothing for the masses. I heard ages ago that it was the Civil War that set the Garment District on its feet, churning out uniforms for the blue and gray armies. In my Killer Look research, I learned the truth: the sad beginnings of the historic District were founded on the cheap mass production of slave uniforms well before the war. Plantation owners found it more advantageous to ship their cotton to New York and have the clothing cut and sewn by professionals rather than waste slave labor on such individually time-consuming work.
- Looking for a motive to kill someone in the global fashion industry? It’s now a one-trillion-dollar business, and someone is always looking to knock off a hot line of goods —or knock off the competition.
- One of the biggest surprises to me is that Muslim women from the Middle East emirates spend billions—yes, billions—of dollars a year on haute couture In public, their upscale merchandise is restricted to bejeweled items like sandals, sunglasses, and headgear. But high-end designers like Dolce and Gabbana now create lines specifically to be worn beneath ladies’ hijabs and abayas: undercover bling.
- The Garment District was once home to more than 90 percent of the fashion industry’s production work. But more than two decades ago, American designers began to outsource their manufacturing to China and India for cheaper worker salaries, and now less than 3 percent of the business is centered in New York. Desperate times can make for some pretty desperate crimes.
- There is so much of it in this glitzy business! Backdoor deals and attempts to undercut the competition—all to gain a firmer toehold in a foreign market or a striking venue at New York’s Fashion Week shows—make it a necessity to cover one’s back while showing off the front.
- Cooking the books is a recipe for disaster. I was shocked at the number of upscale businesses that operate via off-shore banks in an effort to hide the big money. The fashion runway is a world of illusion—smoke and mirrors concocting a fantasy the viewer wants to buy. Behind the scenes? It’s even more illusory.
- People reinvent themselves all the time in the fashion world. Ralph Lauren is the legendary designer who has the iconic All-American brand—symbolized by a polo pony, no less. He started life in the Bronx as Ralph Lifshitz
- . So my murder victim is a guy named Wolf Savage. But who was he really…and what did his background have to do with his death?
- Drugs and fashion. I saw a lot of the intertwined nature of these two businesses in my thirty-year prosecutorial career. So many of the models fall victim to the pressure of getting high to stay thin and to power through the long, often boring hours of the endless pose. Drugs still make couture a risky business.
- When is a suicide not a suicide? Is there a way to stage the perfect murder? Mike Chapman thinks there is.
- I always knew the business of couture was about style. I never understood how the expansion of fashion markets into the global economy raised the stakes for business owners until I got a glimpse inside the industry. I never realized how the competition to succeed in foreign markets drove such cutthroat methods of operating.
And I never imagined that the desire for a Killer Look could lead to such deadly consequences.