One Thing in a Neesh Day

The Legend of Mr. Gantarski

Paris is my favorite place in the world.  Just in case you didn’t know that.

The best part of my profession is that Paris opens up a world of awe, wonder and inspiration. It’s a place I must return to again and again to get my “fix”. And so I do.  Most of the Neesh fashions and fabrics you see are inspired by these little trips to my favorite land and home away from home.

 When I first started my business back in 1991, my label was D.A.R. Do you remember it?

Why so simple? Initially I only made two sweaters for a friend of mine (she had an adorable store in Boston on Newbury Street). I had no intention of making any more so I quickly embroidered my initials on some satin ribbon and added a small lingerie rose and VOILA! My label.  Who knew some 10,000 sweaters later I would still be hand embroidering all the labels?  (More specifically, my Mom embroidered them for me).

One of the features of these special handmade sweaters was the vintage buttons that I used on every single sweater.  And as my business grew, so did the need for vintage buttons.  How lucky was I to discover that the largest supply was in a stall at les Puces de St Ouen in Paris? What a find!

For those that don’t know about this flea market, it has been operating in some form since the Middle Ages! It is open every weekend, year-round and is filled with the most wonderful treasures (though first you have to maneuver through traditional flea finds like tube socks, cheap leather jackets and old sneakers).  If you are lucky, you may also see a very luxurious doggy like I did.

It took a little time to get to the level of importance that the owner, Mr. Gantarski, would speak to me.  My French was very poor and his constant chess game and cigarette smoking was not to be interrupted.  But with time, he warmed up to me and handed me off to one of his employees to take a trip to the excitingly mystifying and off-limits basement. From there I pointed and picked out all the buttons I wanted to purchase.  It was divine!

My trips to Les Puces continued. At first I would pack all the buttons in an extra empty suitcase brought specially for them.  But with time, the suitcase was too heavy and so the buttons were shipped to Chicago.

Mr. Gantarski was a mysterious man. There were many stories that circulated…Where did he come from? Where did all those pre-World War II buttons come from?   How many packs of cigarettes did he smoke a day?  Was he once a professional Chess player?

 Regardless of Mr. Gantarski’s origins, it appeared that these buttons survived the Nazi occupation of Paris.  Many of the buttons were still on the original cards.

 The story goes that during the Paris Occupation, the buttons were loaded up into trucks and parked somewhere in the South of France where they were left alone and discovered some time after the war. It was a charming story to think that they survived and were now being used all over the world as well as adorning my beautiful handmade sweaters.

 Sadly, Mr. Gantarski has “graduated” and is no longer seen with a puff of smoke and a hand held up, pausing all conversation while he contemplates his next chess move.

But many customers may still have their original D.A.R. sweaters from long ago and now will have a little legend to go along with them.

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