The Fitter and the Chandelier

11 11 2011

THE ODYSSEY OF A FASHION LANDMARK, TOLD TO SARA JAMES MNOOKIN

 

Lida Turek is ninety years old. She lives in the Bronx, New York. She worked at Bergdorf Goodman as a fitter from 1957 until 2001. The story of the grand chandelier that hangs in the rotunda by the East 58th Street entrance is also her story:

The chandelier was made at a small factory in Bohemia to represent Czechoslovakia at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. But it was never sent because the Nazis were already bombarding ships leaving Europe, so it was returned to Czechoslovakia. The Association of Czechoslovakian Glass Factories didn’t know what to do with it, so my father, who was a member, bought it from them and stored it in our cellar.

During the war, people would ask when I was going to get married. I said, “I’m waiting, because the best men are all fighting or in prison.” A friend of my father attended a negotiation between France and Czechoslovakia, and there he met a young man he thought was quite handsome. He asked the man if he was married, and he said, “I want to marry a Czech girl, but I haven’t found her yet.” My father told me he had someone very nice to present to me, but I said I wasn’t interested.

After the war, I went back to my university studies in Switzerland, and in 1946 I went to Paris, because I had many friends there. I was invited to a dinner with a young gentleman from the embassy, and I realized it was the same man my father had tried to introduce me to. As he was leaving, I said, “I’m departing tomorrow for Prague, so good-bye.” The next day, my chaperone and I were waiting on the train platform and two huge bouquets of roses arrived, one pink, one red. She said, “I think the red are meant for you.”

When I asked my future husband about it later, he said, “No, according to protocol you don’t send to an unmarried woman red roses.” So, the pink roses were for me. In 1947 we got married. There was a good possibility that my husband would be ambassador to Washington because he spoke perfect English, so my parents shipped the chandelier in ten cases to Paris, as part of my trousseau, hoping it would hang in the Czech embassy one day.

Then, in February 1948, there was the communist coup in Czechoslovakia. My husband resigned. Since we no longer had a use for the chandelier, we installed it in a gallery in Paris hoping to sell it, but it was either too expensive or too big because it didn’t sell. My father was the mayor of our town in Moravia, and his glass factories were taken by the government, and he was put into prison. My husband wanted to stay in France, but I was afraid of what would happen in Europe, so I convinced him to come for a visit to the United States. We never left. His godfather sent our things including the chandelier in its ten cases. I asked a woman I knew, Lucille Barrett, if we could place it in one of her homes, and she said yes.

My husband became a teacher at Manhattan College in Riverdale, and I knew I wouldn’t be just entertaining guests at an embassy, so I set up a business making custom dresses from our home. One of my customers was also a very good customer at Bergdorf Goodman. I asked her whether, perhaps, I might obtain a position there, and she talked to Ms. Ethel Frankau (then fashion director), who introduced me to Mr. [Andrew] Goodman. He asked if I would consider being a fitter. He thought that I wouldn’t accept such a position, but I wanted to have the income, and I wanted my weekends free. In my salon at home, I had to work many hours to fulfill my orders. So, I became a fitter, and they put me on the Fourth Floor. That was 1957.

In 1969, the store was being renovated, and Mr. Goodman was looking all over, including India, for a chandelier to go into the rotunda at the 58th Street entrance. There was a story in the paper about it. Lucille Barrett, the woman storing the chandelier for me, called and said, “Did you read the article in The New York Times?” I said that I hadn’t. So, she went to Miss Frankau and said, “Do you know the chandelier that Mr. Goodman is looking for all over the world? It’s right underneath his nose.”

So, my husband showed them photographs of the chandelier, and the architect said, “Perfect.” And we sold the chandelier to Bergdorf Goodman. And Mr. Goodman, when he sold his business, specified that the chandelier is part of the building. It can never be removed, which is wonderful. BG

 

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View more of our November Magazine

 

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