In the movie, Big Fish, Edward Bloom lived a large life. He caught an uncatchable fish using his wedding ring as bait, was confined to his bed as a child because his body was growing too fast, worked at a circus without pay to learn about the girl he fell in love with, and convinced two Siamese twin dancers, Ping and Jing, to help him get back to the United States, where he promised to make them stars. At Edward’s funeral, his son, who doubted his largesse and tall tales since he was a child, is shocked to see all the characters from his narratives pay their respects. Mishka is my Edward Bloom. She recites stories, both long and short, that are incredibly hard for me to believe, but I have no reason not to believe them. She took me under her wing at the age of eighteen when I first started sewing, and she gave me the foundation to blossom. She’s an incredible woman who at an old age, still lives a bombastic life. She yells, screams, and points, but she also cries, worries, and laughs; she’s every form of human.
I walked out of our interview not knowing whether I would be able to compile what she said into a sound Q&A – when I asked her to describe her parents, she replied, “My mother was an angel and my father was a son of a bitch” – because I worried that her words would offend someone and/or someone would rebut her facts. But it’s who she is and I’m showing her as is. She is the woman who calls herself my mother and I hold her in the same light. Just like Edward Bloom, we won’t know whether her tales were fiction or not until she’s not here.
Tell us your story: Sewing was taught in school, but my fingers were under a sewing machine before then. I’ve been sewing since I was born. Honest to god, I took to sewing like a duck to water. No one ever taught me how to sew.
I attended Parsons and I was one of the first “pioneers” who attended. After graduating, which was in the 50s, I worked for Christian Dior in France. It was one of the hardest places to work – everything had to perfect all the time. In the 60s, I lived in Hawaii and worked for Paramount Studios under Edith Head. She was a beautiful woman, but she didn’t like herself – she never thought she was good enough. Her skill of reading a woman’s body was incredible. She would just look at a woman and start sketching. I met a lot of famous people working there. Some I liked and some I didn’t like. Others had a crush on themselves.
Then I had my own studio, and I could sew a bathing suit in 15 minutes. I had to because there were bills to pay. After that, I traveled to Japan and Korea, where I met an excellent woman, Mrs. Chang, who taught me how to make a kimono and cheongsam. For me, it was important to immerse myself in the culture and to learn their deep-rooted ways.
What was it like working for Christian Dior? He was fantastic. That man had a vision. He revolutionized design, and there were so many known designers who worked for him, and you can see in their designs hints of Dior. Dior also had a flamboyant beauty for life – his apartment was stunning. In fact, I have a customer who just brought in a blue, Dior jacket. You’re going to die when you see this! I’m putting in a new peau de soie lining, but will you look at how that’s made inside?! They don’t make jackets like that anymore. Pff!
Mentor: My grandfather. He had a prescient sense that I was destined to sew. Right after I was born, he told my parents I had the magic fingers and he was right. He was a tailor – it runs in our family – and his rapport with his customers was inspirational. He was dynamic, eloquent, griping, and stimulating with every he or she that walked through his door. A jewish tailor is the best type of tailor.
Sew and sew: Don’t sew if you don’t like to sew because it ain’t gonna come out right. You can sew and you can sew, and there’s a difference. There are people who sew with love, and there are people who sew to make a living. I don’t sew to make a living, and that is why I’m poor. These so-called designers today… half of them can’t sew and the other half send their work to China and charge an arm and a leg for their garments. I think that’s ludicrous. Some lady in a foreign country sewed the damn thing and she should get the recognition. I don’t like that. People who pay for a name are so full of crap, they don’t deserve that label, not when people sweat for $20 a month to make it. I’m sorry.
Best thing you’ve made? A copy of Princess Grace’s wedding gown for a lady named Federdine in Toronto, Canada. It was made with lace, peau de soie, and silk from France and it had long sleeves and covered the buttons just like the original. Everyone recognized the gown. I have a picture of it somewhere….
I also made a copy of the dress Julia Roberts wore in Pretty Woman. I was able to get the exact lace from Julia’s version – a Valentino guipure. Remember that dress? It was a son of a bitch, but boy, did it come stunning. Yes, indeedyy… yes, yes, yes…
My all time favorite piece was a denim wedding dress. I’d like to remake that. It was 5 yards of lightweight denim and antique lace. I overlaid the lace and then cut out the denim from behind. The back was completely sheer and it had a tight bodice, leg-o-mitten sleeves, and a full skirt. It was a show stopper.