2002-07-13 / Columnists

On The Beach… With Beverly Baxter

On The Beach.... With Beverly Baxter

"Where The Art of Fashion Meets The Science of Chemistry"

You dress you walk you talk; you're who you think you are! You're out on the town, twirling around; and then someone accidentally collides with you and you find yourself wearing their glass of Merlot! You're wearing a brand new and very delicate white Parisian blouse; and although your sense of humor sustains you as you make a joke about the wine at least being French, you are really seeing, and looking, very red!  What's a lady to do?! That's exactly what happened to me recently while I was out one evening with friends. I immediately summoned Greg the bartender for a glass of club soda. "No, No, No!" chimed someone eager to help. "Try Milk, works every time!" Then still somebody else suggested a mild detergent with baking soda. As they all deliberated about what I should do, I felt the stain beginning to set. As with any stain, time is of the essence so I ran into the back, ripped off the blouse, and began to soak it in every suggestion! Nothing seemed to work. Then Greg remembered his friend Johnny who owns an upscale cleaning store in Manhattan and he generously offered to call him. It was nearly midnight and I did not at all expect that he would come out to help me. Greg stated, "he will for me!" John was just on his way home from the city and arrived within an hour to look at the blouse. "Tannin stain! No problem", he said so matter-of-factly. No problem? You're not going to run out and work on it right NOW?!

Johnny and I sat down and I began to become aquainted with the fascinating work that this Belle Harbor resident does. As owner and operator of Aphrodite Garment Care located at 155 East 34 Street Manhatan, Johnny Xirouchakis is a Cognoscenti in the Garment Care Industry. His intricate knowledge of fabric and chemistry have made him world renowned. Among his distinguished roster of clients are: The Metroplolitan Museum of Art, Sotheby's, Saint John The Divine; and a formidable list of Haute Couture and Interior Designers and private clients, as well as an expert provider of Garment Analysis for other cleaners.

There are three areas of his expertise: Conservation, Preservation, and Restoration of a garment or fabric. "Conservation means saving what's left of the garment", states Johnny. "Similar to what one does in conserving an artifact we replace parts of the original construction with identical but not original materials. For example, the Parthenon has had columns replaced that are not dated from its original construction yet it still retains its inherent value. We were given the unusual work of saving a third generation Prayer Shawl. The fabric was already in a state of deterioration and some of the original dye had been removed when it was first originally cleaned. We encased the Prayer Shawl within a silk lining, added another Prayer Shawl on top and intertwined the old fringes of the heirloom shawl with the newer one. The result of this process was the creation of a "living relic" rather than simply some antique in a box. The encasing was translucent so that when the light hit it from above, you could see the original shawl inside. The importance to the family was the ability to make a symbol of past traditions alive to the next generation. " For David Copperfield, a curator of carnival clothes, Johnny conserved the pockets and sleeves on a particular 100 year old piece that had been dry-rotted. "We were able to stop the further erosion of the garment through chemical and physical means so that the fabric was able to hold its original integrity."

Just as certain scientists, with the use of a Spectrometer and other forensic means, can measure light and identify carbon and other matter, a professional dry-cleaning chemist must know how to identify the properties of a particular stain as different stains require different treatments. Earth stains are mostly considered Tannin (i.e. the mustard seed). Albuminous stains are from living matter and are mostly protein-based stains. Oil stains are either vegetable in nature or they are organic and are oils that are from the ground and were once alive; i.e, gasoline oil is from the dinosaur. There are also Combination Stains such as coffee (with milk), mayonnaise, mustard, which are oil and protein-based.

Just as different stains require different treatments so do different fabrics. Through Garment Analysis, Johnny is able to skillfully identify fiber content and construction. There are three main fabric catagories: Animal and Natural Fibers such as silk and wool; Vegetable Fibers such as Cotton, Linen, and Rayon; and Synthetic Fibers such as Lycra, Polyester, and Acetate. Then there are Mineral Fibers such as glass and metal, which many Haute Couture Designers will use, in more intricate and ornate work. Since relying upon the Care Label in a garment is often misleading, there are a myriad of tests that the Chemist will perform to determine the exact nature of the fabric. One test is the way the fiber burns as fiber burns differently. If there is an odor present that resembles paper, the fiber is most likely cotton. If the odor residue is of hair, then it could indicate silk or wool.  The identification of Fabric Construction is another important area in determining proper treatment.  For example, a satin weave is sensitive to rubbing and mechanical action resulting in chafing or loss of its reflective ability. Another important aspect is deciding whether the garment is even serviceable. Since there is mislabeling, John can determine which dyes will bleed in water and which will bleed in the dry-cleaning solvent. For Beads, Bagettes, and Sequins, Johnny uses a test involving the use of a Blacklight. If the beads glow, then the beads will most likely melt down during the cleaning process. If they don't glow, then the garment will respond to the cleaning process. Aphrodite Garment Care will "Blacklight" the entire gown as the manufacturer may have used fabric and ornamentation from different lots.

Since summer is the time when many women become brides, the proper preservation of your wedding gown is important. There are many fallacies about this. If you were like me, you probably took your gown to a "high-end" Dry Cleaner who cleaned and stored your gown in an airtight cardboard box. This is the worst possible thing you can do for the preservation of your gown! At Aphrodite Garment Care, your gown, after it is cleaned, is placed in an acid-free museum-quality Preservation Box used by museum curators. The gown is wrapped in an acid-free Muslin cloth so that the gown is cradled when it is taken out. The box has enameled edges with out any glue since it is the glue that attracts insects that will feed on the fabric. According to Johnny, the best way to keep your wedding gown preserved is to keep it stored at a comfortable climate one that you would enjoy. Never store it in your attic as it is too hot, or the basement as it is too humid. It should also never be wrapped in plastic, as all fabrics need to breathe. Johnny emphatically states that the folds in the gown be buffered with acid-free tissue, critical to preservation, as erosion mostly forms at the hard creases. Your gown should be cleaned immediately after the "big day". "What will definitely destroy a gown or any fabric is the acidic condition which turns the fabric yellow. Antique books are treated in the same way."

Johnny was recently contracted to clean Sony Music President Tommy Motolla's wife's wedding gown. The gown, which was beaded in Swarovsky Crystals and cost about three hundred and fifty thousand dollars, was cleaned by hand over a three week period. For actor Billy Crystal's wife's gown, the contract was less elaborate. Since the couple were married many years ago and paid considerably less for the gown, the purpose was about restoring and preserving for sentimental reasons.

Of course Aphrodite does other work as well. For St. John The Divine, John was contracted to conserve valuable Tapestries by restoring the original piece and conserving it by placing a backing to support it. However, one not need be a Museum Curator or celebrity with frivolous means in order to require special garment care. Perhaps you have Heirloom pieces such as Linens and tablecloths that have become oxidized over time or your beloved father's WWII Army Jacket that you want to preserve. This is the specialty of Aphrodite Garment Care and its fifty employees. They receive and ship worldwide.

In addition, John works with Interior Designers. "I'll receive a call from a Decorator who just completed work on $250,000 worth of custom silk wallpaper for a home on Madison Avenue, only to have a Plumber's work leak through and ruin the wall with rust stains. Many times, the fabric is so rare and impossible to replace. We can remove stains from wallpaper, sofas, or any kind of home fabric." They also do a lot of Insurance work from flood or fire damage. Aphrodite did a lot of pro bono work at Battery Park conducting clothing and fiber analysis. John also prides himself on the work he did for the Olympic Relay Team. "My son loved it when we did the dry cleaning for the Torch Runners!"

In addition to his flagship store located at 151 East 34 Street in NewYork, John also owns a 20,000 square foot plant in Brooklyn where much of the work is actually done. John will personally go to your home and view your collection and he ships worldwide. John has resided in Belle Harbor for fifteen years with his wife Debbie and children Anna and Dean who attend P.S. 114. I was very lucky to have met this very special neighbor and I thank Greg Angelos for the introduction!  

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