Newsday (New York)
May 30, 2004 Sunday
CITY EDITION

QUEENS DIARY;
His is really a pressing business;
LIC's Madame Paulette turns dry-cleaning into a celebrity-attracting
art form

BY MERLE ENGLISH. STAFF WRITER


Marcie Goodman Gottlieb lives on Manhattan's Upper West Side but
doesn't mind traveling to the East Side just to drop off her dry
cleaning. She's been doing so for more than 10 years.

Her mother, who lives in Baltimore, uses the same dry cleaner,
sending in special items or bringing them with her on visits to New
York.

"They are the best at what they do," Gottlieb said. "Their customer
service is incredible. They are so accommodating with everything you
take in. If you need it back immediately, they'll get it back
immediately, and they'll always get your stains out."

The reason for the extra effort is Madame Paulette, a one-of-a-kind
dry cleaning business in Long Island City.

Basic black

The building out of which the business operates would be nondescript
except for its all-black exterior.

Classic black, a color often associated with haute couture, is a
signature for Madame Paulette's president, John Mahdessian, 38.

Fresh out of Villanova University in 1987, Mahdessian took over from
his father what is now a 50-year-old family-owned business with a
reputation - Mahdessian states unequivocally - as "simply the finest
custom couture cleaner in the world."

In keeping with that characterization, the building's black exterior,
the company's promotional materials and several products reflect the
image of the business as a service catering mostly to the world's
high-end fashion houses and bridal salons.

A press kit is in velvety black stock, embossed with the name "Madame
Paulette" in golden script. A stain removal kit for upscale travelers
is encased in shiny black packaging.

Black is also the color of a custom-designed garment bag, a solid oak
hanger and a VIP gift box. And all carry Madame Paulette's gold and
black logo showing a stylishly dressed woman and the company's
initials.

But the elegant apparel that comes into Madame Paulette's Long Island
City plant and headquarters from bridal salons at Barneys, Bergdorf
Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and such couture houses as Christian Dior,
Fendi, Givenchy, Gucci, Hermès, Prada, Versace and Yves St. Laurent,
is of all colors, textures and intricacies of design.

Mahdessian said his staff of artisans, tailors and craftspeople,
recruited from around the globe, are entrusted with "the finest
garments in the world." Many are worn by runway models and
celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez, David Letterman, Madonna, Janet
Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Sting and Barbara Walters, whom he lists
among his clientele.

A visitor on a recent tour of the plant at 42-20 12th St. found the
place a beehive of activity as employees meticulously inspected,
dry-cleaned and hand-pressed clothing.

Already cleaned on hangers around them were Chanel suits, shirts,
dresses and gowns swathed in white garment bags with such labels as
Vera Wang and Angel Sanchez.

A pink, strapless seersucker gown belonging to Christie Brinkley was
ready for delivery to her home in the Hamptons. It was on one of the
paper mannequins Mahdessian uses to keep cleaned clothing
wrinkle-free. Also ready to go was Vogue fashion editor Andre Leon
Talley's blue and yellow robe.

Madame Paulette developed techniques to keep fine clothes - many
adorned with appliques, embroidery, sequins, feathers and other
handwork - in their original splendor. Perspiration, blood and other
stains are removed according to the type of stain, its color and
chemistry.

"Even if you spill a whole bottle of red wine, it's no problem," said
Mahdessian, who refers to himself as "Johnny on the spot."

Faded fabric colors are restored, and even vintage items considered
damaged beyond repair are salvaged, he said.

Madame's touch

Unusual combinations of materials in garments are taken apart for the
special cleaning each material requires and are put back together by
couture tailors.

"The steps we take are painstaking and unconventional," the company
states on its Website.

"We are pioneers in what we do," Mahdessian said. "Fifty percent of
what we do here is by hand. We even use Q-tips because of the
intricacy of the work."

Hand-finishing by Jahfrey Juvon, 22, of Maspeth, hired two months ago
in quality control, left an inexpensive woolen vest looking like
cashmere.

"Every single person that touches the garment is a quality-control
expert," Mahdessian said. "Even business and casual attire deserve
the same expert attention to detail. Improper maintenance of the
garment wears the garment out. We can increase the garment's life
expectancy and preserve its value."

Treasured bridal gowns are cleaned and stored in museum-quality,
acid-free archival chamber boxes. Such attention costs more than
regular cleaning - $18 for a shirt or pair of pants, for example.

The business operates 24 hours a day to respond to emergencies, such
as a gown that is stained or stepped on during a wedding or similar
damage done to a vintage piece a celebrity is wearing at the Oscars.
Tailors, spotters and pressers are on hand "for any needs that come
up," Mahdessian said. "We save the day all the time."

Madame Paulette was founded by an uncle of Mahdessian's father,
Noubar. The uncle, whose name Mahdessian couldn't recall, was an
Armenian who came to the United States in 1957. The company was named
for the uncle's wife.

All in the family

Noubar Mahdessian and his wife, Ann, a teacher and interior
decorator, ran the business until they retired and turned it over to
their son.

John Mahdessian, who grew up in Little Neck, lives in Long Island
City. Being a businessman wasn't his first career choice. He had
graduated with a degree in marketing and planned to go into
investment banking.

He soon realized, however, that he loved the business. He expanded
the staff from 10 to 75 at the Long Island City headquarters and his
flagship 1255 Second Ave. site in Manhattan.

He was committed, he said, to making the business "the finest, most
advanced, state-of-the-art dry cleaning establishment in New York,
the U.S., and the world."

Now the woman behind the name "is my mom," Mahdessian said. "We
consider her Madame Paulette," until he marries, he said.

Custom couture cleaning is only one reason that Gottlieb is willing
to travel across town.

"They're friendly and smiley, and they're all happy," Gottlieb said.
"People say they're expensive, but if they are, they're worthy every
penny."

GRAPHIC: Photo by Daniel Avila - John Mahdessian, president of Madame
Paulette, poses inside a robe owned by Vogue fashion editor Andre
Leon Talley in the cleaner's headquarters in Long Island City.