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His is really a pressing business

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  • His is really a pressing business

    Newsday (New York)
    May 30, 2004 Sunday

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


    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

    "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

    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

    "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

    "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

    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.