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Authors: Jane L. Rosen

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BOOK: Nine Women, One Dress
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By Luke Siegel, M.D.

I picked up Samantha Schwartz the next night, brand-new Max Hammer dress in hand. She changed into it and came out looking absolutely stunning. It was an odd thing to be surrounded by your whole family on a first date. I was especially dreading the introductions. I mean, what did I really know about her except that she had lousy taste in men? The generic “How did you two meet?” was bound to come up, and I wasn't sure how I would answer. But the night was so filled with toasts and dancing and wonderful stories about my grandfather that no one really paid us enough attention to pry. And the pretty girl by my side was like kryptonite to all the meddling yentas in the room.

My grandfather's young associates spoke of everything he had taught them and the honor it had been to work so closely with him. They vowed they had learned more from him than any single professor at RISD or Parsons or FIT. Samantha was clearly in awe. They spoke of the Yiddish words they'd picked up, and some even worked a few Yiddish expressions into their toasts. One said his biggest compliment at work to date had been when my grandfather had called him a mensch. One woman talked about my grandfather's sense of humor, his endless teasing and witty observations about their generation. With tears of love in her eyes, she told of how he had happily learned to text, but when emojis became popular he was really up in arms. She imitated his Polish accent: “It took me so many years to master the English language, and you are right back to communicating with hieroglyphics like cavemen!”

There were seven or eight speeches. The room was filled with the celebratory sounds of laughter and cheers, tears of happiness, and applause. But the room fell silent when Andrew, Max Hammer's son, asked my grandfather to say a few words.

Morris Siegel, my grandfather, told the story of being saved by happenstance by Max Hammer himself at the age of thirteen on a boat to America. He spoke about their early years in this country and the importance of making a life that counted enough for all those they had left behind. By the time he was through there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Being a doctor can sometimes make you feel like your job is so important, with people's lives hanging in the balance, depending on you. But my grandfather's life and his explanation of what it meant to him to make dresses for women humbled me.

“For seventy-five years I have made ladies' dresses. That means that for seventy-five years I have made women happy. For seventy-five years I have made mature women spin around in front of the mirror like young girls. For seventy-five years I have made young girls look in the mirror and for the first time see a woman staring back at them. I have made young men's eyes pop out. I have made old men's eyes pop out. Because the right dress does that. It makes an ordinary woman feel extraordinary. And like my Mathilda, all women are truly extraordinary. It's just not often that they get to wrap themselves up in a bow and show the world.

“On the occasions that they do, the dress is everything. No one receives an invitation to dinner or a wedding or a ball and says, ‘Oh, I need to buy a new hat.' They say, ‘I need to buy a new dress.' No one spends weeks searching for the perfect sweater or blouse, but the search for the perfect dress can lead a woman to visit every store in the city. It's the dress that needs the right bag, the right shoes, and the right shade of lipstick, never vice versa. The dress a girl wears to a prom, on her first trip down the aisle, even on her second, is probably the biggest decision of the night. In fact a bride may spend more time contemplating the dress than the actual proposal. I can promise you it wasn't those ill-fitting glass slippers that gave Cinderella the confidence to crash that ball. It was the dress—the dress made her do it!

“I am a modest man, but if I'm not going to say it now, when will I? I am proud that I have made thousands of women feel beautiful. That my creations have turned heads and warmed hearts. I am proud that Max Hammer dresses hang in closets wrapped in memories of all the special occasions when they were worn. Unlike me, a beautiful dress knows no age. It is boundless. A beautiful dress holds a little bit of magic in it. A dressmaker like myself is lucky to be the magician. I am grateful to have known all of you, grateful to have known Max Hammer, and grateful to have spent my life decorating the lives of extraordinary women.”


Somewhere in the middle of the speech Samantha put her arm through mine, and we stood together, listening. I felt an unexpected connection to her. I caught my grandmother looking back at us more than once, and it almost made me want to let go of Samantha. But I gave in to the warmth of the night and let my bubbe really have it all. Besides, I liked the way Samantha's arm felt in mine. I'd never been one to bring a girl home to my meddling family. But it felt nice to be sharing the moment so intimately with someone else—someone there just for me.

I wondered to myself if a dress could really hold so much power. I looked at my pretty date in her Max Hammer dress, tears glistening in her eyes, and wondered if what my grandfather said was true. As if reading my mind, he came over and gave me a big kiss on the cheek. He took Samantha's hand in his and spun her around. “Magic,” he said.

She did look quite beautiful. But magic? I wondered.

“How did you two meet?” he asked.

I felt nervous. Samantha noticed and responded for me. “We met because of one of your little black dresses,” she said.

She was right. We had. Maybe it was magic after all.


I owe a debt of gratitude to many people, some of whom I mention below.

First and foremost, to my editor, Claudia Herr: It has been a complete joy to go through this process with you. Thank you for being spectacular and brilliant and extraordinarily patient.

To Valerie Cates, for championing my story and having such confidence in it and in me.

A HUGE thank you to my fierce and fabulous agent, Alexandra Machinist, and to everyone involved at ICM.

To my UK editor, Selina Walker: thank you for sharing your ingenious insights.

To Judy Jacoby, Suzanne Herz, Todd Doughty, and Victoria Chow at Doubleday for loving my book, spreading that love, and showing me the ropes.

To Sophie Baker at Curtis Brown for corralling all of the foreign affection for our little American black dress.

To Mara Canner for never saying no and to George Sheanshang for always saying yes.

To Linda Coppola, Andrea Levenbaum, Ellen Crown, and Phoebe Kline: I wrote a lot of words before these words. Thank you for reading and encouraging nearly all of them and for your pivotal help with this project.

For my entire life I have been surrounded by a loving family and true friends whom I treasure. You are my anchors. Thank you for embracing my crazy and my writing.

To my mother, Florence Levenbaum: I have no words to aptly describe the love and encouragement you have given to me throughout my life. You inspire me and I love you very much. Thank you.

To my three beautiful, passionate, and supportive daughters: Raechel, Melodie, and Talia. Separately, each of you is remarkable; together, you are unstoppable. I should only live up to the spark of love for me I see in your eyes. You inspire me every day to be a better woman, mother, and person.

A little extra gratitude goes out to my youngest daughter, who fought a brave battle while I wrote this book. Talia Ruth Rosen, reader number one: your strength, courage, and discipline amazed me daily and kept me moving forward. You are my hero.

And finally to Warren, my husband and my very best friend. They say to write what you know, and if I know anything at all I know true love, and that is because of you. To quote Bruce Springsteen, our poet laureate:

“Through the wind, through the rain, the snow

the wind, the rain

You've got, you've got my, my love

heart and soul”

About the Author

Jane L. Rosen is an author and
Huffington Post
contributor. She lives in New York City and Fire Island with her husband and three daughters. She often takes inspiration from the city she lives in and the people she shares it with. She is the author of a young adult novel,
The Thread
, which she self-published. In addition to writing she has spent time in film, television, and event production and is the cofounder of It's All Gravy, a Web- and app-based gifting company.

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BOOK: Nine Women, One Dress
9.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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