The effects of ready-to-wear clothing on the Tirocchis business
were dramatic. By the early 1920s, Anna realized that she could
not compete, as a purely custom dressmaker, with the convenience
of the new ready-made garments. By the mid-1920s, she had converted
her shop from a custom dressmaking establishment, where client and
dressmaker worked together to create clothing expressive of an individual
style, to a retail establishment offering high-end ready-to-wear.
The sisters still offered the traditional seamstress services of
alterations and repairs to their customers, something department
stores could not offer except at the time a garment was purchased.
In addition, the Tirocchis designed custom-made bridal and bridesmaids
dresses and did a nice business outfitting entire wedding parties.
Until 1924, ready-mades had made up a small percentage of the business,
ranging from no sales, to about 5% for that year. However, it appears
in the fall of 1923, Anna was forced to confront the fact that since
1915, when the sisters moved into 514 Broadway, business had gone
into a steady decline. Each year following saw a decrease in the
number of client transactions, from a total of 490 in 1916, to 281
new department stores wanted the business of the general consumer,
but they also catered to women of wealth by offering high-quality
and high-fashion dresses in lavish corners of the store that echoed
the homes and clubs to which these women were accustomed. Small
specialty shops arose to attract the same clientele. Both types
of establishments offered alteration services and some custom dressmaking
to meet customers demands, but neither could offer the craftsmanship
the Tirocchis could.
Anna Tirocchi had never aspired to serve the general public. Indeed,
according to her niece Primrose, she turned away potential customers
who "did not appreciate what she was doing." Nevertheless, she was
alarmed when she realized that the new department and specialty
retail stores were enticing her clientele.
Madame Tirocchis solution was to begin to offer her clients
a wide range of ready-made garments and accessories. In the Spring
of 1924, her investment in ready-mades increased significantly when
she brought back from a buying trip to Paris 23 dresses, seven knit
sport suits, two coats, and five blouses. From American importers
and manufacturers, she bought 158 dresses.
The vendors, importers, and manufacturers whom Anna patronized
specialized in what was called "wholesale couture," which
was suitable to the Tirocchis discriminating clientele. Women
throughout the world looked to Paris for the latest styles, so manufacturers
sent buyers to Paris at least twice a year to buy, or steal, garments
that were then copied with slight alterations to suit the more practical,
less formal American tastes. The French copies were then marketed
to American retailers, such as the Tirocchi sisters and their clients.
If the Tirocchi clients coveted and collected the highest quality
French fashions, they also demanded the best in textiles. Whether
their dresses were custom-made or purchased ready-to-wear, the clientele
favored the finest French textiles. French couture had the allure
of Paris, with all the status that called to mind, but French textiles
were valued in America for the long-standing French reputation for
quality and good design. Madame Tirocchis flawless eye enabled
her to purchase the most luxurious and beautifully designed French
fabrics she could find for her discriminating clientele. Just as
Anna Tirocchi took advantage of the changeover to ready-to-wear
clothing by embracing it, she also adopted French textiles with
the latest modernist designs as the basis for her custom trade.
Anna also began offering her customers a range of accessories and
fine linens. She sold handbags, scarves, shawls, jewelry, lingerie,
boas, and feathers. The business began to flourish once again. By
1927, customer billings were triple what they were in 1923, going
from $22,706 to $62,221. The shift in tactic made the difference.
Madame Tirocchi was doing less custom work, but the shop was still
surviving as a small dressmaking establishment at a time when most
dressmakers were closing their doors.
>> read on about The
Last Days of the Business