Inside the Garment Center: Custom Fabric Flowers By M. & S. Schmalberg

Fabric flowers may be synonymous with the name Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City, but the business of custom accoutrements goes back much further.
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Fabric flowers may be synonymous with the name Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City, but the business of custom accoutrements goes back much further.
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Fabric flowers may be synonymous with the name Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City, but the business of custom accoutrements goes back much further.

In fact, when M. & S. Schmalberg opened its doors 90 years ago, there were 50 shops just like it making flowers for the numerous hats women wore.

But as hats became less of a requisite, so did custom fabric flower shops. By the time M. & S.'s current owner, Warren Brand, joined the business in the 1970s, there were about 10 business left. Now, its just M. & S.

The firm, which Warren owns with his sister Debra Brand, creates custom fabric flowers for clients at every level of the fashion business, ranging from an independent bridal designer in the Midwest to names like Oscar de la Renta and mass retailers like J.Crew. The Brand's employee between 10 and 30 union-supported staff members at a time, depending on the flow of business.

While Brand sees an uptick in sales when he gets an editorial placement--like the one in the most recent Marie Claire--or a spot in a big film, there's no denying his business still struggles to stay afloat, much like the rest of the garment center. "When I started, my rent was $600 a month," says Brand. "Now, it's $10,000." Tack on a hefty electric bill and you can understand why he chose to rent out his separate office to another industry veteran, Sally Mittleman, who runs custom beading firm Natural Creations.

Luckily for those who rely on the Brands, they're not going anywhere. M. & S. has just signed a five year lease on its West 36th Street studio.

Click through our gallery for an inside look at Custom Fabric Flowers.