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Chapter 18 - Fred Segal, Nordstroms and Divine Intervention

Posted by Gerry Kelly on

The following week we were back in San Francisco and I was licking my wounds. I gotta admit, I was a bit depressed after spending a lot of money on the LA show and not even one order to show for it.


Then, I got a call from an LA number I didn’t recognize. I heard an old mans voice on the end of the line. It was a guy called Allan Chevalier. His first words were, “Hi my name’s Allan Chevalier. You’ve probably never heard of me, but back in the 70’s and 80’s I had some very successful womens’ fashion lines. I did a lot of work with Nordstroms, I Magnin’s, Joseph Magnin’s, Fred Segal and many other better womens’ boutiques. I was the first designer to work for Fred Segal where I designed women’s jeans and pants. I then went out on my own and my partner was the head of the Chinese sewers union in San Francisco in 1974 & 75, and we had 131 sewers working for us.” Then he said “without being too forward, you need help.”

I agreed with him and listened to what he had to say.
He talked for about 30 mins telling me his life story and mentioned lots of names of people that he had worked with in the past. As he was talking, I was taking notes and writing out the names of the people he was talking about. At the end of our conversation, he said “I’ll never work for someone again, but I’ll work with someone on something I believe in. I really think you have something but you need help refining it.”

Then, he said, “I don’t have much money, but I have a lot of experience in design and I’d like to meet you.” I told him that I would call him back in two days after I made some inquiries.

As soon as I got off the phone, I started to google his name, and nothing came up. I googled all night. I then googled all the names of the people he had mentioned. Some people popped up. These guys were old school, so there really wasn’t much about them online.

So the next day, I called into a few of the older manufacturers that I had met in the City.
“Have you ever heard of a guy called ‘Allan Chevalier?’” I asked Kieran from Skyblue.
“Wow, that’s a name from the past,” he said. Then he said, “Gerry, Allan Chevalier was a legend back in 70’s and early 80’s. He used to design womens jeans and pants that were sold in all the major stores. He went off the scene a long time ago, no one really know’s the full story, but I think he died.”

He then said, “where did you hear his name from?” I said, “he called me last night.” Kieran gave me that, that’s weird and why the fuck would he call you look. He said “Seriously? He called you?”

I told him the story about the article in the California Apparel News and our phone call etc, etc…
I then asked Kieran, “if Allan came to San Francisco would he mind if I brought him by, just to confirm he was for real?” Kieran was cool with that.

The following night, I called Allan back and told him that I would pay his gas money to drive from LA to San Francisco to see what he was all about and he could stay on my couch for two nights.
I then told my wife that a 72 year old designer was going to be sleeping on our couch this coming weekend and as usual she was cool about it (although by day 5 she was rolling her eyes).
Three days later an old 1978 Mercedes coupe pulled up outside our apartment and Allan ended up staying on our couch for five nights. He literally examined the jeans and the stitch work with a magnifying glass. He asked me a million questions about them, such as, had I thought about doing them in white? Had I thought about getting rid of the wings (the seams on the side)? Was I going to do a high waisted jean? Had I thought about doing them in softer colors? And many many more questions...

For the five days that he spent in San Francisco, all we did was talk fashion. We went to store after store after store checking out what was on offer. He would stop people in the street and get into conversations about the clothing they were wearing. I can safely say he knew fashion.

I told him that I had signed up for another trade show. This time, it was in Vegas and was for start up fashion companies. He asked me what I had planned on showing there and I showed him the same jeans that I showed at the LA trade show.

He told me that we needed at least ten jeans if we wanted buyers to take us serious. And so we went shopping. We got everything from denim shorts, skinny jeans, high rise flares, to hip huggers skinny’s and flares.

After five days of fashion 101-202 Allan drove back to LA with all the jeans we bought and said he would have his pattern maker make the patterns and we would use our unique Sonas aesthetic on them and fit them to our specifications. He loved our aesthetic and he was there to fine tune it.

Lessons I learned from this stage of my life:
1. Have an open mind, you never know who you’re talking to.
2. When you meet someone with lots of knowledge on your subject, soak up as much as you can, because you never know when you’ll get another opportunity to learn so much.
3. He who dares wins. You gotta take risks now and then.

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