Designs For Living

In the tropical weather, he "couldn't indulge in furs, it was always a spaghetti strap dress," but he joined the family business in a seamless manner. He studied art in high school, then received a technical degree in architecture. At 25 he came to New York and studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology. He lived with a sister on 111th Street in Corona, Queens, and worked at Chemical Bank. When the ladies he worked with learned of his designing ways, they commissioned him to create dresses for parties and weddings. Soon he was able to leave behind the data entry job and design full time. In 1999, he decided to set up shop in the anonymity of busy Jericho Turnpike.

His aspirations are boundless— and miles from the turnpike. Ramo dreams of becoming a couturier, one those cosseted Parisian designers who create one-of-a-kind, made-to-measure confections for private clients, gowns and day dresses whose prices climb above $10,000. Couturiers, whose names festoon crystal flacons at perfumiers world-wide: Dior, Chanel, Yves St. Laurent and Lacroix.

So where does Ramo get his ideas?

"From magazines and books," he says, as he thumbs through the glossy continental fashion and fabric forecast and couture mags piled on a table, "magazines that my friends bring back to me from Europe. But, it always starts with the fabric. I go to the fabric houses and look at the cloth and am inspired to work with it. Stiff fabrics need to be worked one way, softer cloth makes for a different line."

Suddenly he jumps up from his chair and grabs a paper shopping bag over-flowing with jewel-toned whisper weight silk.

"See this Indian sari cloth!" he exclaims as he shows me hand-painted lengths of cloth embroidered with gilt thread, "From this I will create casual skirts for my ladies in the Hamptons— for outdoor parties!" His eyes glitter, as if he is imagining the rarefied scene the finished garments will costume.

The truth of the matter is that the fashion world is really about business, not dreams alone. One can make a living sewing one dress at a time, but the real money is in mass production: the licensing agreements drawn up between name designers and the established industrialists who own sportswear manufacturing companies, fragrance houses, handbag importers and the linen mills that create sheets and towels.

Ramo will eventually need a backer so that he can create original works of art, to elevate himself above the many dressmakers all over Long Island.

It is clear that Ramo has the technical skill to rise above the fray— his creations are carefully tailored with all the hand-sewn details of couture— but it will take some savvy marketing to catch the eyes of the fashionistas who set style rather than merely follow in the wake of Paris and Milan.

Especially when your current atelier is across the street, not from the Louvre, but from Domino's Pizza.

That Inc.: The Buzz That Can Come Only From Caffeine

It is 10:30 p.m. on a hot summer Thursday evening when I meet Alex That for a late night dinner in the gaudy fluorescence of the Seaford Palace Diner.

He is an imposing, good-looking man, 6-5, who apologizes for being tired this night before the National Boutique Show opens at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. Tired? I can't tell by his eyes or demeanor. When I ask him how old he is, he looks at his wristwatch and says, "In an hour and a half I'll be 30!" He's fitting in an interview among the last-minute preparations for the new season and for the orders that will be placed by small boutiques and major chains throughout the country starting tomorrow.

His demeanor may seem casual, but the success of Alex That and his operations Caffeine and Buggirl, is no accident. It has all been carefully planned and nurtured.

At 16, on his first day on the job in sales at DJs in Sunrise Mall, That recalls, "a little birdie came down and said, 'This is your calling.'

"I planned from that day— from the outset— to have a line of clothes, a whole collection, and to own a chain of stores all over the country."

At SUNY Oneonta, That majored in fashion buying and merchandising, with a minor in business communications. He had planned to spend a semester studying in Florence, but the program was canceled because of the Gulf War. So That ended up going to F.I.T., where he ran into an old friend, Kevin Kraft, and they decided to go into business together.

They threw parties to raise capital; the first was on April 13, 1991, at Starz in Deer Park. "We called the night 'The Party'— a college night— which combined music, dance and fashion," says That. "This was successful, so we created Caffeine— a techno night. Our first fashion design was a T shirt, with the Caffeine logo that I had designed."

Then came the club called Caffeine— DJs spinning different grooves in every room, night crawlers from Manhattan ferried out on chartered buses, trannies, punks, drags, hip hoppers, ravers, club kids of all ages and genders and colors, united in the groove of the beat nation.

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