By Jill Colvin
MIDTOWN — Roger Cohen's family has been in the fashion business for 60 years.
His father opened Regal Originals after fleeing from Europe during the Holocaust, and the factory has been providing ruffles, pleating and rhinestones ever since.
But today, Cohen, 48, said his business, like other small factories and suppliers who manufacture clothing in Midtown's Garment Center, is struggling to stay alive.
"My factory is hanging by a thread," he said.
Clothing designers, manufacturers and local politicians gathered Tuesday at a rally to help businesses like Cohen's stay afloat in the face of soaring rents, outsourcing and a recession.
Many were seen waving signs that read "Save the Fashion District."
Fashion designer Nanette Lepore, who has been pushing for the district to be preserved, said the neighborhood must maintain its role as "an incubator for young talent" to keep the country's fashion industry on the map.
"We just need a little support," she said, dressed in brown suede ankle-high boots, a leopard print dress and a black pea coat.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said that protecting the district is crucial to maintaining New York's status as the "fashion capital" of the world.
"You cannot have Fashion Week in New York unless you have the designers," he said.
"I'll be damned if we're going to lose this great historic area," he added. "There's enough real estate to go around."
Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, who wore black suede knee-high boots and a chocolate brown dress, argued that manufacturing jobs, like those in the district, are crucial to maintaining the country's middle class.
"We've made Homer Simpson's life a middle-class fantasy," she said, echoing fears raised by Stringer and Rep. Jerry Nadler that New York has become a city reserved for only the ultrarich and the poor.
Cohen asked the city to do more to help, and called for higher tariffs on clothes produced overseas and a repeal of the sales tax on garments made in the U.S.
Others, like Gaby Basora, who designs the Tucker clothing line in her studio on West 37th Street, called for new incentives as well as tax credits to encourage businesses to remain in the borough.
Upper East Side resident Christy Lee, 26, an assistant fashion designer who works in the district, said she can't imagine a future in the industry without the Garment Center.
Having everyone from designers to cutters to button-makers and sewers side-by-side, she said, is what makes working in the city so unique.
"I think it's the most magical part of New York and fashion," she said.