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High-End Dry Cleaner Gives Back on Gowns Worn on Charity Circuit

By Amy Zimmer | August 29, 2012 7:34am

UPPER EAST SIDE — When the charity season begins in September — after high society returns from the Hamptons — one of the city's luxury dry cleaners will try to lure post-gala gown-cleaning business by creating its own philanthropic initiative.

Jeeves of Belgravia, at 39 E. 65th St. and Madison Avenue, is revered as the go-to neighborhood cleaner for exclusive shops including Lanvin, Escada and Ralph Lauren, as well as for the painstaking hand-cleaning it does for the Metropolitan Opera's elaborate costumes.

Now, Jeeves' Gerald von Pozniak wants to be the go-to place for those who attend the city's most exclusive fundraising events. 

Through the company's "Fashion Clean for Charity" initiative, which will officially launch during Fashion Week, Jeeves will donate a portion of the cleaning bill for any garment worn at a fundraising appearance to that client's charity of choice.  

"We always wanted to contribute, but didn't want to contribute to one charity and exclude others," von Pozniak said.

"I wanted to come up with a way of sponsoring something, but not in the traditional way of buying a table or ticket," he added. "I wanted something connected to what we do. I want people to understand what Jeeves is and that we have the community at heart."

The charity initiative is the latest in a long philanthropic history for Jeeves. The company recently supported the Fashion of Relief charity event hosted by Naomi Campbell for Haiti.

For the last three years, it donated its cleaning services to help Operation Fairy Dust, which provides New York City high schools girls in need with formal prom dresses. Cleaning 3,500 dresses on a volunteer basis, however, became too overwhelming, forcing the company to look for a new way to give back.

Von Pozniak estimated that roughly 10 percent of its business likely comes from cleaning garments worn on the fundraising circuit, prompting them to consider using that side of the business to support charity.

Jeeves' clients attend all the big charity events, von Pozniak said, adding that the cleaner keeps a social calendar so they're prepared for the rush of last-minute alterations sometimes needed before a gala.

"Let's say they go to the Robin Hood Foundation event and wear Balenciaga," he said. "Then they come to get their gown cleaned before they put it away."

He said the company was still working out the details of what percentage of proceeds would go to charity while keeping the labor-intensive part of their business profitable. He said the price of dry-cleaning starts at $249 per gown, but can go much higher.

A complicated floor-length pink Oscar de la Renta dress, for example, recently cost $700 to clean, even though it was only lightly soiled with sweat stains, a smudge of make-up and some dirt on the train after having been worn for a few hours, he said.

Garments with elaborate beading or sequins and a mix of fabric often take hours to hand-clean.  Tailors will often do a light-hand stitch of cheesecloth to protect those parts of the garment before cleaning, he said.

Sometimes they have to deconstruct and then put garments back together, like the black-and-white silk Gucci dress with a trim of gold leather metallic that recently came in. The trim had to be taken off since fabric has to be cleaned differently than leather, Von Pozniak said.

"For us, it's always about the safety of the garment," he said.

Von Pozniak said that he's noticed many of his clients ramp up their philanthropic efforts in the last few years as the country has gone through a recession from which many still have not recovered.

"It humbles you," he said, though Jeeves' business, which had taken a dip, is back to pre-recession levels.

"I've seen more and more of my clients going to [charity] events," von Pozniak said. "I do feel there's been a conscious shift in some of my clients' psyches to be more generous, in my opinion. I know I feel I want to give more."