In the 63 years since Madame Paulette, a luxury cleaner and tailoring service, opened in New York, its list of clients has grown to include Madonna, Serena Williams, Martha Stewart, Kylie Jenner and Anna Wintour.
Though no boldfaced names attended a grand opening party at its new West 57th Street home on April 30, the invisible presence of some hung in the air at the event, which took place just two days before the Met Gala on May 2.
The Tuesday before the party, Tom Ford, the designer, filmmaker and honorary Met Gala co-chairman, had sent over a shirt and vest that he planned to wear to the gala for a touch-up. Henry Ortiz, who takes care of VIP clients at Madame Paulette, made sure the pieces were ready in time for the big night.
“I never say no,” Mr. Ortiz, 54, said about catering to the top clients. As a thank you for the quick turnaround and white glove service, he received a shopping bag stamped with Mr. Ford’s nameake label. Its contents? “Very personal,” Mr. Ortiz said.
Many partygoers, like him, were Madame Paulette employees. But a few longtime customers came out to celebrate the company. One, Amanda Sanders, an image consultant in New York, has been a loyal client for years. “It’s the only place you bring a gown,” she said.
Ms. Sanders, 49, recently brought an Arnold Scaasi dress that she wore to her prom at LaGuardia High School to Madame Paulette, where tailors retrofitted it for her daughter to wear to her upcoming prom.
In Ms. Sanders’s work, which can involve fashion styling, she has noticed more people identifying garments that may need a deft nip or tuck — the kind of service Madame Paulette provides — after the clothes went unworn for two years because of the pandemic. “They maybe gained weight, or now they’re losing that weight, or they got plastic surgery because there was all of that down time,” Ms. Sanders said.
Others at the party were neither employees nor clients, but had been introduced to Madame Paulette through another local institution: “The Real Housewives of New York City.”
The business’s former owner John Mahdessian was in a seven-year relationship with a former cast member, Dorinda Medley, before they parted ways in 2019. Madame Paulette, which Mr. Mahdessian’s great-uncle started in 1959, was mentioned often on the show, which also aired footage of parties held at the company’s former location on Second Avenue near 65th Street.
Andrew Maitner, 30, a senior marketing manager at Hearst in New York, and Heath Owens, 26, an e-commerce writer and editor at Hearst, came to the party more as fans of Ms. Medley than of the company. “One of these days we will have a piece worthy” of its services, Mr. Owens said.
The West 57th Street address is not the only thing new at Madame Paulette. In April 2021, it was acquired by ByNext, a company in New York that has digitized components of laundry, dry cleaning and interior-maintenance services. Kam Saifi, the chief executive of ByNext, decided to move Madame Paulette to 57th Street to signal a new era and also to be nearer to the places where its typical customer shops.
“If you’re cleaning all of the clothing on Fifth Avenue, you have to be close to where the action is,” Mr. Saifi, 62, said.
Many familiar faces remain on the team of tailors and seamstresses that have kept the Madame Paulette name so burnished in the city. Among them is Galina Leykina, a seamstress at the company for 30 years, whom Jeni Slotchiver, a longtime client and concert pianist in New York, described as “an engineer” at the party.
Ms. Slotchiver met Ms. Leykina when she was directed to Madame Paulette to rework a Missoni dress. “She’s very special,” Ms. Slotchiver said.
If the evening had the convivial, laid-back feeling of a family gathering, the matriarch would be Laura Ahrem. A Mahdessian by birth — she is Mr. Mahdessian’s sister — Ms. Ahrem, 58, continues to advise Madame Paulette’s new owners on marketing and the ins and outs of the high-end service that has come to define her family business. “I’m a dry cleaner’s daughter, so this business is instinctual to me,” she said of guiding its new owners.
As the party wound down, some Madame Paulette employees snacked on homemade cannoli brought by Maria Pipitone, a company seamstress, near an installation of portraits by Malike Sidibe, a photographer. He was there with his girlfriend, Grace Cardozo, a marketing associate at ByNext.
Karen Jean-Aimee, 42, the director of luxury brands at Madame Paulette, reclined on a (unsurprisingly) spotless beige lounge chair. She is on maternity leave but stopped by to christen the new space with her co-workers.
Of all of the clients, famous or infamous, who was her favorite to work with? Anna Wintour, she said without hesitation.