Turning onto this stretch of Huron Street in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, it seems more likely you would find an automobile “chopshop” rather than New York’s leading expert in stone and chemical garment treatment. But there, located in a two-story factory building, whose only signage is a swath of silver graffiti on a section of the peeling wall, is the home of Rocks & Jeans. From here, owner, Andrew Ng, has worked with wardrobe supervisors to refine garments as diverse as the clothes of street thugs in 2007’s American Gangster, Meryl Streep’s jeans from the gardening scene in It’s Complicated to the scrubs in Showtime’s Nurse Jackie. His work is even in the recently completed film version of The Smurfs where he gave “brand new clothes a lived in look,” using an enzyme wash, says the film’s Wardrobe Supervisor, Denise Andres.
Enhancing this urban tableau, the staff can regularly be seen hauling buckets of garments en route to treatment from the street through a stark doorway abruptly appearing on the second level. There is poetry in the primitiveness of the process, as described by Denise, conjuring a modern day Walker Evans image.
Andrew joined the company in 1970, the business was operated, at that time, by his father-in-law and focused on commercial cleaning, primarily hotels and restaurants. A young man, with a new baby at home, he had one semester left before receiving his degree in Electrical Engineering while working as a “junior engineer” for $10,000.00 a year. When his wife’s dad offered to boost the salary to 15 Grand – “that was a full $300.00 a week,” Andrew says, “I couldn’t say no.”
With the dawn of the “faded jeans” craze. Andrew saw an opportunity – a new and challenging side to the business. Instead of customers waiting to wear them to worn perfection, fashion designers like Donna Karan, Liz Claiborne and Jordache were looking for someone with the skill and equipment to beat their products into frayed glory. He invested in the machines, learned the effects of rock size, as well as speed and length of the cycle on various fabrics and became New York’s sole expert in the field.
As the film business in New York discovered, the now christened, “Rocks & Jeans” the challenges grew. Beyond simply aging dungarees, Andrew was being asked to take on more nuanced work. Fragile fabrics, even silks, were coming in to be given a gently worn, softened look. Enzyme wash, sanding and vintage wash became the exclusive purview of the building on Huron Street.
During this time a new word entered the lexicon – outsourcing. It wasn’t long before the fashion industry moved overseas, leaving the business once again relying on hotels and other commercial clients to support their fifteen employees. The film business continues as a boutique trade, one that brings a smile to his face. “It’s the job he likes the most”, says Magaly Paute, his business manager and all around right hand. She, a former pattern cutter, was a victim of the exodus of the “rag trade”. When Andrew discovered she was studying business, he moved her to the upstairs “suites” – offices reached up a steep stairwell with creaky floors boxed off from more commercial machines.
Denise does offer a caveat. Since this is a subjective craft and descriptions can be personal and idiomatic “wardrobese”, it is best to bring a sample in person. Andrew is very willing to accommodate special requests. Rates at Rocks & Jeans begin at $50.00 per load.
No, it isn’t a posh setting, but the product is. Andrew and his Rocks & Jeans have been providing collaborations with wardrobe supervisors to put just the right look on the screen for years. As Denise says, “it’s great to have the service.”
MWS would love you to share your Rocks & Jeans experiences with us, so “comment” away.
Cheryl & Tommy (with roger kimpton)