Joan Crawford would approve. There are clothes hangers everywhere--wood hangers, metal hangers, plastic hangers--but none of the dreaded wire hangers the actress considered so declasse.
Hundreds of hangers line the walls and swing from floor racks inside the Henry Hanger Co. showroom--mauve hangers, burgundy hangers, marbled hangers and hangers of matte or ebony black. There are even high-tech hangers, checked hangers, and brass models priced at $150 each--hangers for every conceivable purpose, plus a mutant few with no discernible use.
And surveying it all is the king of the upscale hanger, the man who hitched his wagon to an ascending closet pole and hasn't looked back, Bernie Spitz.
Business Is Better
"They say there's no business like show business, but the hanger business is better," said Spitz, a Howard Cosell sound-alike equally given to exaggeration. "It's challenge; it's excitement. And let me say this: If you can't find it at Henry Hanger, you won't find it anywhere."
Spitz, 67, is a dapper dresser who wears an inch-long diamond-studded clothes hanger on his lapel. He claims to have 800 styles of hanger in his Hill Street showroom about two miles south of downtown Los Angeles. They're made at the Los Angeles location and at a larger factory in New Hampshire. There is also a showroom in New York City, where Spitz's father, Henry, started the business in 1933.
Is Bernie Spitz anything like Dave Whiteman, the hanger manufacturer portrayed by Richard Dreyfuss in "Down and Out in Beverly Hills"?
"Definitely," said his daughter and executive secretary, Astrid Spitz-Metsos, 27. "The Dreyfuss character made wire hangers, which is a big difference. But they both have a love of the hanger business. And they're both not the sort of people you meet every day."
Henry Hanger's principal clients are clothing makers and retailers and the hotel industry, but the company also sells to the public.
"See," Spitz said, leafing through a stack of paper work on his desk, "this is the sort of clientele we have."
He pulled out an order from Marvin Davis, new owner of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Davis bought 10 dozen hangers for $267.50, or about $2.20 each. Is that, Spitz was asked, a lot for a hanger?
"Goodness no," he said, rifling through the stack again. "Here we sold 23,000 hangers to the Esprit stores. The average manufacturer would do the job for $6,000 or $8,000. We did it for $86,000. But they got what they wanted--a high-class unbreakable hanger."
Another order showed Victoria's Secret, the lingerie chain, buying 9,000 hangers for $56,500, more than $6 each. The hangers are padded and made of hand-sewn silver-colored satin. Other clients include Perry Ellis, Galanos, Calvin Klein, Chloe, Nolan Miller and Somper furs.
Spitz, of Beverly Hills, said his company has seen lean times over the years but that sales recently have been strong. He declined to be more specific, saying: "We do a sizable business, but we're privately owned and don't give out that information. We'll tell you how great we are, but not how much money we make."
He credited the success, in part, to an increased attention by retailers to the appearance of their stores. They want "a look that sets them off from the competition," he said.
Amy Valencia, public relations director of Esprit, agreed: "Esprit believes that no detail is small. Image is very important. Henry Hanger is who we've been dealing with ever since we opened because their hangers are smart looking. We had them designed to go with our store fixtures."
The Esprit hanger comes in four styles, all made of flexible black plastic that is heat-stamped with the store's logo and topped by a metal hook that swivels. At a cost of $3.73 each, the hangers are meant to stay inside the store.
"When we sell a product," Valencia said, "we put it on a simple gray hanger if the person wants one. It's a plain-wrap hanger."
What Keeps Him Busy
Although hangers for men's apparel make up part of Spitz's business--the New York tailor Maurizio has been a client for years--it is women's love of clothes that keeps him busy. He called Beverly Hills a microcosm of the upscale apparel market.
"With the Beverly Hills crowd," Spitz said, "there are, of course, men who have nice clothes. But mostly the men dress like shlumps and the women have more clothes than you would ever, ever believe."
Asked to name his competition in the hanger business, Spitz replied with characteristic humility that he has none. In a sense, this is true.
"He's more in a high-quality end and we're more a volume-oriented company," said Richard Peck, vice president of sales for A & E Products Group. "We're either the biggest in the country or one of the biggest. Last year we had $72 million in sales. That's a billion and a half hangers."