From Mens Clothier to Pimp

One night, in 1997, after recently abandoning a career in luxury menswear, I had a peculiar and thoroughly tantalizing epiphany: the sex work trade and menswear retail had -- and have, at least the way I see it -- a seamy commonality. Both industries are peppered with excitable and emotional men -- men who conduct and close their respective business transactions by examining the features of a product and then feeling the benefits.

I felt I was on to something. It made perfect sense. And I made a decision. I would become a pimp. Not a Cadillac cruising, pheasant feather-wearing pimp; I'd become the manager of a staff of stylish and sexy service providers. A role I had played in retail. The only difference would be that then, my stable was filled with ready-to-wear consultants. Now, I would fill it with escorts.

James (the name of the agency I was to create) would be, like the stores that had employed me, a boutique operation. James would be modeled on the branding, management, operations and merchandising lessons I had learned in luxury apparel retailing. In short, James would offer its well-heeled clientele the attention to detail, quality and professional service they were accustomed to receiving from America's finest menswear stores.

In interview format then, is the story of how, and why, I did it. And why I chose, on a particularly sad evening for our nation, to stop doing it.

You went from luxury apparel to luxury sex. That's quite a career change. Why?

I suppose a combination of money and an interest in sex work. After ten years working in some of the finest menswear boutiques in America, I had an understanding of the emotional triggers that fire men. I figured those same men would appreciate and pay for quality companionship the way they had been trained to appreciate and pay for quality consumables, like luxury clothing and accessories.

Emotional triggers?

The apparel industry, whether at retail or wholesale, is a very passionate and emotional industry. No one needs fashion or luxury apparel, but consumers who buy it regularly, do so, I believe, in large part from a sense that it will make them something, or someone, they feel they're not. It's the same with paid companionship. Men buy companionship from escorts for the same reasons they buy $3,000 suits or $1,200 leather pants at BARNEYS. It's a business transaction which spins on an axis of emotion and ego.

It sounds like James was a 'If you build it they will come,' type of situation.

Men are driven by the illusion of sexuality. How many times have we heard from a salesperson in a store that a collection is "sophisticated", or "sexy", or "hot"? It's the same with paid companionship. New York has $10 street girls, $600 an-hour-call girls and $2000 weekend girls and every type of pay-for-sex in between. And they all advertise themselves the same way: the best. We knew if we presented overwhelming quality, we'd be successful. We never worried about our competition because we believed we were more than just a sex-for-pay service.

But isn't that what prostitution is all about? Sex?

We were an escort agency. We booked our agents with clients for proper and engaging social companionship. If they had sex it was their business. Sex was never our first consideration.

Well, your clients weren't paying for chitchat, were they?

Our fees were based on client request. We hired bilingual, degreed women who, to be hired, had to pass a rather rigorous testing process to determine their social intelligence. Of course they had to meet certain physical requirements as well. James was a value-equals-cost equation. Some things are wildly expensive because their astounding quality truly does equal their absurd price tags. Our clients were already conditioned to believe this from retailers and vendors.

So what types of women did you hire? Where did they come from?

We used one ad and ran it very selectively in business, art and certain trade publications one wouldn't associate with escort trade. But we felt that those women who responded had passed the first test -- they knew whom they were calling for an interview.

So what types of girls became James girls?

We hired on the same criteria that boutiques on Madison Avenue use, except we were more blunt about it, for obvious reasons. The physical characteristics of the employee had to represent and reinforce our brand. Once hired, employees were sent to a salon on Madison Avenue for cuts, color and nails and a dentist on the Upper East Side for bleaching. We didn't permit tattoos, exotic piercing, silicone or collagen injections. An employee had to have a strong and clear speaking voice and each woman was required to be fluent in at least one language other than English.

Okay, the luxury we understand. But how did you find clients? The Robb Report classifieds?

We advertised in places where men weren't looking for this sort of service, but where we knew once they saw our ad, they'd say, "Oh yeah, I forgot! I've been meaning to get one of those!" Our ads worked because we had no competition surrounding us (other escort ads). They also worked because our service seemed far milder and far worthier when introduced to a potential client through an unexpected, but very familiar resource.

What exactly does that mean?

Let me explain it like this. I worked in a certain store, years ago. There was a salesman there who forbade his established clients from seeing certain new items. He'd tell his clients they weren't ready to see -- or God forbid try on -- certain garments because the items in question were just too sophisticated. Now, these clients were wealthy, powerful and influential men. They were used to getting what they wanted. When they wanted it. This salesman used such reverence when describing a garment; the client would insist -- demand -- to buy it, even sight unseen. The items were always special and the client would invariably end up buying whatever it was, a pair of shoes, a tie, a sweater, a suit, and would, of course, rave about it for weeks. Until another new item arrived, worthy of the game.

Sounds like some salesman. That must have been some ad.

It took three weeks to draft and we ran it less than six times. A lot of escort agencies, and stores, run several ads, or types of ads, at a time. They make a lot of money but they run risks of falling short on selection, or quality, or customer service. They become cumbersome or greedy, just like stores.

But more advertising means more business, right?

It depends on the type of business you want to build. Last year in Queens, the NYPD busted two brothels. They were in two two-family homes on the same block. They cleared $2 million in cash annually. It cost fifteen dollars to get in. Each house had eighty girls working on the weekends and forty during the week. They had guys trolling the streets for johns. Those guys on the street were the ads. We advertised in such a way as to seem we were selling something else.

So what type of guys answered the ads? Who were your clients?

Our clients ranged from 23 to 62 years old. We had a small group of young guys, just out of college, working on Wall Street. They had the money to spend on this type of service and had set time into their schedules for hard-core, scheduled intimacy. For them it was dinners, shows, Saturday afternoon shopping and general ego inflation. There were a fair amount of parties and events too with the older guys. Lots of, "This is my niece, Allison, she's visiting from…" I don't go into detail on how we vetted clients, but all were required to meet me first. Meeting clients worked exactly as I envisioned it would. I was their personal shopper. I introduced them to products through a service they were familiar with from retail -- a highly unusual practice for escort work. But working with clients in this way assured I could deliver exactly what they desired, on their terms, while always learning more about them than just their phone number and address. We knew who these guys were, if you get my meaning. And they knew it.

So if the girls were your "collections," as it were, how did you merchandise them?

Well, packaging goes a long way. Men are visually oriented and so we knew much of the sexual component of James had to be based upon perception. Planting a sex seed in a guy's mind can make things easier -- and faster -- for the agent later, if it came to that.

How would you plant the seed?

Image. The ads we used. The way we dressed. We had to get one woman from Japan to understand the importance of thongs, especially with trousers. No panty lines at James. Unless requested. And waxing. You know the old salesman's saying, 'always be closing'? Well, at James, it was 'always be waxing.' We kept a list of props that our women had to travel with on first time appointments. Sheer pantyhose and thigh highs, lipsticks, surgical gloves, lubricant, a tape recorder, condoms, talc, oil, shower cap, quarters, fives and tens for cabs and doormen. No heels over three inches, no white shoes, no cheap lingerie or drugstore perfume, no visible wristwatch, no sequins, no Velcro. We had a lot of "no's". They helped us get "Yes, I'd like to become a client."

What about fees? How does that all work?

Our fees began at $600 and went to $2000. Cash only. Maximum appointments were twelve hours at two grand. Longer appointments were available, but they were rare. Average assignments were $800. It was always a 60/40 split, agents on top. I preferred rich, happy and well-treated employees and a lot of money to disgruntled, untrustworthy employees and a truckload of money. We held our agents to high standards and so we paid them to keep up. We worked those girls. We inspected their toenail polish, bags, cell phone batteries, and hair color. There was no playing around. They hipped to it pretty fast.

So the money really rolled in. That's a lot of dough.

Well, it is, but I was paying for their doctor and dentist visits. We tested the girls for STD's every week and HIV twice a month. I was also paying two security guys, and an office person, plus my rent and phones. The bottom line is all based on the risk one is willing to absorb from overhead, marketing and facilities. Just like in retail. If you have a shop, you can offer employee's commission or salary, or a combination. They all have risks. One has to ask, what is necessary overhead? For many escort agencies there's a great deal of overhead. Fleets of cars and drivers, dozens of phones and expensive screening apparatus, mail box drop rentals, the girls themselves, drugs, pagers, offices, alarms, rent, advertising, it can go on and on. For a retailer it can be the same thing. I didn't want to absorb risk internally or externally. That's why we were small. A small, supremely focused, and extremely well organized agency. We paid well, treated the women like professionals and we all, as a team, reaped reward. Clients used to send us thank you cards!

How many employees did you have?

We had twenty. Fifteen escorts, plus two freelance girls the others didn't know about. Those girls had particular specialties and scenes they would engage in. Two security guys and one office support person.

So what happened? Why did you end it? It sounded like you had all the hatches battened down pretty tight.

Believe it or not, we closed after President Clinton's televised deposition from the Map Room during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He came on TV the evening of his morning's televised deposition to apologize to America, and all I saw in his face and heard in his voice were our clients. Before he was finished speaking, I knew James was finished as an agency. I didn't want to become a home wrecker.

I have no moral difficulty with the idea of paying for companionship. Women pay for it too, from men. It's quite common, actually, just a lot less visible. And it would have been nearly impossible for me, due to insulation, to learn that James (the agency) had ruined a marriage, or a family. But watching Clinton on television that night, while seven of our employees were out working, I knew we couldn't continue. We shut down the service about a week later.

Wow, a pimp with a heart of gold. What happened to your staff?

I only know of one girl who's working at a leg and foot fetish salon in the city. Guys come in and pay to worship at the altar of the female ankle. Those girls were good. Good people and good workers. When they left, they were good and rich. And they learned how to dress well. I have a Brazilian friend who always said one could never be too rich, too tan, or too well dressed.

We didn't know that.

Well, you learn something new every day! I got two out three. Now, it's time to move along.

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