Formal Complaint

High-fashion salesman Dick Kovacic knows how to make women look good. So why are national pundits and congressmen trying to make him look bad?

And it was never about dressing rooms anyway.
Men have worked in high fashion for generations--and the higher the fashion, the more men there are to be found.

"If you go to any large department store that carries high-end or top-end clothes, there will always be a man, always," says Dick. "Go to New York. I'm amazed when a woman calls from New York looking for a piece of Armani because most of the salespeople there are men."

Most fashion designers are men; they spend their lives in women's fitting rooms without being considered improper. As one of Dick Kovacic's contemporaries says, "Is Karl Lagerfeld in it to leer and peep at women?"

However, there is some difference of opinion as to how women perceive men in the boutiques.

Ollie McNamara owns the elegant Capriccio boutique at the Borgata in Scottsdale. Dick once worked for her.

"Inevitably you get into a fitting room," she says. "You have to undress women and you have to dress women; it's the name of the game here. You never know what they're wearing underneath. We have people who have complained bitterly because of that, so we have managed to see that those people are not taken care of by the men."

On the other hand, Gustavo Tabares, who once also worked for Capriccio (and whose charming accent suggests the caterer played by Martin Short in the remake of Father of the Bride) says, "I think it's the opposite. I think that women prefer to have a man help them, and I think the reason for that is that basically women dress for men."

Lillie Rubin's contention was that it offers a very special kind of service, and to bring a man into that scenario would be an invasion of privacy.

"There's a privacy issue with every customer and every salesperson," says Dick. "It doesn't matter if the salesperson is a man or a woman.

"I will not do anything a customer is not comfortable with, and I'm only in the fitting room if the customer is dressed to the point where she feels comfortable.

"The dressing-room door is closed and the customer is the one who opens it up. I don't see the problem with that. I mean, the whole idea of selling is not seeing someone in their underwear. I'm not a bra fitter. It's my expertise as a salesperson, my knowledge of the way things look on people and my honesty. I have many people who have been coming back to me for years because of my honesty."

The salesperson who breaches trust does not keep his or her clientele. A peeper would not last long in the business. And so the person more likely to be embarrassed in the fitting room is the salesperson.

"I've never been put in a position where I feel uncomfortable," Dick continues. "It's happened with other people's clients. I've seen people walk out on the floor wearing practically nothing in the middle of a very busy department store, to the point where half the salespeople turned around. And they were all women, because it isn't something women want to see, either."

One of Dick's close friends, on hearing from Dick that he had been depicted coast to coast as the sort of lecher just waiting for such scenes to unfold, quipped, "They certainly haven't met you."

That is, she managed to choke those words out after she had finally finished laughing.

Dick Kovacic grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a Lake Michigan beachside burg known more for bratwurst than boutiques. He studied chemistry and psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee until the middle of his senior year when, for reasons left unsaid, he decided to flee to the Southwest with his longtime girlfriend Wanda.

Like many Midwesterners who don't want to be Midwesterners, he had somehow managed to unlearn the grating flat vowels, hissing s's and engine-racing r's of a Wisss-kaanssan accent, exchanging it for a vaguely mid-Atlantic pronunciation.

Dick's friends and his customers--which are often one and the same--describe him as warm and humorous, though on first, second and third meeting, he seems dauntingly formal. He is very private and became incensed when New Times began to ask his friends about his charmingly quirky character.

One of those friends described him as a man who brings the same lunch, sits in the same spot while eating it, day after day, and then refolds the foil that wrapped his peanut-butter sandwich in the same way before heading back to work.

He doesn't believe in religious holidays except as one more day off, that friend continues, and yet he is going to school at night to get a degree in religious studies, just out of anthropological curiosity.

When Dick first came to Phoenix in 1980, he worked for a record-pressing factory and a consumer-research firm before settling into retail.

"I needed a job very quickly," he offers as explanation.
He was hired for a part-time job at Broadway Southwest in Biltmore Fashion Square, but after his first day at work, he was offered a full-time position. Within three months, he was assistant manager of the luggage department, then shortly after promoted to manager of women's accessories.

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