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  • Ruth Walker

Glove machine

They’ve made the inauguration gloves for every First Lady since Jackie Kennedy; for Prince, Michael Jackson, and Miss Piggy. This is the story of love, leather, and style that lasts


Photograph: Charles Dustin Sammann Styling: Yanislei Monzón Calero (stoodstil.com)

Michelle Obama. Madonna. Gaga and Prince. Drag queens. Broadway stars. Miss Piggy.

The client list of Wing + Weft gloves sounds like the best party ever!


Michael Jackson’s famous white glove was created here (when the company was known as LaCrasia Gloves). All the Catwomen in history have had their seductive black talons crafted here (take a bow, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eartha Kitt, Julie Newmar, and Halle Berry).


Prince ordered ten dozen purple lace gloves every two weeks while on his Purple Rain tour (he wore each pair only once).


And every First Lady since Jacqueline Kennedy has had their inauguration gloves made here. (“Except for Melania,” adds owner Katie Sue Nicklos. “We did make her gloves, but she didn't wear them for the inauguration. She wore blue Ralph Lauren gloves that we altered for her instead.”)


Their heyday was in the 1980s, when everyone wanted to dress like Madonna, in her lace fingerless gloves. “It was gloves for parties, and gloves, gloves, gloves,” says Katie Sue.

Debutantes, too, come to Wing + Weft for their elbow-length, white leather creations.

Forty seven years of fashion, and the story begins, appropriately enough, in a town called Gloversville, NY, where immigrants who were skilled glove makers would go to find work. This is where fellow fashion firecrackers Jay Ruckel and LaCrasia Duchein met.


Their heyday was in the 1980s, when everyone wanted to dress like Madonna, in her lace fingerless gloves. “It was gloves for parties, and gloves, gloves, gloves,” says Katie Sue.


But there are no more glove factories in Gloversville. The market took a dip, and gloves fell out of fashion for a long time. Wing + Weft is now the last remaining glove maker in Manhattan, and it has survived when others have not, says Katie Sue, because they found a niche: they became the go-to glove maker for Broadway, TV, and film.


The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, for instance. “Oh my gosh, that was so much fun. They wanted all their gloves hand-sewn, which we don't get the opportunity to do because it takes so much time. But the goods they were bringing us, the suede, it was just so delightful.”


One of the biggest changes has been the rise of the drag community. “It’s a huge deal,” she says. “Sasha Velour is one of our main clients. And that filters to the trans community ...”

They’re in demand for runway collections too (Calvin Klein is a favorite customer), for editorial shoots, and celebrity styling. “So stylists come to us and pull gloves for celebrities who are attending the Oscars, the Met Gala: Kim Kardashian, Rihanna …


“Then we have Broadway, and regional theaters – right now we're making gloves for a show in Australia.”


But one of the biggest changes has been the rise of the drag community. “It’s a huge deal,” she says. “Sasha Velour is one of our main clients. And that filters to the trans community, and people who are really into wearing gloves, but the only satin gloves they can find are in a [teeny tiny] size six.”


The factory is lined with every color of glove – leather, silk, satin, and lace, leopard print, fur-lined, embellished, driving gloves, sequin gloves, fringed gloves. Many can be bought off the shelf, but their specialty is custom-made, hand-pulled leather gloves … and not just for fashion clients, explains Katie Sue. “It's really nice for people who maybe have missing digits. Or we helped this one guy recently who is in the Army, and tactical gloves just don't work for him, because he has a really deep palm and short fingers. It's life or death, so he needs them to fit. And we're helping him, which is fabulous. I love those jobs. The people with disabilities are the most exciting for me.”


Katie Sue’s own background is in theatrical costuming. She and her colleague Sarah Timberlake would only ever use LaCrasia for their shows. So when Jay and LaCrasia were ready to take a step back, the pair stepped up, renaming the company Wing + Weft in 2017. “We’d worked with them for years,” says Katie Sue. “And before that, Sarah's predecessor had been dealing with Jay for years. So everything's very familial, and they do feel, for me, like grandparents.


“LaCrasia's a pistol.” she adds. “She's a pretty amazing woman, just fierce. And, when she was younger, she put herself out there. She was right in the middle of things.”


The couple lived in Carnegie Hall for years, and Jay worked as a secretary to Bill Cunningham. He’s in the process of writing about the legendary photographer (on the shelves, among the files and records, are box after box labelled “Bill Cunningham” … sources for his research).


But for Katie Sue, the aim is clear: to build a sustainable business and preserve a craft, right here in the Garment District. Off-the-peg gloves start at around $40, going up to around $500 for some of the most elaborate designs. Custom gloves come in at between $250 and $350.


“I personally feel like I'm carrying on something that is very rich, and I'm connected to it on a deeper level. We've seen, in this area, craft dying and moving away, so the broader goal is that glove making doesn't get lost here. I want to maintain it until I am ready to pass it on.”


wingweftgloves.com


Photographs: Cid Roberts


This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of W42ST magazine. Stay in touch with W42ST and be first to read stories like this when you join our daily newsletter at w42st.com.



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