Meet Johnnie Riley: Spot Remover to the Stars

New York Times
Johnnie Riley: Spot Remover to the Stars
OCT. 31, 2015
Photo Credit Alex Welsh for The New York Times
Interview by PATRICIA R. OLSEN

Johnnie Riley, 63, is a manager at Madame Paulette, in Long Island City, Queens

Q. What is Madame Paulette, and what is your role as a manager?

A. We’re a dry cleaning and restoration company. I’m in charge of the dry cleaning department, and I specialize in leather, suede and fur.

How did you get this job?

I answered a want ad in a New York paper 15 years ago. I had worked at my father’s dry cleaning company and for another dry cleaner after that. During the interview, the owner decided to test me on spot cleaning, and I thought, “Really?” I had a suit on. But I know chemicals and have the skills, and I wasn’t worried. I got the job. I became manager about 10 years ago.

How much of your work is trial and error?

I didn’t get to where I am without making mistakes. But I’ve also had training. In the mid-2000s the company sent me for training in leather and suede to gain more expertise.

What interesting items have you worked on?

I cleaned and restored some of Princess Diana’s gowns before they went to the Smithsonian, and I’ve worked on the clothes of numerous celebrities including Elton John, Oprah, Beyoncé and Bette Midler.

What were your most difficult garments?

One was Lou Gehrig’s jersey. I had one day to clean it before it went to an auction house. Another was Joe DiMaggio’s jersey. The courier who brought it stood next to me the whole time I was cleaning it. I guess he was told not to let it out of his sight.

What’s been a highlight of your career?

I was hired to attend Donald and Melania Trump’s wedding to take care of her gown. I pressed it before the ceremony and then packed it for shipping to our facility for a follow-up photo shoot. I met so many politicians and celebrities that day, I was in my glory.

Has there ever been a spot you couldn’t remove?

When some dyes bleed, they blend with the pigment in the fabric, and there’s no reversing that. Sometimes clients talk to me directly about a stain, and I tell them upfront what the chances of removing it are. After 40 years of doing this work, all I need to do is look at it.

Share A little Divinity

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Verified by MonsterInsights