Chocolates, Champagne, and Some Good Rum

A friend recently posted a short video on Instagram. It was a view over New York City from a balcony at 7 pm, that time at which New Yorkers take to their windows and, for some, their balconies, to applaud the health care providers, the first responders, as well as the unsung who keep us in food and mail and toilet paper.

“I am one of the fortunate few in NY that has the luxury of a balcony where I am able to step out and get some fresh air and sun and practice the ultimate in social distancing. It’s 7 PM, I don’t know what day anymore, but I hear the sound of appreciation for the health care workers, grocery store employees, the mail carriers, the deliverymen, the restaurants, the sanitation workers, the transit workers and countless others maintaining our essential services and, to a large degree, our collective sanity. When this is over, and I am hopefully still employed, I am going to bring a bag of chocolates, champagne, and some good rum to the checkout girls and the produce guys at my local supermarket to thank them for keeping me in water, groceries and Heineken during these tough days. This will pass, and hopefully, we come out the other side having learned to live better and love harder.”

The ultimate in social distancing. Not then, but now.

The paramedics, having been sent to his apartment by a concerned co-worker, convinced him to stay home. He would be more comfortable there than in an Intensive Care Unit. Nearly a month after posting his short video, Frans Nieuwendam, alone in his New York City apartment, died of the coronavirus.

I first met Frans four years ago when he came to visit the Hickey Freeman factory in Rochester, NY. He had just joined us to run our store at Brookfield Place, across from the site of the former World Trade Center in New York. Frans had a long history in the menswear trade, having worked as a stylist, runway show producer, merchandiser, and made-to-measure specialist. Frans was one of the coolest guys I have ever met, impossibly stylish but laid back, gentle, humble and easy. A guy who had lived all over the world, had manned the doors of some of the hippest bars and clubs in the city, and seemed to know everybody.

Frans (right) and me (center), in unintentionally matching raspberry sport coats, at a Hickey Freeman cocktail party.

Aside from his work at our Brookfield, and, later, Madison Avenue stores, Frans was responsible for doing our window displays, especially around trunk show season, and it was during those moments we worked most closely together. I would create special garments for the windows, sometimes shipping old paper patterns from our archives, or doing sketches of garments to be blown up and displayed to announce our promotions of made-to-measure suits. We would hang out and chat about the windows, but also about life and the city and our experiences. He was a reader of this blog, and exceptionally passionate and informed about the menswear trade. But mostly he was just a beautiful soul. Someone who will be greatly missed.

5 Replies to “Chocolates, Champagne, and Some Good Rum

  1. Thank you for this tribute to your friend. There are so many sad and terrible losses in this time. What lovely photos! What a presence–and sartorial presence–he had! May his memory always be a blessing.

  2. Oh Jeffery, This is so incredibly upsetting to learn that this fabulous gentleman died alone.

    What a blessing for you to have such wonderful memories of your amazing colleague and friend.

    Sending virtual hugs to you dear friend.xx

  3. What a hellhole NYC is at present. I was recently driven to tears when a Welsh doctor said on YouTube that although family were unable to visit their family with COVID-19, the doctors and nurses would ensure they would not pass alone. So terribly tragic and sad about your lovely friend. One day this will all be over, but until then, please keep yourself safe. Greetings from Sydney, Aust.

  4. Jeffrey,
    This is a beautiful story of your friend, who yes, I agree was very well dressed, with a very sad ending. Happy for you both that you paths came together for a period of time. So sorry for your loss and the Hickey Freeman family’s loss.

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