The next time you admire cleavage framed by a well-cut bodice while your Bloody Mary is topped off, you will know who to thank: Danyel Carbone.
“I like a girl who can dress well,” is one of the first things Carbone tells me, when I sit down with him for sushi and sake at a little place on Sahara near Buffalo. “I like a girl who is into fashion. If she’s not, she’s got to be pretty lame!”
Carbone has designed cocktail server outfits and showgirl costumes for 30 years. Unlike the stereotypical male fashion designer, he’s not gay; unlike the stereotypical fan of cocktail servers and showgirls, he’s not a letch. He still wears his wedding ring, although his wife of 25 years, a retired Folies Bergere showgirl, died two years ago from cancer. Her career and interest in fashion is what got him into the business, back in the '70s.
Casino executives, show producers, wardrobe specialists and food and beverage managers come to Carbone with a vague concept, like sexy black dresses for the female bartenders in the high roller room at the Palms.
Carbone starts to sketch. Using a body outline called a croquis in the fashion industry as a template, he fires up his imagination and gets to work on a storyboard of drawings and fabrics with the client’s idea in mind.
The final result is a colorful, well-executed pattern design. Then he uses a live person, a “fit model,” to work on the “grading” or sizing. This model is not your typical 5’11” 90 pounder. She represents the average woman, “a perfect medium,” Carbone explains, “in bust, waist and ass.”
When he’s done, he gives it back to the client, who often has to take it to their supervisor or to board meetings. The changes and alterations can go back and forth for weeks. Carbone also provides fabric samples, which the client washes—sometimes 20 times—to make sure they hold up.
Carbone, who works from his home and is the CEO (and sole employee) of Entertainment Apparel & Design, sends the sketch design to his partner who owns a factory called Heybaby in L.A., who creates the final product. Even then, changes are often needed, and the modified and re-modified outfit is shipped back and forth from L.A. to Vegas (two business days via UPS) for months.
Usually, the final product ends up entirely different from the original design.
“It’s a pain in the neck,” says Carbone. “You can’t always do what you want because it may not be practical. Maybe something looks good with long sleeves, but they will get in the drink tray.”
We have Carbone’s skills, efforts and patience to thank for the sexy little numbers on the Studio 54 go-go dancers, Crazy Girls dancers, cigarette girls in 11 casinos, servers at Hard Rock, Tropicana, MGM and Treasure Island, Splash dancers at the Riviera, and the now defunct Folies Bergere can-can showgirls (which cost more due to the elaborate appliqués) to name a few.
He estimates that The Palms paid around $75,000 to outfit their army of cocktail servers. The total cost includes quantity, labor, fabric, materials and hardware. A simple dress can cost as little as $50, but every server needs at least three outfits so she can rotate throughout the week.
Dressing nubile women in skin-tight rompers may sound fun, but Carbone says he is “burnt out” and “disillusioned,” mainly because, due to the economy, hotels aren’t willing to pay for his services—even at $50 per dress. Unlike in the golden days of the ‘70s and ‘80s (as he sees them), Carbone has to deal with a hierarchy of hotel employees instead of working with one individual, which complicates, draws out and often prematurely truncates the process.
Sometimes, the food and beverage manager will approve of the design, his superior will approve, but someone will shoot it down in a board meeting and Carbone won’t get paid for all his time, legwork and materials.
“If they don’t like it, it’s all done in vain,” Carbone laments. “Hotels are cheap asses. All my efforts are underappreciated. All the corporate people aren’t working on a one-on-one basis anymore.”
Carbone misses “more glamorous” old Vegas, when showgirls, like his wife, were given royal treatment, Elvis and the Rat Pack were in town, hotel room and restaurant prices were low and everyone got dressed up to go out on the town.
“Glamour has gone out of everything,” Carbone continues ruefully. “Everyone used to get dressed up. Now people go out in shorts and a dirty T-shirt. People don’t dress for anything anymore. People used to put a lot of thought into their clothes. You don’t have to put much thought into a T-shirt. Everything in the olden days was nicer.”
Even the mob? “Yea; those people are all businessmen.”
Carbone cuts quite the romantic figure himself, dressed in a pink collared shirt with a thick head of graying hair and a full, clean-cut mustache.
“I can buy a men’s shirt in downtown L.A. for $12 or $15, but I’d rather pay $100-$150 because I know it’d stand up,” Carbone tells me. “I could dry clean it many times and the buttons wouldn’t fall off and the thread is good quality. If I like it, I want to wear it a long time.
“But people don’t think like that anymore, they think cheap: Why would I custom make it if I could buy a similar shirt at the mall for half the price? It’s a difficult business.”
Carbone pulls several sketches of sexy red-and-black outfits on a voluptuous female croquis drawing with bedroom eyes and hands behind a head of dark, wavy hair out of a manila folder.
“The food and beverage manager at the Sahara came to me and said, ‘We gotta think out of the box, we don’t want anything Arabian or I Dream of Jeanie. We want something really different.’”
He began with a black tube top dress with lingerie garter clips, but a tube top minus straps is hard for buxom servers who have to frequently bend over. So he added straps, plus see-through red mesh from cleavage to stomach.
“You have to worry about the big heifers; some girls were hired 20 years ago and they get wider and wider.” So he changed the dress to a romper and the mesh to red fabric with a zipper down the front.
“It kind of looks like a futuristic streetwalker. But the finished product looks really good,” Carbone says.
But at the last minute the Sahara backed out, claiming they no longer had the budget. At least for now, they’re going to stick with the old Arabian shtick.
I’m saddened. Will they ever need Carbone and his futuristic streetwalker?
Carbone finishes his fourth bottle of sake and downs some pain pills for an aching left arm. “When the economy gets better, I guess.”