By  on May 19, 2008

Despite the tough economy, retailers and manufacturers during market week worked Madison Avenue showrooms by day and did some partying by night.

The week was underscored by several events, beginning with The Komar Co., which celebrated its 100th anniversary on May 5 with a cocktail and dinner party for 450 guests at the New York Public Library. The gala featured legendary entertainer Eartha Kitt, who wowed the audience with the sound of her trademark cat's meow as she belted out cabaret tunes in English, French and Japanese.

"I love lingerie — provided it's very gentle," Kitt, 81, said backstage. "I sleep in pajamas and I don't like synthetics. I like really beautiful, natural pajamas. I've always had a problem because nobody sends me underwear or nightgowns. Nobody really believes I'm an old-fashioned girl. In the old days, we [entertainers] would get beautiful roses and peonies, like when I used to perform at the Persian Room at The Plaza. Now, you're lucky if they send you a petal."

The Komar event was more than a centennial celebration. It was a stage upon which Charlie Komar, president and chief executive officer, gave guests a glimpse of history and how the support of family, along with innovation, has kept the business viable for a century. His grandfather, Charles, was born in Russia in 1886, immigrated to the U.S. at age 14, cleaned factory floors by night and founded the family-owned company on May 1, 1908, at age 22 with a $500 loan from the Free Hebrew Loan Association.

"By 1899, czarist Russia made it unbearable for Jews to remain in the country," said Komar, whose company generates estimated revenues of $125 million. "Imagine you are a 14-year-old boy and you have to flee your native country. Your family only has enough money for you and your sister to travel with your father. The rest of the family is relying on the three of you to succeed in order to bring them to America."

Komar noted that by the time of his grandfather's death in 1957, the firm's volume was $6 million and had earned a profit for 49 years in a row.


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