The Material Question

‘Such cases were of almost daily occurrence throughout the existence of this workshop of mine. Always meeting the poor half­way, I did not consider it a sin to profit by the stupidity of those who undeservedly, only by virtue of positions acquired by chance, had become the local intelligentsia, but who on the scale of real intelligence actually stood much lower than the general population under their authority.
‘But the most original and at the same time the most profitable affair turned out to be the corset business.

‘That season, in Paris, the fashion in corsets had sharply changed; after having worn very high corsets fashionable women suddenly had begun to wear quite low ones.

‘This new caprice of fashion soon became known in this region through the fashion magazines, but the corsets themselves were not yet on sale there, owing to the remoteness of these places; consequently many women began to bring me their old corsets to see if it was possible somehow to make them into fashionable ones.

‘And on account of this corset business, I found myself on “Easy Street”. This happened in the following way:

‘Once I needed some whalebone for a certain stout Jewess’s corset which I had to shorten and, incidentally, widen owing to the progressively increasing waist­line of the owner. After long and fruitless search, the assistant in a shop which, like so many others, did not have whalebone in stock, advised me to buy a whole out-of-date corset, since doubtless the proprietor would sell it at almost the price of the whalebone.

‘I then went directly to the proprietor. But while I was bargaining with him, another plan ripened in my mind, and I bought from him not one corset, as I had intended, but all that he had in his shop— sixty-five old­fashioned corsets, at twenty kopeks apiece, instead of the usual price of four or five roubles. After which I hurried off to buy up corsets in all the other shops of Ashkhabad, paying even lower prices because everyone was glad to get rid of their stock of these quite useless articles.

‘I did not stop at this, but the next day sent off the father of the two boys I employed, an old Jew, with instructions to buy up old-fashioned corsets in all the towns along the Central Asiatic Railway, while I myself, with pliers and scissors, set about making fashionable corsets.

‘This was done very simply: the line where the corset had to be cut was traced in pencil, more having to be cut from the top and only a little from the lower part; then along this line the ends of the whalebone were broken off with pliers and the material cut off with scissors. Then the girls who worked with me under the direction of Vitvitskaia ripped off the tapes binding the borders, cut them and sewed them on again around the shortened corset. All that remained to be done was to thread through half of the old laces, and a mignon corset of the latest Paris fashion was ready for sale— and as many as a hundred were made in a day.