The Fixers

Who says you have to decorate your own Christmas tree? A new class of specialists is ready to tackle every task—big, small, and unheard of.

So little time, so many loose ends. All those boxes of photos are spilling out of the closet—Colorado white-water rafting in 1995, Gobi desert in 1996—and you're afraid you'll book the same vacation if you don't organize them. You've forgotten which clothes are in the closet, and your collection of American presidential biographies has Grover Cleveland- size holes in it. You'd love to upload those 10,000 songs onto your iPod, but there are holiday decorations to put up and presents to buy...and wrap...and deliver. All these details dangle in the back of your brain, separating you from sleep and sanity, keeping you from pursuing the finer things in life. You possess the means but not the method. You need a Fixer.

As Americans increasingly seek organized, art-directed, curated, and quality-controlled lives, the market for fixers has grown more specialized. The ones on the front lines will reduce stress, fix problems, and make life bearable. Behind the scenes, others will help build collections or dismantle them, teaching clients how to have and have not. Still others orchestrate three-hour celebrations and catalogue long-lasting memories. In every case, for prices varying as widely as the tasks, fixers wrap up the minutiae that would tie mere mortals in knots.


MOVING IN STYLE

Robin Domeniconi, a Manhattan publishing executive, could have hired movers to help her relocate from the Flatiron District to her new Chelsea apartment, but she refused to deal with a truckload of bruisers named Manny who might decide to hold her headboard hostage. Instead she turned to Linda Rothschild, the founder and CEO (chief executive organizer) of Cross It Off Your List, then escaped to her East Hampton house. Rothschild tagged every item (including the tea bags), oversaw the move, and unpacked. "I never saw any boxes," says Domeniconi, who arrived at her new apartment to find her cashmere twinsets color-coded in drawers.


CUSTOM CLOSETS

Sidestepping stress at home invariably begins with closets and clothes. Companies such as California Closets and Connecticut's Are You Organized? design and build inner-storage sanctums. Jill Markiewicz of Closet Couture designs and builds them, too, but she also organizes the clothes, itemizes them, suggests which ones to throw out, which pieces to add, and photographs outfits for reference. Markiewicz, whose custom closet designs start at about $10,000, is based in New York but has curated wardrobes everywhere, from Telluride to Palm Beach, Greenwich to Tahiti. Currently she is plowing through a Park Avenue closet full of furs, ski boots, and Christian Lacroix couture. "Right now, we're above 2,200 pieces," she says with a sigh, "and we haven't even started counting the shoes."

If maintaining a closet the size of a house requires too much commitment, Garde Robe will rent you one and never force you to step inside it. The company stores, keeps inventories, cleans, delivers, and picks up single items or entire wardrobes, acting as a sort of satellite closet for frequent travelers to New York and for city residents whose toggery simply runneth over. (They also pack suitcases, alter clothes, and will dispatch a makeup artist and hairdresser upon request.)


PERFECTLY PRESSED

One of the best-kept secrets among the best dressed is George Torpe, the Upper East Side dry cleaner who quietly performs stain-removing miracles on drapes, dresses, and dinner jackets from around the country. (He prefers that his new clients be referred by current ones, but he will make exceptions.) He and his brother Jim pick up and deliver in New York and also ship throughout the United States.

Much of Torpe's business comes from Madison Avenue shops such as Prada, Giorgio Armani, and Yves Saint Laurent, which keep him busy removing lipstick stains from garments that have seen too many trips to the dressing room. He has restored clothes that have survived damage from less careful cleaners as well as from floods and fires— even a shearling coat covered in mildew. ABC's Barbara Walters sent in a heavily beaded black-and-white jacket dappled with red wine and guacamole. "Everybody wants things done yesterday, but this took us two or three weeks," Torpe says. For the $8,500 jacket, the cleaning bill, which he was still calculating, will likely be close to $1,500. So how does he remove ruinous guacamole globs and repair a spoiled shearling without shearing more sheep? His answer: "I can't tell you all my secrets."


THE ANTIQUARIANS

Fixers address the finer—in addition to the minor—aspects of life. Daniella Luxembourg, a London-based art dealer, will track down antiquities and art from any period. "The only thing that matters is the quality," she explains. Luxembourg was a founder of Phillips auction house and has worked with museums, but she is now concentrating on private clients. "They are all passionate," she says, "and many have a broad knowledge of art and how their collections should evolve. Others are terribly interested, even people just starting to collect, and we develop a plan together." Luxembourg speaks six languages but she is a veritable sphinx, too discreet to mention her clients' names or the artists they collect. She's clearly in business for the right reasons. "I am very happy that some of the works are being placed in fantastic collections," she says.

Book collectors are also pleased to know they can turn to Allen and Patricia Ahearn, who unite the right editions with those who absolutely must own them. Authors themselves (Collected Books: The Guide to Values, 2002 Edition, Putnam), the Ahearns also run the Quill & Brush bookstore in Dickerson, Maryland, 20 miles north of Washington, D.C. Their expertise lies in the fab four of modern lit (Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Steinbeck), but one New Jersey customer depends on the couple to enhance his collection of James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, and Seamus Heaney, as well as his cache of signed works by Booker Prize winners. Though the Internet has made book collecting easier and more accessible, knowing a dealer—especially one belonging to the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America (www.abaa.com)—means getting first crack at new volumes. Allen Ahearn recently uncovered a rare copy of A Magician's Tour, written in 1886 by Harry Kellar, the legendary American prestidigitator and friend of Houdini's. Surprisingly few copies have ever come to auction, but Ahearn will consider letting this one vanish for about $2,500.

For comprehensive, near-instantaneous personal collections, Jane Stubbs is the acknowledged head librarian. She has created libraries for weekend houses, designed so that guests can find just the right book when they can't sleep. "That meant lots of short stories, murder mysteries, gardening books, travel, film," she says. Stubbs has also built thematic libraries: A favorite is one in a country house dedicated to revolution—"social, technological, intellectual, and, of course, the Castro type."

Most recently the Mississippi native has been assembling an art-history library for Yves Saint Laurent CEO Pierre Bergé, to match his art collection. Stubbs is determined to forge a "dealer's library with old books, new books, and pamphlets covering mostly Western art—a library that's a living thing." Indeed, nothing distresses her more than "a room full of shiny, shiny leather bindings," and you can hear the hurt in her voice when she tells of a Texas family she heard about that sawed down their books so they would fit on short shelves.


ENTERTAINING EATING

Now that fixers ensure access to fine art and fine bindings, the next logical step is fine food. But David Monn isn't a mere caterer—he is an event architect. He coordinates festivities for 5,000 (as at the opening of Manhattan's Time Warner Center this past February) and handles dinners for 25. He plans movie premiere parties (Mean Girls, The Ladykillers) as well as the practically royal Library Lions benefits in New York. For a party's success, Monn insists, all five senses must be considered. A true concierge of everything from curb to curb, he manages the scents, sights, sound tracks, tastes, and touch of all the elements. "These are people who want precision, refinement, and luxury," says Monn, who—not incidentally—hates lilies and thematic parties.

If sit-down dining or passed hors d'oeuvres aren't on the menu, and if avoiding airline food in first class is the goal, SkyMeals is the no-shop, no-chop option for the BlackBerry set. For travelers leaving from LAX, the company delivers fresh, made-to-order, frozen gel-packed meals within the Los Angeles area for $25 to $30, meaning a customer can enjoy seared ahi tuna while the guy in the next seat nibbles on Rold Golds. (SkyMeals cofounder Richard Katz expects to announce new outposts later this year.)


HOLIDAY MAGICIANS

Like everyone else, fixers find themselves busiest around the holidays, when days shorten but lists of tasks do not. Personal shoppers may be the norm now, but Audrey Cohen takes service to a new level. A former jewelry appraiser at Christie's, Cohen holds the hands of frantic gift givers—many of them Wall Street husbands—who need a necklace that doesn't scream last minute. After a little direction, she'll visit a client's office with several choices. "It's less painful for them that way," she says. Cohen found a $300,000 sapphire ring for one man, but she's just as content to search for less imposing pieces. Linda Rothschild, the personal organizer, will also hunt down hard-to-find items. A client in Toronto wanted to give her husband a golf bag like one in the movie Caddyshack. Several phone calls later, Rothschild found the person who had made it and placed the client's order.

Once you buy the presents, they, of course, need to be wrapped. In Chicago's Lincoln Park, Alphabétique wraps gifts—as small as a diamond ring, as large as a guitar used by U2's Bono—for the cost of materials, plus $3 to $12 per box, depending on size. And people think nothing of dropping off 50 to 75 presents, says co-owner Rachel Caliendo. In New York, Kate's Paperie makes house calls for $200 an hour plus the cost of materials, and the staff will work right up until 6 p.m. on December 24 (if not previously engaged). Kate's will also coordinate the wrapping paper with the tree. And if the tree is still not decorated? There's someone who will do that, too. Every season, Helena Lehane decks the halls for celebrities and CEOs on Fifth and Park avenues in Manhattan and throughout the tristate area. Armed with a selection of vintage ornaments, Lehane proudly creates an "instant legacy," wrestling the right tree into the right place, then trimming it to match the family's taste.


PHOTO FINISHER

Perhaps most important is the fixer who helps commemorate these newly charmed lives. Anne Goldenthal of Album Arts will wade through all the photos you've been gathering since Charlton Heston was a tyke—pictures of that very tree, that very gift, that trip to Cabo San Lucas—and arrange and preserve them for future generations. She might suggest tossing out-of-focus prints, and at times her clients refuse. "Sometimes they want that blurry photo because it represents something they remember that way," she explains. One of Goldenthal's clients had hired a less than idyllic photographer for her Barbados wedding. The big day was long gone and all she could show for it, besides a husband, was an album full of photos she hated. Goldenthal reworked the matting and presentation, producing an album that changed how the client recalls her wedding. "It's such a relief," the bride now says. Clients have cried in fear of what will happen when she carts away huge shopping bags of irreplaceable images. "Then they see the final product and cry," Goldenthal says, "because of what they will finally have in their homes."


THE BARBER OF SEVILLE
(or Anywhere Else You Want to Fly Him)

While many hairstylists are busy pondering the froth on their cappuccinos and trying to decide whether they are hair sculptors, MARTIAL VIVOT (Mar-shee-all Vee-vo) is happy to be a barber. The director of the gentlemen's division of Paul Labrecque Salon and Spa in New York, Vivot is happy to hop on a plane and fly to London, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami—anywhere, really—to help a regular client (and sometimes even friends of clients). "I provide a service," he says, "so whenever and wherever, I am always ready to go. Very busy persons have other things to do than think about how they look."

For a plane ticket, a hotel room, and his day rate, Vivot has blow-dryer, will travel. The son of a French military man and the husband of an event planner for Daniel Boulud, the kickboxing barber likes Aspen in particular, and hopes he'll be beckoned to Asia one day to color, cut, and comb. He looks forward to an era when he doesn't have to check in his scissors at the airport and watch them disappear down the conveyor belt. Otherwise, "I love planes," says Vivot, who makes 12 trips yearly with an attitude that's distinctly uncommon in his profession. "I feel very privileged to serve." 212-988-7816


THEY'RE HERE TO HELP

ORGANIZING LINDA ROTHSCHILD 212-725-0122, www.crossitoffyourlist.com • ANNE GOLDENTHAL Album Arts, 212-889-4998 • GIFT WRAPPING AND TREE TRIMMING ALPHABETIQUE 312-751-2920, www.alphabetiquechicago.com • KATE'S PAPERIE 888-941-9169, www.katespaperie.com • HELENA LEHANE 212-888-7763 • CLOTHES GARDE ROBE www.garderobeonline.com • JILL MARKIEWICZ Closet Couture, 917-209-0714, www.closetcouture.com • GEORGE TORPE 212-734-1342 • COLLECTING DANIELLA LUXEMBOURG ART 44-207/734-1266 • ALLEN AND PATRICIA AHEARN 301-874-3200, www.qbbooks.com • JANE STUBBS 212-219-8274, janestubbs@aol.comFOOD AND ENTERTAINING DAVID MONN 212-242-2009 • SKYMEALS 866-759-6325, www.skymeals.comSHOPPING AUDREY COHEN 212-755-8979