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From George Clooney to Laura Bell Bundy, she has been seamstress to the stars
By Tom Eblen, columnist Lexington Herald-Leader
Movie stars may be big shots, but they put their pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else. And when they are in Kentucky and need those pants to fit better, they come to see Martha Fain.
In her tiny shop in Garden Springs Shopping Center, Fain has altered George Clooney’s custom-tailored pants and Orlando Bloom’s underwear.
Others she has met and altered clothes for include Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning, Kris Kristofferson, Susan Sarandon, Laura Bell Bundy and more athletes, coaches, Miss Kentuckys and prom queens than she can remember.
Fain opened her shop, Alterations & Sew Much More, nearly 30 years ago. In 2004, her reputation attracted the attention of Steven Spielberg’s company when it came to Lexington to film the movie “Dreamer.” The costume crew kept her busy for days.
“The people picking up the outfits kept saying, ‘The bill’s too low! What you’re charging us $20 for Hollywood would charge us $150,’” she recalled. “So I said, ‘Well, that’s them, that’s not us. We don’t do that here in Kentucky.”
When it was all over, Fain said she got a nice letter from Spielberg, thanking her for not overcharging him. She also got a lot of future business from Universal Studios.
Her second movie was “Elizabethtown,” which was filmed in Versailles and starred Bloom, Sarandon and Kristin Dunst. That was when she altered Bloom’s underwear to give it the look and fit the director wanted on camera.
Fain said she often gets costume business when film companies are working in the region. She is expecting some soon from a movie being shot in Cincinnati.
Fain grew up in Jessamine County, and as a child she learned to make clothes for her dolls, then herself, then her mother. After she got married and had a daughter, she made clothes for her, her dolls and all of her friends’ dolls.
“They had the elite of Barbie doll dresses,” she said. “They had Lady Diana’s wedding dress and Anita Madden’s outfits.”
Fain’s hobby soon became a business, which she runs mostly by herself since her sister, Tootsie Elkins, retired. The shop hasn’t advertised in years because Fain has more work — mainly prom dresses, men’s suits, wedding dresses and special projects — than she can handle.
She has altered dresses for Lexington actress and singer Laura Bell Bundy, whose autographed picture hangs on a wall along with scraps and a label from Clooney’s pants (size 34-29, she said). More pictures and mementoes are off being framed.
Clooney and his parents are nice people, she said. Fain first met father Nick Clooney when she was 12. “I thought he was the dreamiest,” she said. “Can’t you see where George gets his good looks?”
Fain worked closely with Back Street Boys singers Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell and their brides, Kirstin and Leighanne, on their wedding clothes in 2000. She has done many dresses for awards ceremonies and other special occasions.
“It may be plain and they want to jazz it up with something, so you have to be kind of creative,” she said. “You’ve also got to know what’s going to look good on them.”
Despite the celebrity business, most of Fain’s regular customers are just average folks. She also does a lot of work for active-duty soldiers and members of veterans’ honor guards. A few years ago, she stopped charging for it.
“I remembered this one boy standing out front with his unit commander or something who was trying to get him together, and he just looked very young, like a deer in the headlights,” she recalled. “And I thought, why would I charge these kids to put this uniform on to do what they do? I have seen some boys that didn’t make it back and think, I did those clothes.”
Like a barber or beautician, Fain gets to know some regular customers well.
“Everybody has issues and they have to talk to somebody,” she said. “I swore once I was going to put a shingle out there for psychology.”
Customers often bring in clothing they have tried to mend themselves with everything from diaper pins to Gorilla Glue.
“My favorite is duct tape,” she said, rolling her eyes. “You can’t get that stuff off.”
Fewer people are learning to sew these days, and there are fewer alterations shops. When shop owners retire, they often call Fain to see if she wants to buy their machines. She has plenty of spares.
“Everybody wants to learn high-tech jobs and nobody learns how to sew,” she said. “ I wonder what people will do when all of us dinosaurs are gone?”
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