Joe Hallak considers himself a master mixer.
"When you remove ink from leather, you also remove the dye," said the co-owner of the second-generation namesake cleaners in Hackensack and New York. "I can mix the color that matches that leather and put it back on."
He backs this up by waving a before-and-after shot of a white leather purse soiled by a bottle of bright pink nail polish, complete with glass shards embedded in the leather.
"The woman was crying," he said.
And they were tears of joy, at having had her precious purse restored.
Couture cleaners take on high-end garments whose value may be just as much sentimental as financial: A handbag that lost its luster. A stained designer shoe. A second-generation christening dress showing its age.
"The cost of care doesn't always correlate with the cost of the purchase," said Hallak, who runs the business with his brother John-Claude, and his mother and president, Marie-Louise.
Hallak said he does charge according to label. "It's more expensive for a reason. You need the technical know-how to remove a stain."
On a recent afternoon, the suede and leather section of the 12,500-square-foot facility served as a temporary home to just as many handbags as jackets. Chanel, Gucci and Chloe items all awaited their refinishing touches.
The Chanel handbag with the pearl finish? $500.
The Chloe leather jacket? $275.
The Hackensack location services a majority of New York clientele including Manhattan boutiques, and provides restoration work for nationally prominent brands including Tory Burch.
Leonard Rodio of Leonard Anthony Cleaners in Ridgewood deems couture garments "unserviceable" – an industry term — but he still services them. "These are garments that don't have tags that say 'how to be cleaned,' " he said. "But there's nothing I can't clean, and I've cleaned some odd things."
For instance, a pair of $2,000 beige Christian Dior pumps that succumbed to a night on the town.
"The woman was out dancing with her husband and the dye from his shoes came off on the pumps," he said.
The before and after shots on his phone speak volumes: a gray men's jacket marred by wine, each stain ticketed as though it were a crime scene, in one photo, and a good-as-new jacket in the next.
"Red wine, ink and blood are the hardest," he said.
He tackles each stain individually, applying special agents by hand, and then depending on the item, dry cleaning.
If the stain still exists, he repeats the process.
The removal process can take days or weeks, particularly if the item is leather or suede and requires color restoration and refinishing, or if an heirloom has turned yellow from oxidation caused by air exposure.
Sally Nazzaro of Ridgewood can attest to that. She brought Rodio a white linen dress made by her grandmother "some 67 years ago."
"It was brown and in our attic forever," she said.
"My daughter had a baby last year and we were going to baptize her, so I thought the dress made by her great-great-grandmother would be fitting."
Rodio warned Nazzaro that the "dress might fall apart," but it didn't. "It came back perfect," she said. "I cried."
The pristine white dress, punctuated by white bows, shared a rack with other flawlessly finished items: The Carolina Herrera blue silk chiffon dress that had been soiled with dirt from an outdoor wedding. The formerly ink-stained white Chanel 31 Rue Cambon tote.
Because Rodio tends to each garment in an "inch-by-inch" manner, he charges by the hour.
Restoring Nazzaro's dress cost $125, while the Chanel rang in at $175. A pair of suede tan boots, $85.
Rodio also factors into the cost the intensity of the agents he's using.
"Every stain requires a different solution to dissolve it in," he said.
Special cleaning agents are applied to suede and leathers, and then restored using dyes, sprays or paints.
Heirlooms like Nazzaro's dress are treated by hand using oxidizing agents, then preserved in muslin.
172 Johnson Ave., Hackensack
Pricing: By label, and depending on whether refinishing is involved. Examples: Chanel leather purse, $300; Jimmy Choo/Manolo Blahnik shoes, $75 a pair
Stains: According to their website, stains are removed using special solutions that are "worked" into the fibers. The stain chemicals are then rinsed out. Any dye or color removed with the stain is replaced.
Handbags: 90 percent cleaned by hand and refinished if necessary.
Quote: "Clothes aren't ruined at the dry cleaners. Most mistakes are made from pressing. Wear from cleaning is minimal."
Unusual items: The original linen suits from the "Miami Vice" TV series; life-size Pokemon costumes, a baseball jersey worn by Mickey Mantle.
10 Oak St., Ridgewood
Pricing: $40-$45 per hour for specialty items.
Handbags/shoes: Cleaned by hand. Special cleaning agents are applied, and then color is restored using dyes, sprays or paints.
Suede/leather apparel (excluding handbags and shoes): Stains removed first, then dry-cleaned.
Heirloom: Special oxidizing agents are applied. Item is stored in muslin and boxed.
Furs: Cleaned by hand using an oil-based agent, which is sprayed onto the fur and then pushed by an air gun into the leather/suede to soften it.
Unusual item: A supersized stuffed animal "cleaned by hand in a big tub and dried by an air gun."
Quote: "I am like the restaurant chef who is also the owner. I am on top of everything and hands on."
The Stain Makers
The following products may wreak havoc on your wardrobe.
Why: Alcohol and other ingredients found in them can discolor garments.
What to do: Apply fragrances before getting dressed and allow them time to dry.
Why: Long-term storage using the cover from the dry cleaner can suffocate the garment and trap harmful gases and moisture.
What to do: Remove the plastic promptly. Cut a hole in a clean, unbleached white sheet and place over stored garments.
Why: The bleaches can remove the color from your clothes.
What to do: Brush before you dress and after you change at night.
The hair salon
Why: Just like perfume, hair sprays and coloring solutions contain ingredients that can permanently discolor garments.
What to do: Slip into the robe that the salon offers.
DIY home remedies
Why: Avoid hairspray or rubbing alcohol to remove stains, since they can remove the garment's color as well.
What to do: Blot, don't rub stain, and take it to your dry cleaner ASAP.
Dark on light
Why: Dark garments stored near their white counterparts may make their mark. A nitrogen gas can cause dark dyes to vaporize and redeposit on light garments.
What to do: Separate your whites and darks.
National Cleaners Association: nca-i.com