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For the Rosemans, Peddling Clothes Means Making Deals on Wheels

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First come Bonnie and Alan Rose-man. Then come their five leather suitcases crammed with the clothes and jewelry they are peddling to a Park Avenue socialite in her sumptuous apartment. Then comes the mess. Within minutes the woman’s art-filled living room is heaped with coats, sweaters, jackets, skirts and glitzy belts and baubles. Then comes the sales pitch. Bonnie strips to her size-6 black body stocking and glides into a $650 purple suede jacket. “This is new,” Bonnie says, caressing the sleeve. “Feel the quality.” Instead, the client gravitates toward a fringed chamois leather jacket. “You picked out my favorite piece in the collection,” Bonnie raves. “It looks terrific on blondes like you. I just sold one to Daryl Hannah.”

Then comes the sale.

The visit is just another day at the office for the Rosemans. From Manhattan co-ops to Texas ranches and Beverly Hills mansions, the Rosemans sell their pricey wares out of the trunk of a rented luxury car. Catering to those who hate to shop or who lack the time or confidence to pull together a great wardrobe, Bonnie, 33, and Alan, 34, have assembled a list of some 3,000 affluent clients which includes such notables as Leslie Uggams, Stockard Channing, Chita Rivera and Mary (Newhart) Frann. Finding the right fashion formula has always come easily to Bonnie. “From the time I was 5, my mother called me her little girlfriend and never went shopping without me.”

Credit part of their success to knowing how to please the customer. Sometimes they’re asked to show up at 9 a.m., other times at midnight. Not all visits are house calls. They’ve been summoned by star actresses Swoosie Kurtz and Farrah Fawcett for backstage binges on occasion, and have been asked to show their merchandise on tennis courts and in private Palm Beach cabanas. (Farrah bought a $400 pair of metal sculptured earrings.) Whatever the setting, the outcome is usually profitable. “I concentrate on my A-list,” says Bonnie, by which she means “people who really let me do a number on them.”

The Rosemans, who represent 26 little-known designers, are not for the price-conscious. Their items are priced to sell from $95 (for earrings) to $5,000 (for a metal mesh gown). Their average sale is about $1,000, but one memorable three-hour appointment brought in $22,000. The Rosemans are good at their work. Says Linda Durham, a Santa Fe art gallery owner: “The last time I just needed a jacket but ended up buying four jackets and a $600 scarf.”

Bonnie, chatty and persuasive, says she was born to sell: “I’m always promoting something. It’s my nature. If I love something, I have to tell everyone.” During a sales call, while Alan packs, unpacks and handles the paperwork, she tries on the clothes and talks them up. Still, hers is not a hard sell, and on occasion she strikes out. Once, recalls Frann, “they came over and spread everything all over the bed and there wasn’t anything I wanted. I felt terrible, but she said, ‘No problem.’ ” Indeed, regulars occasionally offer meals and lodging to the Rosemans, which they sometimes accept.

Alan and Bonnie had been married for eight years before they went into business together in 1981. Both were born and raised in Philadelphia, and they met while they were students at Temple University. Married shortly after graduation, they moved to California, where he attended law school at Western State University and she sold heavy office equipment. “I realized then that bringing something out to people and demonstrating it in their own atmosphere helps make the sale,” she says. But heavy office machines were clearly not going to be her thing for long, and in 1978, when an artist friend asked her to help sell some watercolors, she quit. Before long Bonnie was arranging showings and racking up sales of handmade clothing and jewelry for other designer friends, and Alan started keeping her books. For two years Bonnie sold her clients’ merchandise to tony New York stores such as Bloomingdale’s and Henri Bendel’s, but she grew disillusioned. “I felt the store buyers weren’t as appreciative as my private clientele,” she says. By 1983 Bonnie decided to bypass retail outlets and sell only to private clients; Alan, unhappy at his law firm, joined his wife full-time.

Their schedule is grueling. In an average year, they are on the road nine months, log about 50,000 miles in the air and often book up to four appointments in one day. So they pamper themselves with luxury hotels and regular visits to masseuses, chiropractors and acupuncturists. “We know when we have to recharge our batteries,” says Alan.

Occasionally they find themselves, of all places, at home. Besides a rented loft in Manhattan, they lease a Miami condo and share a beach house in L.A. They admit, however, that they get along best while traveling. “Whether we like it or not, we both have a good eye on each other,” says Bonnie. With no immediate plans for children, the two seem content with their wandering ways. Bonnie’s dream is to open an exclusive salon and tote clients back and forth on a private jet. “I don’t want to be like any store,” she says. “I want to make my mark.”