A telling moment came when Hankins began to accessorize his samples. First stop was the shoe buyer; Hankins was looking for just the right kind of shoes to complement his clothes (he had the sizzling sketches with him). It was a bad moment because of the bland styles the buyer displayed. Hankins desperately described what he was looking for, and suddenly something seemed to register with the buyer and she said, "Wait right here." She went back to her department storeroom and returned with boxes of fabulous shoes ”sample shoes that had been rejected. This scene was repeated with other buyers as they dug around and found the right accessories for every piece ”all among samples that had been rejected for the stores.
In late June 1992 the set was ready, a smart white-on-white tropical theme from one of the company's visual talents. Music was selected, and volunteer models were recruited, rehearsed, and dressed. Fancy invitations, courtesy of the Penney art department, drew the appointed big shots and the moment was at hand. Gale Duff-Bloom strolled in with a hand mike and said, "Good afternoon and welcome to the introduction of an outstanding talent we are privileged to consider recruiting into the Penney ranks. His goal is to create affordable and exciting fashions for women of limited means, and he has the factory background as well as the design credentials to back that up. So without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, let me now introduce Mr. Anthony Mark Hankins!"
And what were the vibes in the whole room as a spirited Cuban salsa beat blasted from the speakers and Anthony Mark Hankins made his entrance ? Keep in mind that Hankins was many things, among them about as good a couture talent as ever comes down the fashion pike. And, sure, he was young, he was passionate , he was temperamental and a little flaky at times. But he was also a clever self-promoter who appeared to have his head in the clouds but his feet firmly on the ground. He was also a one-of-a-kind personality, affectingly outgoing and energetically upbeat. And he looked great for this moment ” assuming you don't want your potential designer to look boring. He was wearing crisp white tropicals with a dashing scarf, his hair cropped corporately short. He held a hand mike and wore a radiant smile as he sat on a stool beside the runway.
They hated him on sight.
"So!" he exulted.
"Let's let the clothes speak for themselves ! This fashion show is: Movin' forward , girlfriend!" That cued the first model, a tall African-American who entered and began sweeping down the incline in a knockout suit. The show was on ”most of the men in the audience cringing. Anthony had been looking at them , not the model, when he said "girlfriend."
It was an extraordinary show, 50 exciting outfits from dressy to casual with four or five backstage changes for each model. Anthony didn't say much. For the most part he managed to control his excitement and just briefly drop impressively low projected wholesale costs. He also repeated an offer to go one-on-one with any buyer on how to cut costs without losing quality.
He slipped just once. After three especially saucy lookers whisked around on the runway, Anthony exclaimed, "These models look hot in my clothes and they know it! We're turnin' heads today," he said, looking right at his audience of mostly male suits . " Aren't we, girlfriend?!"
There may have been one or two grins out there, but to Gale Duff-Bloom it seemed as though all of the men sat in stony silence with mouths slightly agape. She herself was thrilled with the show, readily seeing the possible impact Anthony could have on the company's merchandising . She was angry that she seemed to be so isolated in this. She looked over at Hankins and thought, "What a trouper." He was keeping up appearances , still as upbeat and radiant as he was at the start, although the reaction of most of the men must have been hurtfully obvious.
The last model swept off the stage and the music buttoned. Hankins didn't leave a hole for applause that he knew would be embarrassingly weak or nonexistent. Immediately he spoke. "Well, now, Gale said that you would have questions, so please shoot."
At first nobody shot. "Gale, do you have a question?" That actually got a little chuckle from the audience, and someone raised his hand and spoke up.
"Anthony, you seem to have a lot of confidence in a market out there for these clothes."
"Because it's so huge, that's why," he responded amiably. He then went on, making the man seem like an idiot. "Just because a working woman like my mother can't afford to shop on Fifth Avenue doesn't mean she doesn't appreciate style. She loves good clothes and she isn't alone. There are millions of women, and not just women of color , who would love to look good if they only could afford it. I can give them clothes they can afford." He waved at the empty runway. "JCPenney can. That's why I'm so confident."
A few more questions came now, and Anthony deftly answered them. Then Don Scaccia stood and said, "Anthony, some people have wondered about the veracity of your rsum ”" He looked around at the other men with a big grin and added, "Not me !" This made everyone laugh . "Do you have any comment about getting all that accomplished at such a young age?"
"I do," said Hankins, prepared for the question. He later told Ackerman that he wondered if Scaccia had a son his age who was only getting out of college or beginning some entry-level job ” wondered if other men in the room were bothered by where he was standing at his age. He smiled as he spoke, but there was an edge to his voice now. "First of all, Penney people have seen me at work." He nodded at the empty runway. "So there is no question that those designs are mine. And that's what today was supposed to be about. But let me take you again through my time after graduating from high school in Elizabeth, New Jersey, five-plus years ago." He proceeded to do so, as thoroughly and quickly as possible, sucking it up and disregarding the continuing insult.