LIC biz has spotless reputation

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John Mahdessian is a handy guy to have around when you’re in a jam — particularly that sticky kind of fruit jam that leaves a nasty purple splotch when it tumbles from a spoon to your lap.

“I am ‘Johnny on the Spot,’” said the Little Neck-bred president of Madame Paulette, a Long Island City company that bills itself “simply the finest custom couture cleaner in the world.”

That’s because Mahdessian is known in the most exclusive circles of society as the guy who can eradicate the toughest stains, a reputation he built by up-scaling his family’s dry-cleaning business from high-class to world-class.

“My dad had a high-end Upper East Side clientele,” Mahdessian said during a recent conversation in the company’s 12th Street headquarters, just south of the Queensboro Bridge. “I have worldwide celebrities, high-profile ambassadors, heads of state, CEOs from all over the world.”

The client list ranges from television news personalities such as Connie Chung and Dan Rather to bridal couturiers Vera Wang and Bob Evans.

The reason they flock to Madame Paulette is simple. “Our cornerstone is attention to detail,” Mahdessian said. “Every little detail has to be scrutinized under a magnifying glass.”

With a flagship location on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Madame Paulette offers custom couture cleaning and restoration in addition to its couture bridal division, which specializes in bringing wedding gowns back to their original splendor. The company also provides an indoor cleaning service that cleans and restores furniture and home interiors. “It could be a lampshade or a teddy bear passed down from generation to generation,” Mahdessian said.

Founded by his great-uncle about a half century ago and later passed down to his father, Madame Paulette came under Mahdessian’s control shortly after he graduated college, when what was to be a brief stint helping the family business turned into a life-changing career move.

“I never worked for my dad a day out of my life until I graduated from college. I said to myself for the first time, ‘Let me help my dad out over the summer,’” said Mahdessian, who was originally slated to start a job with an investment bank. Rather than diving into a high-paying corporate position, however, he decided he would rather take the helm at Madame Paulette so his father could retire comfortably.

“I saw a need to dedicate myself to the family business,” he said.

But Mahdessian did not see himself simply continuing with the status quo.

“If I want to be in this business, I want it to be the best it can be,” he said.

He started off by tromping up and down Madison Avenue, introducing himself and his services to the owners of the boutiques — nearly all of whom said they already had reliable dry cleaners. But he told them to leave his card on file, and sure enough, one day an employee from a boutique rushed to Madame Paulette with a garment that a competitor couldn’t fix.

“I took the stain out and had it in perfect condition before the employee reached the boutique,” said Mahdessian, who even beat the messenger back to the shop. “They thought it was magic — which it is, we do magic here — but it’s a skilled art, a forgotten art.”

The result was a “ripple effect up and down Madison Avenue,” Mahdessian said, and his client list and business have never been the same since. While his father had 12 employees, Mahdessian has 80.

Madame Paulette’s corporate headquarters and factory moved to Long Island City about six years ago, and even Mahdessian himself is now a neighborhood resident, living in the Citylights building on the East River.

“We built it from the ground up, and it has the most state-of-the-art equipment,” Mahdessian said. “It goes way beyond the means of conventional cleaning.”

Now his vision is expanding even further as he begins to market some of the original stain-removal formulas the company devised for consumer use. The professional stain removal kit consists of three “special formulas” and three “rinse formulas” in tiny pouches, with detailed instructions on the order in which they should be applied to various kinds of stains to eradicate them — because after all, a grass stain is fundamentally different from an ink stain.

“You couldn’t pay more for a security blanket on the day of your wedding than to have one of these kits,” Mahdessian said.

But the formula of service that has made Mahdessian the world’s best-known cleaner may be a bit tougher to package.

For him, he said, “It’s a desire, a commitment, a passion — as opposed to a business.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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