By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
In a Romanian accent, Evi explains her vision: "My inspiration is just to be sexy, elegant, something that is not revealing too much skin. Decent." What she designs depends on what materials she finds and likes, but her collection is a mix of "daily casual, sexy, hats and dresses, nice jackets and skirts, and mostly jeans."
Ah, yes, the bullet-hole jeans. Basically, they're stretch jeans with small holes "bullet holes" in the legs. Each hole is circled by a ring of Swarovski crystals.
"Long story short, I have a daughter," Christopher explains. "She had jeans at the house. I have a friend who owned a gun range. One day, I says, 'I got this crazy idea.' I put the jeans up on the pole there and shot some bullet holes in them. I put up a couple-page website, put some crystals on them. Next thing I know, I've got this jean thing going on." Gambino says that in addition to his brick-and-mortar Deerfield Beach store, boutiques in Plantation, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Japan all sell them. A website, www.gambinojapan.com, advertises a Gambino Jeans store in Tokyo.
A pair of tall, curvy girls is walking around the show wearing them.
"I love them they're extremely comfortable," one says.
"They're gangster," the other says.
The jeans are Christopher Gambino's creation, but everything else is Evi's: sweatsuits with the company's Sicilian dagger logo, tiny denim skirts, a wrap dress. Halter-tops have the word Gambino appliquéd in crystals. A baby line, Bambino Gambino, is in the works. That should come in handy Evi is four months pregnant.
A bodyguard is dispatched backstage to keep an eye on Evi while she dresses her models. The rest of Gambino's friends and family linger near a table, where he is signing books and giving away samples of Gambino brand wine, a new venture. Gambino olive oil is on the way next.
Backstage, Evi waits patiently for her moment. Almost every seat in the audience has been filled. Some 40 photographers are stacked on top of one another at the end of the runway.
The lights go down. A model steps onto the catwalk. She's wearing a fedora, a necktie, suspenders, and a pair of the bullet-hole jeans. Just before she breaks into a strut, she holds her fingers and thumb out in the shape of a gun and aims them up at the ceiling. The sound of gunshots blasts from the speakers POW! POW! POW!
Christopher J. Gambino used to have a friend named Roger Wittenberns. His website, www.rogerwittenberns.com, says Wittenberns is a "dynamic leader, successful entrepreneur, steadfast friend, and beloved father" who "resides with his children in a spectacular homestead in beautiful Fort Lauderdale, Florida." He "enjoys offshore racing in his 47' INXS race boat," and he "enjoys touring the country in his 1999 Lamborghini Diablo." Wittenberns has so much disposable income that in 2002, he spent $27,900 to buy a purple Mustang once owned by Eminem so that it could sit in the garage for four years. It was a gift for his daughter Courtney, then just 12 years old. (Once she got a driver's license, she traded up to a Mercedes and put the Mustang up for sale for $45,000.)
Wittenberns made his fortune by founding the Lady of America gyms, developing nearly 1,000 franchises, and then selling off the company to Miami-based Trivest Partners at a spectacular profit. But the restless gym entrepreneur couldn't stay in retirement long, and in 2006, he bought the Zoo Health Club on Fort Lauderdale Beach. When Wittenberns took over the gym, he inherited the staff that already worked there, including a part-time front-desk clerk named Travis Donald, who was also attending Broward Community College, studying to be a mortician. By customers' accounts, Donald was friendly and polite, even if he didn't look like the typical gym rat. He had a fondness for keeping his sunglasses on during work hours, wearing plaid pants, and dyeing his hair hot pink.
One day, Donald suggested to his boss that, hey, he had helped sell gym memberships and therefore deserved commission; Wittenberns argued that he was just a front-desk person and wasn't entitled to anything beyond his $8-an-hour pay. Donald left and did what any modern-day anti-authoritarian would do: went home and updated his website. On www.illfigure.com, he gave Wittenberns the honor of "Douchebag of the Week."
When Wittenberns saw it, he gave Donald a call. He said, "I'm going to send you something, and I want you to take a good look at it," Donald remembers him saying. Then Wittenberns e-mailed three images: a scan of the cover of Christopher Gambino's book, which shows a smoking gun; the acknowledgments page, on which Wittenberns is named; and the title page, personally autographed "To Roger" by Gambino.
Donald wondered if that was a death threat.
"Of course not," said Wittenberns, who acknowledged sending the e-mail. "Travis is a strange duck. He's a good kid all around, but I said, 'Listen, you can't wear the Army boots and do the whole skinhead routine at the front desk.' He didn't want to conform to health club attire, so we parted ways." Did he deserve a commission? "Commissions are for salespeople who actually sell memberships... not for people who walk up and down the beach and talk to people at bars. He is not owed one dime."