by gary walther | January 20, 2014 | Style & Beauty
“See this jacket,” Domenico Spano says, holding up a houndstooth-over-window-pane model with bellows pockets and a bi-swing back. “It’s the same one Gable wore in It Happened One Night.”
The jacket is the key to Domenico Spano: bespoke jackets and suits in the style of the ’30s and ’40s that reflect his lifelong infatuation with movies of the era. Those decades were when Hollywood had a huge impact on style both here and abroad, says Spano, who came to this country at age 26. “I always wanted to look like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca,” he admits.
That means strong shoulders (crisply squared and slightly roped), wide lapels, and a slightly nipped-in waist. Trousers are high-rise and pleated, cut full in the leg (no pegged pants here), and fitted with side straps rather than belt loops, a classic ’30s Hollywood motif.
The Breanish tweed jacket is hand-woven
Spano is a stylist—he leaves the sewing to his tailors up on Lexington Avenue—one who is partial to chalk stripes, pinstripes, houndstooth, and windowpane patterns. He adores flannel, which is perfect for his look, and loves to pair a suit with a contrasting vest. In bespoke tradition, he cuts a paper pattern for every suit and jacket. The lapels and collar are hand-sewn, and the shoulder is set and sewn in by hand. His double-breasted models incorporate a very slight drape at the shoulder front “because it looks very elegant.”
Spano also offers custom shirts done with a split yoke to conform to the client’s shoulders, a high armhole, and hand-tailored touches such as perfectly matched stripes and an arrow-shaped gusset of shirting material to close the side seams.
“My style is very masculine, even if there’s pink in the jacket,” he says, no doubt a reason why his suits and shirts appeal to both the financial set and high earning creatives. Spano, like his pieces, has a touch of the dandy in him, which is why he has so often ended up in Bill Cunningham’s “On The Street” column. 12 W. 57th St., Ste. 1002, 212-265-7848
Ward and Nico Landrigan, Verdura president, inspecting archival renderings
The legacy of Fulco di Verdura (1898–1978), whom The New York Times dubbed “America’s crown jeweler” for his aristocratic and film-world clientele (he was also Chanel’s head jewelry designer in the late ’20s and early ’30s), lives on in a 12th-story penthouse showroom across from Bergdorf Goodman. Here’s where you’ll find a reproduction Lily bracelet, based on the original gold cuff with pavé diamond petals designed for Marlene Dietrich, who wore it while recording “Lili Marleen.” There’s also the Curb-Link bracelet, which Verdura thought up for Greta Garbo.
Ward Landrigan, who has owned the rights to the Verdura archives and name since 1985—and who breathed new life into the Verdura legacy—produced both of them in family-owned, Manhattan workshops that make 85 percent of his reproductions and are the same ones that Verdura himself used. (The locations are a state secret.) The shop that made the original Curb-Link bracelet crafted the one in the showroom, and some of the artisans who work on Landrigan’s reproductions knew Verdura in his heyday. How’s that for a couture pedigree?
Vintage sapphire and diamond brooch
Landrigan says Verdura, who held a ducal title in his native Italy, designed 5,000 pieces of jewelry during his career. Since taking over the Verdura archive, Landrigan and his team have reproduced approximately 500 of the items. The technical challenges—the average piece goes back and forth from workshop to Landrigan 10 or 12 times—are formidable, as Verdura left only two-dimensional drawings of his works.
Sarah Jessica Parker is a major Verdura client; she became enamored of his work through Sex and the City. Sofia Coppola likes the cuffs. Princess Diana once borrowed pieces for a Manhattan gala, among them a baguette-and-pavé diamond bracelet of interlocking Cs that Verdura originally made for Marjorie Merriweather Post. At the end of the evening, the princess formed a receiving line of one to thank everyone for coming. Landrigan stood by wondering why so many people were chuckling. It turned out that Diana was telling them that the interlocked Cs stood for Charles and Camilla. 745 Fifth Ave., Ste. 1205, 212-758-3388
Dara Lamb, in her 57th Street showroom and workshop
Dara Lamb is an unlikely bespoke woman’s tailor. She studied multimedia and then engineering, but her real passion has always been fabric—her stepfather was in the upholstery business, so she grew up learning about textiles. Along the way she mastered tailoring and dressmaking, picking up skills from “old, crotchety tailors,” she says.
Courtesy of her engineering training, Lamb today runs a high-tech atelier on 57th Street. Her patterns are based on an average of her clients’ measurements and proportion in a given size, “so we start from a realistic sample.” From there, she cuts a paper pattern for each customer and employs an arsenal of tailoring and sewing techniques to elevate each garment: a floating canvas, which allows the garment to move with the wearer; hand-sewn lapels, armholes and pockets; and princess darts that curve the garment to fit the bust, which she considers her specialty.
The workshop, at the back of the showroom (“farm-to-table,” she says), has two walls of paper patterns. It hums intermittently with sewing machines and is divided into specialists: for example Susa makes jackets, Flora specializes in embroidery and other decorative stitching.
Diana Taylor, Managing Director at Wolfehsohn Fund Management and longtime companion of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is a Dara Lamb client, as is Amy Kule, executive producer of the Macy’s Day Parade, but Lamb’s base is the C-Suite female professional. “A high-level woman can’t look out of date,” says Lamb. “It says her thinking is out-of-date.” On the other hand, in many industries she can’t look trendy either. Bespoke detailing and the classic nature of her designs generally appeal to women “in their late 40s on up,” explains Lamb, but she says she’s starting to see new clients in their late 30s as well.
A woman from the banking industry who was in for a fitting when I visited the Lamb studio explained why she’s a customer, “People look at me and know what I’m wearing is from someplace extraordinary, but they don’t know where. And that’s just what I want.” 37 W. 57th St., Ste. 1001, 212-935-2344
Eye on perfection: Robert Lee Morris inspects a prototype in his workshop
“If you get in here, you’re either a shareholder or a movie star,” Robert Lee Morris tells me in a tiny showroom adjacent to his office-workshop just above Fifth Avenue and 36th Street.
I don’t know about the first group; but as for the second, here’s the red carpet: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Natalie Portman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Victoria Beckham, and Salma Hayek. Okay, perhaps not all of them came here, but you know what I mean. Morris’s office and workshop is in the headquarters of Miriam Haskell, a jewelry holding empire. While Morris doesn’t offer a bespoke line per se, he creates custom pieces for collectors he knows well, among them Cher (a single long earring), Iman (necklace for the CFDA awards), Bianca Jagger (gold link bracelets for her extremely small wrists). Morris is not that fond of bespoke, courtesy of a bad experience with Madonna, who asked him to make—he doesn’t say it, but the word that comes to my mind is “tchotchkes” to give her staff as gifts. “I made them, but....” and then his voice trails off. The prototypes for Morris’ pieces are turned out on the 12th floor (room 512, in fact), a two-room mouse hole with a drill press, grinding wheel, torches, a ventilator that almost precludes conversation, and a dentist’s sweet dream of little grinding wheels.
It’s the one-of-a kind prototypes that actually go on sale in the bespoke vitrine at the back of the Soho boutique—unless you’re a shareholder or a movie star. They are, in effect, the first sketch of a piece that will later be tailored for the mass market. Which to me is a nice retro touch—you’re buying the inspiration, not the calculation. 400 W. Broadway, 212-431-9405
Martin Greenfield’s clients range from movie costume designers to presidents.
The male cast of Boardwalk Empire and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby. Michael Douglas in Wall Street I. Michael Bloomberg and Ray Kelly. Brooks Brothers, Paul Stuart Custom. Oh yes, and the forthcoming Wolf of Wall Street, which will carry a “Clothes by Armani” credit.
What they all have in common is that the menswear is made in a 97-year old East Williamsburg factory that still has gas jets protruding from the walls.
You might say that Martin Greenfield is the Zelig of suitmakers. He oversees a sophisticated production line that can meet TV’s short deadlines—as little as two weeks to make clothes for a Boardwalk Empire episode—while providing the hand-tailoring eye and hand that individual clients want. (Among the tailors who supervise production is Mario Avitable, who started at age 7 in Naples.) “We can make any shoulder required,” says Tod Greenfield, who oversees the floor. “That’s our capability—to make anything.”
To be strict about it, Martin Greenfield is made-to-measure in its high-end suits, working off four basic patterns. It then customizes those models to a degree that approaches bespoke, including the creation of a basted try-on garment for the first fitting, which is then taken apart and altered as needed. Greenfield hand-sews the collar inside and out and hand-sets and sews the shoulder, but dispenses with some bespoke flourishes such as hand-sewn lapels. Other parts of the garment are made on sewing machines, but antique pedal-driven ones allow the operators to stitch deliberately.
That the factory is in East Williamsburg at all is because of Martin Greenfield, who is an American success story. He came to this country with the proverbial $10 in his pocket, started in the factory as a floor-sweeper when it was owned by a clothing maker called GGG Clothes, rose to run and then buy the place. He has personally measured Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Ted Kennedy, and Bill Clinton. He dug in through the bad years after the 2001 blackout, when the factory had to provide security for employees walking to the L train three blocks away, and was instrumental in organizing the business community to dig in, hold out, and lobby the city for help.
When I ask him why he didn’t throw in the towel, he says matter-of-factly in his Czech-accented English, “You’re talking to a Holocaust survivor.” 239 Varet St., Brooklyn, 718-497-5480
Steven Scott Kokin fitting a new hat
The day of the Central Park Conservancy luncheon, also known as the “Hat Luncheon” for the Ascot-like millinery attendees don for the occasion, the Kokin boutique at 73rd and Lexington opens early to accommodate women who risk losing their heads by having left their hat to the last minute. “Some buy two or three and choose the one to wear on the basis of the weather,” says owner Steven Scott Kokin.
Kokin’s success spans an astonishingly broad celebrity and ladies-who-lunch spectrum, from Jennifer Lopez and Queen Latifah, to Barbara Walters and Julia Koch. Despite his clientele, Kokin is refreshingly blasé about his boldfacers. Sharon Stone’s PA, fishing for a free hat for her boss, once reminded him of Stone’s head size. “Oh, it’s much bigger than that,” he retorted. As for Naomi Campbell, who despite her hopping off a yacht in Capri to buy six of his hats, he says, “People should be throwing phones at her.”
Hats on display at the Lexington Avenue store
The Kokin workshop is a central-casting Garment District space—hopelessly crammed with fabrics and trimmings, his five seamstresses almost on top of one another. The handwork is extensive. For a Ribbon Hat, very narrow strands of horsehair are inserted into straw ribbon to give it the body to hold loops and swirls, but then it must be handstitched to make the ribbon look insouciant.
For all Kokin’s success, there’s a puzzling (and quite charming) lack of bravado about him. Of his style, he just says “it’s classics with a twist” and “I like little buttons.” But he’s convincingly brash about his custom skills, routinely dealing with Vreeland-like color requests (“the pink of the Incas”) or creating a hat for a client to match a green vase. No wonder his creations are regular fixtures on Oscar’s and Ralph’s runways. 1028 Lexington Ave., 212-628-1981
Joan Silverman and Paul Moorefield of Oliver Moore Bootmakers. “We bring biomedical diagnoses to the customshoemaking process,” Moorefield says
You would never know that the modest shoe store on Lexington Avenue made the performance shoes for Whitney Houston and a pair of purple alligator laceups for P Diddy. Or that down in the basement there are boxes marked “Rockefeller” (David), and “Sheen.” Or, that this prosaic storefront hides an anachronistic shoemaking workshop.
A 19th-century shoemaker, Moore is long gone, but this shop carries on his custom-shoemaking legacy with a twist: “We bring biomechanical diagnoses to the custom-shoemaking process, which is what separates us from other bespoke shoemakers,” says Jon Silverman, whose mother, Joan, is a current proprietor of the shop along with Paul Moorefield.
That means Oliver Moore is part foot doctor and part John Lobb. Moorefield and Silverman are certified pedorthists (or gait analysts), and they bring a keen eye for foot physiology and stride to the process of shoemaking.
Which is the hard part. Style? No problem. “If you can dream it up, we can do it,” says Silverman, who prefers to make “utility heel-height shoes” for women, but is happy to produce a four-inch model. Moore offers all the classic men’s styles, but if you want an exotic material, they’ll do it.
Hand-carved lasts are evaluated for correct foot mechanics
The process begins with an inkblot map of the client’s foot, in order to see the weight distribution. “The idea is to get the weight where it should be,” says Silverman, which is, of course, the classic basis of custom shoemaking.
The map, along with seven other measurements, is translated into a last, carved by Michael Martin, the Michelangelo of the basement atelier. The upper is stitched and then welded to the sole by hand. It takes three weeks to produce the try-on shoe and two to three further fittings to get it just right. Skip Bronson, head of U.S. Digital Gaming, was so taken with the process that he called Martha Stewart while being measured and suggested she send a crew over right away, which she did. 856 Lexington Ave., 212-288-1525
photography by evan sung