PUBLISHED: 22:03, 13 September 2015 | UPDATED: 21:44, 14 September 2015
Georges de Paris, a French tailor who emigrated to America, became homeless then launched a stellar career making suits for the US presidents, has died aged 81.
He passed away in a hospice in Arlington, Virginia, on Sunday following a long illness, his friend Dimasito Pereira told AFP. Another friend, Alain Trampoglieri, said De Paris had been diagnosed with a brain tumor two years ago. Despite this, he had continued working at his shop in Washington D.C. until two months ago.
A native of Marseille in southern France, De Paris was a diminutive man who was instantly recognizable for his mane of unruly long hair. He was always dressed impeccably and had a tailor shop just a few blocks from the White House. Among his customers were US presidents Lyndon Johnson, who introduced the suit maker to his wife and daughters, and Ronald Reagan, who shared with him some of his trademark jelly beans. Reagan talked a lot and knew good fabric, De Paris said.
His professional relationship with the presidents continued up until Obama. In a photograph taken at the White House last year, De Paris is seen with his arm around a smiling Obama and a tape measure draped around his shoulders. Several photos of De Paris posing with presidents adorn his shop.
De Paris learned his trade in France and came to the United States when he was 27, with his life savings of $4,000. After he arrived, he lived with an American girlfriend but the relationship fell apart when he refused to marry her. She threw him out, and would not give him back his money, which he had deposited in her bank account, De Paris said in a 2002 interview.
Gerald Ford teased me about my small size by asking me whether I played on an American football team.
He spent six months sleeping in a parking lot near the White House, speaking very little English as he panhandled on the streets. But his luck changed when he was hired as a cutter by a French-Canadian tailor for $70 a week. De Paris rented a small room and saved his money until he could buy a sewing machine and strike out on his own. He became a US citizen in 1969.
A decisive meeting in a restaurant brought De Paris a step closer to the White House.
A conversation with then-representative Otto Passman of Louisiana led the lawmaker to buy suits from De Paris.
Pleased with garments, the congressman introduced him to Johnson, who was vice-president at the time. He continued to enlist the tailor's services when he became president following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963. Of all the presidents De Paris spent hours measuring and fitting under the watchful eyes of Secret Service agents, he said he got on best with Reagan and George W. Bush. They were the 'friendliest and also the most elegant,' he said.
'Reagan spoke a lot. He, like George W., knew how to appreciate the quality of fabrics,' De Paris explained. 'He gave me jellybeans and was always afraid that I would prick him with my needles during the fitting.' Clinton was very demanding, cold and always occupied ... He was unaware of me completely George de Paris, tailor to the presidents At the time of that interview, in 2002, De Paris was charging $3,000 dollars or more for his suits. He was also hired by Richard Nixon, whom he described as ‘cordial’. ‘He always asked for news of my family and whether I liked the United States,' said De Paris. 'As for (Jimmy) Carter, he never said anything.'
Gerald Ford, he said, 'teased me about my small size by asking me whether I played on an American football team'. George H.W. Bush 'was not the most agreeable’ but it was Bill Clinton who was ‘the least pleasant of all’, De Paris claimed. 'Clinton was very demanding, cold and always occupied ... He was unaware of me completely,' De Paris said. Trampoglieri, a member of the board of Radio France who was friends with the tailor for 20 years, told AFP that De Paris did not want anyone to known he was ill. 'During the periods when he could not work, he would go by the shop in the morning and turn on the lights and go back in the evening and turn them off,' he said.