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The Last Tailors -- 1997 Esquire Article

Italian bespoke tailors Sicilian tailors Decline of tailoring Esquire Salvatore Ragusa Vincent Nicolosi

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#1 tailleuse

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Posted 30 April 2015 - 10:29 AM

I did a Google search for tailor Frank Shattuck, who was discussed in this post.  I found a 1997 Esquire article that profiles two Sicilian tailors, Salvatore Ragusa and Vincent Nicolosi. Shattuck sublet a table in the space of one of the tailors.  It's a longish article, but worth reading if you have the time. An excerpt from the article:

 

The customer for whom Mr. Ragusa is cutting the pants is the only person who calls Mr. Ragusa "Sal," who treats Mr. Ragusa as a servant. Not that Mr. Ragusa complains: "He good customer. He buy a lot of suit." Indeed, the relationship between tailor and customer is a complicated one. On the one hand, a tailor needs a customer the way an artist needs a patron. On the other, the customer is a ball breaker. A heartbreaker, ultimately. "I see a lot of crazy guy in this business," Mr. Ragusa says. "One man, he own a lot of buildings in New York. Very rich man. He always buying buildings. But when he come to me, he ask for discount. I say, Why you want a discount? You very rich man. I very poor. You come here because you want a suit. I make a suit. You understand. You pay me. He get mad at this. He want discount. Finally I say, Okay, no more suit for you." It is the last line of many of Mr. Ragusa's stories about his customers and an indication of why he is at the end of the line, as a tailor: "No more suit for you."

 

He has not passed his trade on to his son; he wouldn't, because he doesn't want his son to suffer the indignities he has and because, in his words, "With a stitch, you never get rich." Mr. Ragusa's son is rich, and Mr. Ragusa has made many suits for him. A few years ago, however, Mr. Ragusa's son grew out of his house on Staten Island, just as he had grown out of the suits that Mr. Ragusa made him. "He buy bigger house in New Jersey. But when he move, he have . . . yard sale. He sell my suit. Five, ten dollar. A man come, he buy them all. Because he know the work. Ten, fifteen suits. Now my son, he want me to make him more suit. He beg me. 'C'mon, Dad, make me suit.' No more suit."

 

 

I'm not optimistic, but reports of bespoke or bench tailoring's death seem to be slightly exaggerated.


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Dignity. Always, dignity. (Singin' in the Rain)


#2 dpcoffin

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Posted 30 April 2015 - 11:30 AM

Reminds me of a two-week residential workshop I once was lucky enough to take, with a Master Bootmaker. Most in the class were shoe-repair guys wanting to expand into custom footwear. The Master (Randy Merrell, who gave his name to the Merrell shoe company) spent every morning before we'd move to the machines, lecturing us about how to change our mindset from dime-a-dozen "makers" who were worth next to nothing in the marketplace (hard to imagine a more undervalued, servant-class craftsperson than your average shoe-repair person, eh?), to "problem-solving consultant" who could help people in ways that nobody else could (in this case with foot-fitting issues), and would thus be able to charge like any other consultant that the wealthy were used to paying well for their time.

 

Though they were all doing very well with the making part of the course, it was pretty clear that most in class were having a hard time imagining such a psychological shift, all the more since Randy (who lived in a sort of western-ranch paradise, had sold his industrial company and had a lovely life doing very well-paid all-custom work), was a very charismatic, super-confident, authoritative-type guy, not at all like most of the rest of us, or indeed like many shoe-repair persons I've encountered. It was the most unforgettable aspect of the class for me—along with how physically demanding shoe-making was, and how much specialized gear was required!


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