Dressing for the occasion

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The entrance to the Drive in Central Park from Central Park South. Photo: JH.

Thursday, September 9, 2021. Partly sunny, partly cloudy yesterday in New York with temps hovering around the low 80s and showers forecast but not showing up. It was the first day of school for the two girls schools in my neighborhood, typifying the normal active week in New York.

The Autumn “Social Season” is warming up, with events, dinners and luncheons that will require the dressing up that these past few months has been unnecessary thanks to the summer activities and the pandemic. My “uniform” attending has always been the Navy Blue blazer, shirt and tie, and over the years I’ve had several (that I tend to wear out — beginning at the elbow — and had to replace). That’s where I am now.

Robert Caravaggi wearing a bespoke Paolo Martorano jacket.

I’m not a shopper and never have been. My needs are uniform although because of my lack of interest in shopping, I tend to put it off until The Need can’t wait any longer. However, earlier this year JH spent a few weeks in Palm Beach where one day he went to lunch at Swifty’s in the Colony Hotel where he saw its host and manager Robert Caravaggi. Robert was lunching Paolo Martorano and introduced JH to him.

Paolo had just made a jacket for Robert which he was wearing and raving about. JH was impressed and suggested to me that I meet Paolo and see him about getting a new blazer. A couple of months ago, I went to Paolo’s showroom on West 57th Street.

Paolo, who is a native New Yorker, comes from four generations of tailors on his father’s side. Not surprisingly, his passion for tailored clothing began when he was just a child and it’s easy to see that this is a calling informed by a long family heritage.

When he was in high school, growing up in Bellmore, NY, Paolo acquired a new copy of Dressing the Man by Alan Flusser, which is considered the bible of fashion and the definitive guide to what men need to know to dress well. Flusser, according to Ralph Lauren, is “one of the most knowledgeable experts on men’s fashion.

Hoping to get Flusser to autograph his book, Paolo sent him an email with his request. He got an immediate response from Flusser’s business partner Mark Rykken, who invited the young man to meet him.

Paolo Martorano and Mark Rykken.

Beside himself with glee, Paolo cut his high school class and took the train into Manhattan. There he met with Rykken and eventually Mr. Flusser, and soon thereafter was offered an internship. Four months later, Paolo followed Mark to Paul Stuart and in a short time became the custom shirt director (and Paul Stuart’s second youngest hire ever). During that time, Paul Stuart became the largest high-end custom shirt operation in the US. Some of his customers included Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates Sr. and Jr., Steve Ross, Jerry Bruckheim, as well as a number of well known fashion designers.

From Paul Stuart, Paolo moved to Richemont to become the custom and made-to-measure representative in US for Dunhill. He soon found himself getting requests from customers that he start his own business. “Take a risk and do it while you’re young!” was the message.

Finally, Paolo took their advice and about three years ago started his own firm. And now, at 30 years old, Paolo Martorano has broken into the upper Echelons of bespoke tailoring.

More backstory. When Paolo was 17, he was researching bespoke tailoring, and applying to art colleges. He was anxious to get a handmade garment to see why it was so special. Hearing that thrift stores in the Hamptons had a treasure trove of bespoke garments, he made a trip to Southampton to see what he might find.

On his very first stop, he came upon a simple navy blazer in heavy “Fresco” cloth. Seeing no visible labels of a designer brand, he realized this was exactly what he was looking for. In the interior breast pocket he found the name: “Richard F. Coons 30.7.82” stamped on a tag with the name of a Savile Row tailoring firm along with the initials of the cutter who took the order and made the jacket, and the cloth reference number.

In researching Richard Coons, he learned that the man had recently passed away. He also learned the balance of Coon’s wardrobe had been picked up by a rather famous eBay seller (who he was sure sold every piece at a profit).

He bought the jacket. When he got home, he took it apart and put pieces back together. Then, watching a documentary about the tailor he learned he had been, at one time, been the most sought after — and expensive tailor on Savile Row. Paolo was fascinated about every aspect – wearer, maker and everything associated with it.

The jacket that started Paolo’s bespoke journey …

It was at that lunch at Swifty’s in Palm Beach, when telling Robert about that early obsession with the jacket, he realized that he was talking to someone who actually knew Dick Coons and had seen him wearing that very jacket many times. Eventually Paolo commissioned a jacket for himself in the same cloth as Coon’s (which has been woven by the same mill in England since 1912). It’s now his best selling cloth.

Some of Paolo’s clients share his passion for bespoke clothing and they buy things for how they’re made. But the majority of Paolo’s clients are men who prefer to wear navy and grey suits every day. They want something that is going to fit exactly the same each time.

One customer in Florida, after hearing about their bench made service (that’s when their head cutter himself makes the entire garment from start to finish), ordered 10 suits, 10 jackets, 15 pairs of trousers and a few outerwear pieces.

The client wanted Paolo to make a book of everything he owned; along with a guide on what to wear on what day and where to wear it. So Paolo put together a Palm Beach wardrobe, a midwest wardrobe, a New York wardrobe, a wardrobe for the plane, for his boat, etc. Everything was organized for said client so he did not have to think about it at all.

Hearing about Paolo’s success, and at JH’s advice, I made an appointment to meet Paolo at his showroom studio on West 57th Street, just down from Carnegie Hall. Seeing his work sold me. He already knew what I needed. He showed me a sample of what he could do for me: a dark blue jacket of the same cloth that the Savile Row tailor made for Dick Coons and that Paolo had made for himself. And the fittings began.

Paolo with DPC and his bespoke jacket in the works. To be continued …

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