Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Save the Endangered European Tailor!

I'm becoming an activist. I've identified a dying breed and I'm looking for ways to save it.

And by "I'm looking for ways" I don't mean me, per se, but I hope someone is doing something and I'll contribute money to the cause. 

Sadly, I believe tailoring is a dying trade. I'm often asked for referrals to tailors for alterations and all my usual standbys are advancing in age and becoming increasingly cranky as a result - and as you can probably figure out, cranky in Russian, Czech or Italian is every bit as bad as cranky in American English, but with far less words you can understand.

If they want to be annoyed with me for asking for a rush, that's one thing, but they lose my business and all my referral business if they are anything less than pleasant to my clients.

This has been happening all too often lately. They are cranky! I can only assume this is what happened to the dinosaurs before they died out. But unlike the dino population, tailors' skills and expertise are still needed in the modern world. It's not time for them to become fossil fuel or be dug up by archaeologists and placed in museums.

I was warned years ago that Old World European tailors - ones for whom creating bespoke clothing was a noble and sometimes highly lucrative career choice back in their homeland - were a rapidly-dying breed and as far as I'm aware, no one has been trained in large enough quantities and with enough skill and knowledge to take their place.

If you've ever been fitted by a really good tailor, you will not only find out what's "wrong" with your body (most European tailors are not only very skilled, but they also don't mince words), but also how to visually camouflage it so it isn't quite so obvious.

In between telling me Vladamir Putin is the head of the Russian mob and that Putin's mob kept burning down his clothing factories "back in Дніпропетровськ" (which translated in my brain as: "Whatever"/"Oh wait, he's speaking Borat. Borat is funny. *nervous laugh*), my tailor told me that I have a "hollow shoulder." A what? That's what I said. It was also diagnosed by two other tailors, so I know he's not crazy. (No idea about the Putin commentary though.) I still don't know quite what it means and I can't see it myself, but a slightly different shoulder pad shape in a jacket is always the prescription.

So maybe that explains Quasimodo.

Overcompensating "hollow shoulder" shoulder pad
Tailoring is an art form, but also about engineering. There's a big difference between that kind of expertise and what you get at someplace like an Alterations Express. Not to say there's anything bad about having a kwik-E-mart alternative when you need simple tailoring done fast, but there is a definite separation in skill level. In our ever-impatient society, there's room for both types. If a simple hem is needed, that's where I send people. If the darts on a blouse need to be taken in or if I need sleeves shortened (all too common for me), I'll only use a tailor.

I'm concerned about what will happen as these highly specialized tailors keep getting older and closing down their little shops. The youngest European tailors I know are in their mid-40's and work for big stores like Nordstrom and clothiers specializing in menswear.

Our clothes will not stop needing expert alterations. So where will we go?

A new (and hopefully less crabby) generation of tailors is needed. I really hope someone is working on that.

And I'll $upport your cause.


Mary Stewart-McGovern said...

Kristen, we use Terriaco Suits & Tailoring in Mentor (across the street from Heinen's.) They're Italian and absolutely fabulous! They're the only place I've used since moving here because they UNDERSTAND clothing and how it should drape, fit, flow, etc. (the way they drooled over Julia's Moschino homecoming dress was hysterical.)

Of course, the guy who runs it is middle age and the tailors are all older than him. I hope they have some younger relatives who want to continue the business because I'd be highly disappointed to see them close.

Kristen Kaleal said...

I've used them before and I agree they're very good. Most of my local clients are on the west side, Chagrin Falls and the heights and that's where I'm seeing a major drought. I'm noticing that even Columbus and Denver are pretty sparse when looking for the quality tailors I seek. With Terriaco's, I'm guessing the tailoring part of the biz ends with the youngest family member. Your great-great-grandkids will be excavating the Mentor Ave site for sewing machine fossils.

RVAfashionista said...

I feel your pain Kristen! Trying to find a great tailor is damn near impossible!