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Menjou's tailoring stories from "It Took 9 Tailors"

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

Adolphe Menjou was an actor from the Golden Age of Hollywood.  His book, It Took Nine Tailors (1948) has some great stories and insights about tailoring.  

 

One surprise is how many fittings it took to perfect the flawless suits we associate with photos from the 30s:

 

Quote:
On the screen the slightest flaw in the cut of a suit is exaggerated. Sometimes as many as eight or ten fittings and alterations are necessary to get a satisfactory fit. If I had bought my clothes at a special price, I would never have had the nerve to keep going back for additional fittings. As it was I never hesitated to go back, even a year later, if I was dissatisfied with a suit.

 

He lived something of a fantasy life in terms of all of the leading tailors he used.  

 

Quote:
I made a trip to England for the purpose of getting acquainted with London's great tailors and picking up new ideas in the designing of clothes. In fact, I took my new job so seriously that eventually I had clothes made by most of the great tailors in the world. That was why my wardrobe grew to such tremendous proportions. I tried all the best tailors in New York and in London, too. I had clothes made for me by Scholte, Anderson and Sheppard, Pope and Bradley, Leslie and Roberts, Plaidell and Smith, Birkenshaw and Knights, Poole, Sandon, the famous makers of breeches and riding clothes, and several others. I also tried the Italian tailor Caraceni, Caraterro in Madrid, and Knize of Berlin, as well as Larson and Pile in Paris.
 
Whenever I met a well-dressed man, I'd start talking clothes with him. On one trip to England the Earl of Portarlington told me about the firm of P. and J. Hag- gart in Scotland, who would manufacture tweeds to order. After that I couldn't be happy until I had made a trip to Scotland and had ordered special material for tweed suits.

 

His main tailor was Eddie Schmidt and his cutter Johnny Galupo, who made suits for many stars of the era:

 

Quote:
Although I had dozens of suits made by London and Continental tailors, I found that Eddie Schmidt was as fine a creative tailor as any of them. Most of my experiments in clothing were made with the assistance of the elder Schmidt. One of the first things we tried was taking the buckram out of the lining of coats so that they could be draped with a little full- ness over the chest and the shoulder blades. It took a long time to make this style popular, but now one seldom sees anything but a draped coat. We also narrowed the sleeves of coats and elimi- nated the creases in them. Then we spread the top buttons on double-breasted suits so that the shoulder line was broadened; and we tried a number of other innovations that have become standard in men's clothes.

 

The feeling of wearing new clothes:

 

Quote:
Clothes have always had a wonderful influence on my physical well-being as well as my self-assurance. All I have to do to make me feel like a new and younger man is to order three new suits of clothes. My fur-lined overcoat gave me such a glow of health that very shortly after acquiring it I was able to enjoy the hazards of a Gargantuan studio cocktail party without a single twinge of pain.

 

A drunken fitting:

 

Quote:
The most important man in a tailoring shop is the cutter. He is the one who is responsible for giving the customer a proper fit and for designing clothes that suit him. Although England is famous for its tailors, many of the best cutters are of other nationalities. I have known wonderful cutters who were Swedish, Italian, Spanish, even Greek. But no matter what their nationalities may be, cutters are much alike in many respects. They always seem to have the weight of the world resting on their shoulders, and a good many of them are heavy drinkers. I suppose they are disillusioned artists, embittered by the problem of trying to hide the strange and misplaced contours of the average male figure.
 
The first time I met a cutter who liked the bottle too well was in London. This chap was giving me a fitting, and I suspected that he was a bit under the influence but had no idea just how much he had consumed. "This won't do at all," I said, inspecting myself in the mirror. "I don't like the way the coat hangs." "Seems a bit of orlright to me, sir." "It's too loose," I insisted. "Hi wouldn't sy so, sir." "I tell you it won't do; it fits like Mahatma Gandhi's bed sheet." The cutter heaved a big sigh and said, "Hit 'angs like a bloomin' 'orse blanket, it does." With that he folded up on the floor, out like a light. The fitting was delayed for a few days, but the fellow finally made me a wonderful coat, even if it did have an aura of Scotch whisky about it.

 

Menjou's shoe closet:

 

post #2 of 8
Great post - thanks
post #3 of 8
Great post, CS.

I assume you've read all the fun stories about drunken tailors in Nothing but the Best.
post #4 of 8
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by dieworkwear View Post

Great post, CS.

I assume you've read all the fun stories about drunken tailors in Nothing but the Best.

 

I actually hadn't read Thomas Girtin's book before --  thanks for the tip.  I'll have to find a copy the next I'm at the library.  

post #5 of 8
There are some fun stories in there. The practice seems to continue to this day, where Savile Row tailors are said to spend much of their day in pubs after work.
post #6 of 8
If anyone's interested, you can read the entire book online here:

https://archive.org/stream/ittookninetailor00adol
post #7 of 8
Thread Starter 

Menjou at Anderson and Sheppard:

 

Quote:
 In delving into the habits of the British well-dressed man, I discovered that the old tailoring firms of London think the world revolves around the problem of proper attire for men. One time I went to Anderson and Sheppard to order a dress suit. With great ceremony they brought out a bolt of cloth that they said they reserved only for their very best customers. "What is so special about this bolt?" I inquired. "It is the same piece of material from which His Highness, the Prince, recently had a dress suit made." I couldn't pass up anything like that, so I ordered the suit. I will say it is the most durable dress suit I've ever owned.

 

With the Duke of Windsor's equerry, Fruity Metcalfe (who was the best man at the Duke's wedding):

 

Quote:
Major E. D. Medcalfe, Equerry to the then Prince of Wales, explained to me that the really smart dressers of England thought that one firm of tailors turned out superior trousers while another was better at waistcoats and a third was expert at jackets. I was also told that the Prince would purchase a piece of material and have three different tailor shops work on the three different parts of a suit. This seemed to me to be carrying the art of dressing to a preposterous extreme, even for a Prince. I also heard that he had one bootmaker who made the upper part of his shoes while an- other attached the soles. I never quite believed that story; prob- ably somebody was trying to pull my leg, as they say in England. When I finally met the Prince, I was tempted to inquire if it were true but lacked the nerve.

 

An unusual fitting with Hawes & Curtis:

 

Quote:
In another Zanuck picture, called Cafe Metropole, I wore what I consider my most publicized wardrobe. It consisted of four suits, all of which were tailored for me by Hawes and Curtis in London. I had purchased these suits in the summer of 1936, when Verree and I finally went on our delayed honeymoon. When we reached London, I ordered the four suits and had preliminary fittings. But since we were leaving England before the suits could  be finished, I asked if Mr. Benson, their cutter, could come to Paris with the suits and give me a final fitting there. It was not uncommon at that time for London shops to do this, and they readily agreed.
 
Two weeks later I received a telegram in Paris to the effect that Mr. Benson, with an assistant, would arrive at a certain hour on a certain day to complete the fitting of my clothes. So on that day I waited in my rooms at the Ritz for Mr. Benson to appear. Time went by and no Mr. Benson. Finally the phone rang. It was Benson. "Mr. Menjou, I am down at the Gare St. Lazarre with your clothes in a trunk, but they will not let me in. They won't give me a temporary entry visa."  
 
We went to the office of the chef de gate. We had another voluble exchange of French, but to no avail. Mr. Benson and the clothes could not be allowed to leave the customs office. "You seem to believe, monsieur," I said, "that I am trying to smuggle four suits of clothes into France. But I will prove to you that I am not!" With that I took off my coat and my waistcoat and started to remove my trousers. "What are you doing, Adolphe?" demanded Verree. "I'm going to have my clothes fitted right here," I answered. "Camera! Action! Mr. Benson, open the trunk and go to work." The office of the stationmaster was a glass enclosure open to the waiting rooms of the station. In five minutes we had a tremendous audience. We should have charged admission. Mr. Benson was a bit nonplused. Nothing like this had ever happened to him before— or to me, for that matter. As for Verree, she collapsed in a chair; she thought it was the funniest thing she had ever seen. But we fitted the four suits, then put them back in the trunk, which was sealed and sent back to England. 

 

post #8 of 8
There is a scene in the Shirley Temple adaptation of Damon Runyon's Little Miss Marker where Menjou arrives at a nightclub in a new doublebreasted suit after having endured criticism from just about everyone in the film (even little Shirley Temple) concerning his worn out clothing. After reading the excerpts above, I can only wonder who made that suit - I imagine such a sartorialist would have worn something from his own wardrobe. You can see it in the link below at about the 48:50 mark:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhUOWH1tuLk
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