By Sarah Preston Gorenstein | October 9, 2012 | Style & Beauty
Master tailor Rocco Giovannangelo in the Oxxford Clothes factory in the West Loop.
Oxxford’s “one-way” lay means better pattern matching.
Rocco Giovannangelo with Fran Ferger, a pattern maker for Oxxford Clothes.
Famous men who have donned Oxxford suits include Clark Gable (on right, pictured with Jack Benny)...
...former President George W. Bush...
...and former Governor Rod Blagojevich.
Arguably among the finest apparel in the world (and the only men’s suits that are completely handmade), Oxxford Clothes has been setting the standard in bespoke menswear for almost 100 years. From the company’s Chicago factory in the West Loop, Oxxford’s master tailor, Rocco Giovannangelo, a 50-year veteran of the garment industry, oversees every last pattern, stitch, and detail.
“We are the best,” says Giovannangelo, 72, in his thick Italian accent. He hails from Sperlonga, Italy, where he started his career as a tailor when he was just five years old. After coming to the States in his early 30s, he first worked for Malcolm Kenneth, then for Ralph Lauren, where he helped create the prestigious Purple Label. Almost 20 years later, in 1994, he brought his craftsmanship to Oxxford. “I’m the last of the true tailors,” he says with more than a hint of bravado.
Always dressed in an impeccably pressed shirt and trousers, today Giovannangelo is the natty heart and soul of the brand. He designs and oversees every item made by Oxxford, upholding the mission originated by its founders, the Weinberg brothers, to “tailoring the clothing by which all others will be judged, in construction and fabrication.” The factory has signs hanging on each of its four floors (the cutting room, coat shop, pant shop, and shipping) that emphasize this dedication to perfection: ALWAYS BE FAITHFUL TO QUALITY.
Some little-known facts about the construction of each custom-made piece: A thousand hand stitches make up each lapel—which means the artisans have complete control over the tension of each stitch, building memory into the fabric with needle and thread. The canvas and undercollar are also hand-sewn and shaped with vertical hand stitches, a labor-intensive process providing a unique fit that prevents the collar from creeping up over time. The reverse hand chain stitch around the armhole provides comfort and give. Each Oxxford coat is finished with a 1/16-inch hand pick stitch on the coat edge, pocket flaps, and welt edges. Even the buttonholes are hand-sewn using only silk thread, and buttons are produced from natural animal horn. Anyone who’s ever donned an Oxxford suit knows how comfortable its trousers are, achieved through the patented “saddle” making up the pockets and inside waistband (four separate pieces are hand-sewn together and attached by hand, allowing the trouser to drape comfortably). One of the pattern methods Oxxford is famous for is the “one-way” lay—all pieces are placed in the same direction, which utilizes more fabric than other cutting methods. But this means better pattern matching and the elimination of shading differences.
The final stage is a gentle hand-pressing: Due to the continual underpressing and shape that is built throughout the creation of an Oxxford garment, a soft hand-pressing is all that’s needed. Most manufacturers still use standard pressing to build shape into their garments. It’s this custom work and attention to detail that has landed Oxxford suits on the famous forms of many of Hollywood’s elite, including Clark Gable. In 2001, when President George W. Bush was in office, he flew Giovannangelo to Texas to make his inaugural tux, which had a special bulletproof lining in the overcoat. Locally, the company’s most notorious client is former Governor Rod Blagojevich, who had a penchant for Oxxford’s bespoke suits. Depending on the fabric chosen, a coat can start at $3,000; an entire suit a minimum of $4,000.
“If customers are happy, I’m happy,” Giovannangelo says with a smile. “We do what the people request.” And those people are mostly recurring customers that the massive “tailor shop” has been catering to for more than 20 years. Ask any of its 130 employees, from veteran cutters to coat shop employees, who look up to Giovannangelo as their mentor. Even the younger generation that’s been brought in to help run the shop—and carry the label into its future—see themselves in the presence of greatness working under Giovannangelo. Keli Roberson, 30, is Oxxford’s merchandiser, who picks the fabrics for each season; Fran Ferger, 26, the pattern maker, works closely with veteran cutters Richard Schulz, Luigi Morrone, and Fernando Gradisca, who’ve been doing this for nearly 40 years. “We’re all here because of Rocco,” says Ferger. “We all have the same passion.” Nothing passes through the shop without Rocco’s seal of approval—he’s in charge of manufacturing, designing, quality control, and training new employees.
“They don’t pay me because I’m beautiful,” Giovannangelo says, laughing. “They pay me because I have skill. I know what I’m doing, and I’m proud of who I am.”
photography by erika dufour; hulton archive/getty images (grant); Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images (bush); Jim Spellman/WireImage (blagojevich)
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