Frank J. Mariani

Title: President

Company: Albert G. Mariani Inc.

Born: Philadelphia, 1918

Education: John Marshall High School, Los Angeles

Career Turning Point: Becoming an apprentice to his father, Albert

Hobbies: Collecting classic cars and painting, especially watercolors

Most Admired Person: Ronald Reagan

Personal: Widower, two grown children

Frank Mariani has been called L.A.'s dynamo of custom tailoring. He'll be 80 years old next month, but still shows up at his Beverly Hills shop five days a week to craft some of the finest clothes west of Saville Row. His current list of clients includes some of the wealthiest, best known and most powerful people in town former President Ronald Reagan, Donald Bren of the Irvine Co., Earl Jorgenson of Jorgenson Steel and actors Walter Matthau, Don Rickles and Charlton Heston.

His list of former clients is a who's who of Hollywood, including James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Bob Hope and Humphrey Bogart. There were also darker characters like the notorious gangsters Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel and Mickey Cohen.

Mariani, who makes about 300 suits a year, got his start in custom tailoring in 1938 at Albert G. Mariani Inc., his father's custom tailoring shop in downtown Los Angeles. It had been open since 1926. Frank, who had just graduated high school, started at the bottom, picking up scraps of cloth from the floor. He went onto drafting patterns and then cutting fabric.

Mariani left his father's shop in 1959 and opened his own tailoring shop in Montecito. He returned in 1975 to take over his father's business, which by that time had relocated to Beverly Hills.

Question: What kind of a dresser is President Reagan?

Answer: He has never changed with all the fads. He likes the soft California look, a loose coat and not too much shape, a gentleman's suit. Blues and browns, he doesn't care much for grays. Tans and browns are his best colors and he prefers buttons to zippers. No secret pockets, either. We have been making his clothes since 1936. He likes cuffs on his trousers, and pleats.

Q: What do you think of President Clinton as a dresser?

A: I thought nothing of him in the beginning. He's improved but he should find somebody to give him some life to his clothes and a little style. He looks like a plain, ordinary guy.

Q: What would you do to help him?

A: I would make suits that made him look a little taller and thinner. You can do that with clothes. His suits have no shape or personality. He would feel better and look a lot more impressive.

Q: What is the most outrageous suit you ever made?

A: Herbert W. Armstrong (the evangelist) wanted his initials all over his suit. The "H" was on the jacket, the "W" on the vest and the "A's" were on the trousers (like pinstripes) all the way down.

Q: How much does a more-typical Mariani suit cost?

A: They start at $2,000 and sport coats begin at $1,500. Price can soar to as much as $5,000 to $6,000 for a suit, depending on the fabric.

Q: How long does it take to make a suit?

A: We have three fittings and if we stay at it, three to four weeks, depending on the time the customer has to devote to fittings.

Q: Why buy a custom-made suit?

A: It is a piece of clothing that has been designed to fit the curves and the figure of a man. That means it can last for decades, which makes it a good investment. Also, most men who have achieved success in life have regard for their figure. There is a certain feeling of importance to a man when he is wearing something specifically made for him. And a good custom suit can last a lifetime; it has been murdered with stitches, constant handwork. Off-the-rack suits are run through a machine and they use inferior trimmings. Many use glue to fuse the fabric. Some of these suits are untouched by human hands. The only time someone touches one is when it comes off the machine and he puts it on a hanger. We also only use the finest English wools like Holland and Sherry, Scabal, Drapers.

Q: What makes a good custom tailor?

A: Your personality goes into making a suit the way you use the iron, the needle something of you goes into a garment and they can't take that away from you. Cloth is a funny thing. It stretches, it shrinks, it gives, and we have to know where to stretch and where to shrink it.

Q: Do you like what you do?

A: You have to. If you don't, it will eat you up alive. You have to have infinite patience. It is murder. You have to rip and re-rip garments. You have to think and re-think. I go to bed lots of times with these problems on my mind. A lot of time I wake up solving them. I live five blocks from the shop and I think about a problem while walking to work.

Q: Why are there so few custom tailors these days?

A: All the tailors have passed away or retired and they are not replaced. My son wanted to come into the business, but I said the handwriting is on the wall. I told him go into electronics or television. It takes such a long time to learn how to be a good tailor, as long as a doctor or a lawyer.

Q: What are some of the special requests a lot of men want built into their clothes?

A: Hidden pockets. We used to have quite a few requests for those in the '30s with the gangsters. You know, gun pockets here or there, secret pockets for jewelry and money, pockets behind pockets. They even wanted to put pockets down the fly. It's murder.

Q: Was Bugsy Siegel hard to work with.

A: No, he was rather a simple guy. Tall, handsome. Once in a while he would ask for some extra room (for a gun), but he didn't wear one. He was pretty straightforward.

Q: What was it like making suits for Humphrey Bogart?

A: I would go to his house in Holmby Hills and at 8 a.m. he would come to the door with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other and say, 'Come on in Frank.' He was very loyal.

Q: What does Donald Bren like?

A: He doesn't like anything out of the ordinary. He's a banker type. They want to look sharp but stay in the background and not make a lot of noise.

Q: How is a hand-made suit supposed to fit?

A: A good tailored suit should fit the lines of the body. You should actually feel it. You must get used to that. People who don't feel that tug know that it doesn't fit.

Q: Given the expense of your suits, what happens if your body changes?

A: I leave a ton of material. I can do almost anything. When I make a suit, I have in my mind the changes a body can go through, big or small. I leave all kinds of outlets.

Q: Who makes the best off-the-rack suit?

A: Oxxford. They have been a standard for many years. They mimic the custom tailor more than anybody I know. They use fine trimmings, fine buttons. Zegna, they make a good garment, too. They get into more shape.

Q: What role does a wife play in the selection of a husband's suit?

A: Most men are color blind, I have found. Women like to coordinate colors.

Q: What do most men do wrong when they dress?

A: Brown shoes with a blue suit.

Q: What do you think of the three-button craze in men's suits?

A: It is fine for short people. There is more distance from the floor to the top button. And you can get more shape into a three-button. The two-button is really the Cary Grant style. It gives you a long look with a lot of shape and you show a lot more shirt. President Kennedy liked the two-button look.

Q: What is the biggest threat to the longevity of a custom-made suit?

A: Sending it to the cleaners too often. Don't subject a suit to all that torture for a few little spots. Most spots are water-soluble and warm water will take it out. The cleaning solutions take the oil out of the wool. If you take oil out and you crush the fabric, it will wrinkle and it won't come out. I tell my customers to bring them to me and I'll hand press it.

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