Martin Greenfield is finally putting his name on the label.
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Most days you will find Martin Greenfield, 85, on the floor of his Bushwick, Brooklyn, factory examining garments or even pressing a suit. He’s been here since 1947—he started as a floor boy delivering garments to sewers—and his dedication to creating finely tailored suits hasn’t diminished. Greenfield’s passion and precision have sustained his business through tough times, but more recently his old-world techniques have caught the attention of a new generation of designers, who have sought him out to create their tailored clothing collections.
Known as a behind-the-scenes tailor for decades, making suits for major department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, Greenfield now has fashion lines including Band of Outsiders, Duncan Quinn, and Rag & Bone enlisting his services. And they’re giving him the credit he deserves. It was Scott Sternberg of Band of Outsiders who first insisted the tag inside each jacket read, “Hand-tailored by craftspeople in Martin Greenfield Clothier, a 100-year-old factory in Brooklyn, New York.”
Since then discerning members of the suit-buying public have begun to contact the company directly, and a willing Greenfield meets with clients on most Saturdays to fit them for made-to-measure suits. The growing number of private clients prompted Greenfield and his sons Jay and Tod to launch a signature label this year, Martin Greenfield Heritage. The new line offers a service in which Greenfield or members of his team visit a client’s home or office, armed with a selection of fine English and Italian fabric swatches, to begin the fitting process. Suits start at $2,500.
The octogenarian still wears a handsomely tailored suit to work six days a week, and he never tires of the satisfaction that comes from executing a beautifully made garment. “At the end of the day it is about quality, and that’s why people come to me,” Greenfield says. There’s also the appeal of the authenticity of his factory, which employs 140 skilled tailors, cutters, and sewers, some working on machines that are nearly as old Greenfield himself. “There is always technology to make it faster and cheaper, but that isn’t always better,” says Greenfield, who has found a growing demand for hand-sewn suits as opposed to less-expensive fused suits, in which the seams are secured with fabric glue. The trend toward slimmer, trimmer, lighter clothes is especially important for the made-to-measure business. “With a tighter fit,” he says, “the suit must be well-tailored and handmade so it can move with the man; a mass-produced, fused suit doesn’t move.”
The Martin Greenfield factory bears the signs of a man who isn’t interested in creating a stylish ambience, but rather of someone who is focused solely on his product. Greenfield shares an office with his son, and it’s cluttered with 1970s-style furniture, stacks of papers, and walls lined with framed images of Greenfield with U.S. presidents and dignitaries, including Bill Clinton and Colin Powell. “You can go to a palatial place to order a suit, but it has nothing to do with where the suit is made,” he says.
Greenfield’s no-nonsense perspective originates at least in part from his Polish immigrant roots. When he was a boy, he lost his entire family during World War II at the hands of the Nazis and himself survived Auschwitz because of his ability to sew and mend German uniforms. When he came to the U.S. he worked in every area of this factory, and ultimately purchased the business in the 1970s. He still keeps a framed image of the former owner, his then boss, on the wall, along with his citizenship papers. He says he’s had many offers to sell his business over the years but has always declined. “I know how to make clothes, so what would I do?”
And with a new generation of designers depending on him for his skills and wisdom, he can’t possibly abandon the business now.