For ten years, Apel worked in a tailor shop located where he grew up in Istanbul, Turkey. As he tells it, a man from the Turkish embassy came to him and told him that New York needed tailors. “It was empty of good tailors, ” Apel stated, “So I came to New York. ” And, since 1995, he has stayed in New York in his little shop on East 27th. Specializing in trousers and jackets, Apel takes pride in his honesty as a tailor who knows what he can do and does it well.
From the outside, there might not seem to be anything particularly remarkable about Joe Eady’s Fashion City. However, when the Manhattan Sideways team ventured inside during the summer of 2017, we met the person who makes the store special: Joe, a warm, wonderful man who told us that he has been on 145th Street for over fifty years. A born and bred Harlemite, Joe was exposed to tailoring at a young age by his mother. Despite not being a seamstress, she was thrifty and knew her way around a sewing machine, and she enlisted Joe as an assistant in operating the foot pedal. After this early introduction to the field, Joe went on to attend Central-Needle Trades High School, where he graduated at the top of his class in men’s tailoring in 1953. His achievement is made even more impressive by the fact that he was the first high school graduate in his family. “College was never an option in my family, ” he went on to say, which is why he sought a job right out of school. Laughing, he told us that he wound up in the Garment District “doing anything but men’s tailoring, ” which prompted him to try for higher education. Joe enrolled in the Hampton Institute in Virginia, where he completed his teacher training in 1958. But before he could make use of his degree, Joe was drafted into the army and did two years of service. When he eventually returned to New York in December of 1960, he said teaching jobs were scarce and he had to pick up odd jobs. “The landlord doesn’t ask you where you got the money from; you have to do whatever it takes to pay the rent, ” he remarked. It was not until 1964 that Joe was able to open a tailoring shop on 145th street. We were fascinated to learn that when he started out, many of his clients were local hustlers who needed custom suits. Custom tailoring, and trousers in particular, was his main enterprise. As a result, the rise in popularity of blue jeans in the ‘70s put a substantial dent in his business. Joe was undeterred, however. “I’ve been thinking outside the box all my life, ” he declared - a mindset that spurred him to add leather and fur to his offered services. Fur refurbishing and restyling was especially in demand at the time, since it was impractical for the average consumer to purchase new or real fur frequently. Joe added, “People are fine with wearing old fashions as long as I can bring them back to life. ” Nowadays, the popularity of fur is dying down due to the efforts of organizations like PETA, but Joe is confident in his ability to keep evolving, simply saying, “I’m an optimistic person. You have to be optimistic in business. ” This philosophy has obviously paid off, as he continues to thrive so many decades later. He has served three generations of customers and has weathered the many historical events that have struck Harlem, including the riots and a slew of break-ins that took place following the assassination of Martin Luther King. Joe insisted that the only secret to his longevity is his devotion to customer service. “This is my neighborhood; you have to have a good reputation. ”As for his plans for the future, he revealed that he eventually hopes to combine his knowledge of teaching and tailoring by opening a training school to instruct others in the basics of his craft. “I’ve got all kinds of crazy plans, ” he finished, cheerfully.
While predominately an online venture, La Rukico Tailors has its headquarters on the east side of 48th, within close proximity of many corporate offices. It was here that I was able to get a behind the scenes look at this impressive father and son operation. The owner, Kelly La Rukico, considers himself "a cloth merchant instead of a tailor. " He does not do the sewing himself but rather "takes measurements, purchases the fabric and arranges for the custom production in Hong Kong. " By ordering the fabrics abroad in bulk, and having the manufacturing done overseas, La Rukico manages to produce less expensive, custom-made quality suits for his clients. "I've never sewn a button in my life! " he shared, "I only stock the fabric and organize the transaction. "The La Rukico family has a long history in the trade. In addition to the son who currently works by his side, Kelly's father and grandfather were both cloth merchants before him. And, although Kelly initially came to America from India in 1968 to study chemistry, he ultimately decided to return to the family trade - only now in Manhattan. "I wanted to be my own boss, " La Rukico said, "I wouldn't have been able to manage my own hours if I had continued with chemistry. "Opening his first shop in the Lexington Hotel in 1972, Kelly La Rukico described the pleasure of being in the industry and neighborhood for so long. "We have many repeat clients coming in, and many of my original customers have started to bring their children to me, hoping I can get them the look they desire. " When I asked him what makes people return year after year for new suits, he laughed and said, "You don't change your doctor, you don't change your dentist, so why should you change your tailor? "
Thirty years ago, Jorge moved from Lima, Peru to begin a new life in the United States. Little did he know that someday he would own such a reputable tailor shop in the heart of Manhattan. Within his small lower level basement, Jorge operates his tailoring business with a client base ranging from celebrities to the average, local New Yorker. Sitting behind his desk with a patient smile, Jorge described what it was like to grow up in Peru and have his father first involve him in the tailoring profession. “My father was a tailor. I grew up with the work since I was a boy learning how to sew. I like to think I am where I am now because of my father, ” he told me. When he decided to move to New York, his father saved enough money to send him, and he began dreaming of owning a business. After working for various tailors, most of which were Italian, he was given the opportunity in 2011 to buy Peppi’s from a retiring tailor. “The opportunity was in front of me so I decided to go for it, ” he said. Jorge specializes in hand finishing and stitching, but any type of alteration is received at Peppi’s Tailor. “I do everything, from sewing on a button to altering a Zenga suit. But I always like to make my changes look exactly like the original. That is the most important thing. ” From dresses to jackets, Jorge works on pieces in his shop or travels to a specific New York location at the request of a client. “I once had to go to Madison Square Garden. I usually don’t know who the client is until I get there, and in this case it was Michael Buble, ” Jorge shared. Whether doing a job in person or completing a rush service in his shop, all of his work is done by hand and given the same detailed attention. “I do the same work for everyone, every job is important. ” He proudly brought out a few jackets and showed me how he alters them, what he plans to do for some, and the stitching needed for a specific repair. In the corner of the room I could see a small curtain, serving as a changing room. Jorge's desk and sewing machine are strategically placed slightly between the curtain and the mirror placed on the other end of the room. This way, Jorge explained, he can work on his alterations while he sees how the work fits his client. Jorge did mention that it "is a very tiring job on the eyes, which not many people understand. It requires a lot of hours and focus. ” As he admiringly gazed at the racks of suits, shirts, pants and dresses lined up next to his sewing machine, he added, “But I love my job, and until my eyes give up on me I will continue doing what I love. ”
I spotted the sign from across the street: a brown banner with a white pair of scissors drawn onto it. Intrigued, I entered the building, climbed up a flight of stairs, and found myself in a small room with a workstation set up with sewing machines. Ewa, the owner of this tiny tailor shop, is a delightful Polish woman who moved to New York when she was twenty-one. Watching Ewa work is a joy; she is a flurry of motion, asks detailed questions, and listens carefully to her client's responses. She explained that she learned to sew from her grandmother, a seamstress whose sewing machine Ewa still keeps in the corner of her store. "I spent a lot of my childhood in her atelier, " Ewa recounted, "and I made my first dress when I was six years old. " Ewa's distinguished clientele includes CNN, CBS and members of the staff at Cosmopolitan Magazine, a testament to her talent. After more than two years of walking the side streets of Manhattan, my friends constantly ask me for recommendations of where to go for particular services. Ewas's Atelier is a tailor store that I would recommend wholeheartedly.