Monday, September 01, 2008

Enzo Caruso: A bespoke tailor in Santa Monica

Earlier this year based on a couple of references in an AskAndy thread, I decided to drop by Enzo Caruso on Ocean Park Blvd in Santa Monica. For some reason, I had thought he was an alterations tailor but it turns out Caruso is a bespoke/custom tailor. He has a nice selection of Italian and British fabrics including: John Cooper, Taylor & Stewart, W. Bill, Harrisons, Holland & Sherry, Charles Clayton, Thomas Fisher, Gladson, Scabal, Dormeuil, Zegna, Loro Piana.

Enzo clearly loves fabrics and spent a good half hour or so showing me interesting fabrics: his latest H&S books (Eutopia) which UPS delivered while I was there, a lavender Zegna Cashco 91% cotton/9% cashmere blend that he's going to make up into a pair of trousers for a customer. I'm not sure I'd wear the Zegna Cashco myself but it was a beautiful fabric. He also showed me Zegna's 15 Milmil fabrics and a special H&S cashmere book specifically for scarves and throws.

M. Caruso advertisement c 1920sEnzo Caruso jacket label

Some background is in order. In 1895, the first of his relatives immigrated to US. His great-grand uncle opened a tailor's shop in Santa Monica in the 1920s. He showed me an advertisement for that shop that was reprinted in Fred Basten's book, Santa Monica Bay: Paradise By the Sea (see above). Enzo also worked at Moss Bros in London for a couple of years in the early 1970s. As a child he toiled away at his grandfather's tailoring business in Calabria. At that time, his small town of 20,000 had about 20 tailors - a remarkable number today but not unusual then.

Enzo has been at his current location opposite the Santa Monica Business Park for about 15 years. He's a fifth generation Calabrian tailor. Calabria is located in the deep south of Italy – occupying the apron, so to speak, of the boot shaped Italian peninsula. This makes me wonder if there is a specific Calabrian style of tailoring garments. He said he is the last one in his extended family (including his son) who has any interest in tailoring. He himself looks fairly young to me – in his 50s.

Enzo gives his advice freely – much of which is spot on – regarding fabrics, color and coordination. For instance, he recommended subtle, subdued patterns for me – to fill up my fairly lean frame a bit – emphasizing more of the horizontal than the vertical. He also felt, and I agree, that I would do well in three piece suits.

All the garments are cut, sewn and finished on the premises. As for his cutting style, Enzo is adaptive to the customer's build but his preferred cut seems to have a basis in the natural shoulder. He will vary the amount of shoulder padding depending on the customer's shoulder and preference. In my case (square shoulders), he said he would do minimal padding. For first-time customers, three fittings is the norm. Below is a picture from my third fitting of my first order with Enzo.

Caruso 3rd fitting (July 2008)

For those who require a thorough fitting process, I think Enzo would fit the bill superbly. He also knows his tailoring chops. During one of my early fittings, I wore one of my Neapolitan suits and he examined it with much admiration. For him it was a beautiful example of a deconstructed jacket. He picked up on that theme of a soft, natural shoulder and carried it over to the initial jacket he made for me. The armhole is handsewn and attached with an open seam, which is folded up into both shoulder and sleeve. The time he spent to make the shoulder speaks volumes about Enzo's love of his craft. He's interested in new challenges and spends a couple of days on alterations, the rest on bespoke commissions. Those interested in using Enzo should be comfortable with exercising patience. Although he used to have an assistant, he's now a one-man operation so commissions will take time.

I also learned that he makes a separate muslin/trial suit in certain cases (i.e. with large orders or an especially difficult fit). For example, during my latest visit, he was making a trial topcoat for a customer who placed an order for 4 topcoats. The making of a trial garment is a rare and time consuming service. I was under the impression that there was only one tailor in the US who still makes a trial suit according to one knowledgeable authority. Hmm, make that two tailors who do trial suits in the US.

Two piece suits start around $2,400. I was also quoted $3,500 for a three piece suit in one of the more expensive suitings (the name of which escapes me). Delivery of a first suit order takes at least 8 weeks. His hours are M-F 9:30-6pm and Sat 9:30-1pm. For new customers, he has an interesting payment policy: 1/3 initial deposit, 1/3 at first fitting and 1/3 on final delivery.

All in all, Enzo is the genuine article – a tailor's tailor. As I walked out of his store after my first visit, he ushered me out with some reassuring words, “The best things in life take time to grow. I think the same way with customers.”

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on LA bespoke tailors

Los Angeles bespoke tailors: An updated list

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After a couple of years scouting this city for its tailoring gems, I'm ready to provide a more complete list of LA custom or bespoke tailors. There seem to be three categories of bench tailors in the city of angels:
  • Armenians (Novex, Gary Gagossian and Anto Shirtmakers). Harold is the tailor behind Novex. Gary is the eponymous tailor behind Gary Gagossian. Jack and Ken Sepetjian are the two sons of Anto Sepetjian who now cut and make the shirts at Anto Shirtmakers. Interestingly enough, the common thread among them is that they are all of the Armenian community, which has set up a little tailoring enclave in Beverly Hills.
  • Italians (Giacomo Trabalza, Enzo Caruso, Frank Caruso). I've written up on Trabalza before and despite my recent fear that he had retired he is still in business according to one of his colleagues in the trade. I've visited Enzo Caruso and a write-up is forthcoming. Frank Caruso is apparently Enzo's uncle. I'll need to check out his shop one of these days.
  • Others/clothiers (Jack Taylor). Jack Taylor was the one of the first tailors I visited in Los Angeles. Perhaps I should also add Duncan Quinn and Waraire Boswell to the map, as they appear to be trying to follow Taylor's steps as designers/clothiers to the (new) Hollywood set.

Note this mashup of LA tailors doesn't include a couple of affordable ones outside of Los Angeles County - Johnathan Behr and Ariel Tello - described in an earlier post.

Additional links
- AskAndy thread on Richard Lim / High Society