I’ve always admired the art of haberdashery. And for the past few years, I’ve been reading about Martin Greenfield and his old-school approach to menswear. The man has made suits for three U.S. presidents, not to mention Paul Newman, Mike Bloomberg, and Patrick Ewing. You know that period-accurate gangster attire Nucky Thompson and Arnold Rothstein wear on Boardwalk Empire? All Greenfield.
As luck would have it, Greenfield’s factory is only a few blocks from our offices in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. After a few months of mulling it over, I made an appointment to get fitted for some new three-piece duds.
I was expecting his shop to resemble something like a private club; you know: mahogany furniture, exotic taxidermy, and decanters of scotch older than me, a place the actual Arnold Rothstein would feel comfortable holding a meeting.
Wow, was I off the mark. The factory looks like, well, a factory, plain and simple, lined with table after table of expert seamstresses wielding high-end sewing machines, a room brimming with swatches of the world’s finest fabrics, and buzzing florescent lights; not exactly the Century Club.
When I walk in, Greenfield – 85-years old and sharp as ever – is there to greet me. Right away he starts pointing out the problems with the suit I’m wearing. Sure, it’s bespoke, but it’s not up to his standards. I realize immediately that his assessment is dead on.
After measuring me with the help of his head tailor, Joe Genuardi (a young but vastly experienced master) he picks out four materials that would be good to add to my closet. I came in for one suit, but how could I resist? While I look at fabrics, Greenfield, a holocaust survivor, regales me with stories of post-war adventures in the U.S. clothing industry. Names like Brioni and Valentino – the fashion geniuses he came up with – feature heavily. He isn’t name-dropping; he’s just relaying the tales of a life spent playing in the majors. The main difference between him and his big-name contemporaries is that he just never had a taste for publicity.
It’s rare that you meet someone who is the undisputed best as what he does. I could have stayed and listened to him tell stories and impart sartorial wisdom all day. Even though his suits aren’t cheap, he charges a fraction of what his competitors do. The reason is pretty obvious: the bigger names have to pay for Madison Avenue addresses, ad campaigns, and – to be blunt – guys like me.
Greenfield doesn’t need any of that. He makes the best bespoke suit in America. For anyone who takes fine tailoring seriously, his products speak for themselves. To put it another way: he doesn’t need a bunch of guys in suits to get him mainstream media attention or celebrity endorsements – he just needs his actual suits.
The lesson I took away from the experience is that sometimes the best marketing strategy is to make the best possible product, back away, and wait for people to notice. Not everyone can do this. And sometimes, even the best products and companies never catch fire. But as Greenfield showed me, when fame and recognition flow directly from a half-century of hard work and commitment to craft, there’s nothing quite like it.