Tailor's Apprentice Hones Craft in Pennsylvania Shop

Joe Genuiari i i

Joe Genuardi is a tailor's apprentice on Philadelphia's Main Line. He's cutting a suit for Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. Frank Langfitt, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Frank Langfitt, NPR
Joe Genuiari

Joe Genuardi is a tailor's apprentice on Philadelphia's Main Line. He's cutting a suit for Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie.

Frank Langfitt, NPR
Joseph Centofanti i i

Joseph Centofanti has operated his tailor shop in Ardmore, Pa., for 51 years. Frank Langfitt, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Frank Langfitt, NPR
Joseph Centofanti

Joseph Centofanti has operated his tailor shop in Ardmore, Pa., for 51 years.

Frank Langfitt, NPR

Step into Centofanti Custom Tailors on Philadelphia's Main Line and step back in time. In one corner stands a rusting steam press with a pipe held together by duct tape. Next to it is an old machine that makes buttonholes.

Head into the basement and you find Joe Genuardi, 27, using a huge pair of shears to cut a suit from a piece of blended fabric, cashmere and silk.

Genuardi has spent the last year-and-a-half learning to make custom suits by hand. Instead of working off digital blueprints, he drafts the clothes for each customer on life-size pieces of cardstock.

"I'm proud to be at this point where I can make this from scratch," he says of a pair of pants he's making for his girlfriend. "I don't have to buy a pattern, I don't have to go to a store and buy something off the rack."

The man who is teaching him is Joseph Centofanti, 89.

Centofanti learned tailoring as a boy in Italy, and he's been working at his Ardmore, Pa., store for 51 years. Centofanti makes more than 150 pieces of clothing a season. Suits begin at $2,500.

Finding people to help him is tough, Centofanti says. Where does he go?

"They find me," he says.

But there aren't many.

'You're Crazy!'

Genuardi was planning to move to Italy to learn tailoring. But then he heard about Centofanti, and went to the store.

"We talked that morning for at least an hour. He asked me, 'Why, why in God's name do you want to get into this field? You're crazy!'" Genuardi says.

Since then, Centofanti has taught Genuardi how to calculate proportions using an L-shaped metal tailor's square and to draft, cut and sew by hand.

Genuardi studied industrial design in college. He says most of his classmates work for global firms like Ralph Lauren or DKNY.

A Growing Trend

Genuardi may be an anomaly, says Patricia Mears, deputy director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, but she also says there are more people who seem to share his values.

"There's a growing trend amongst young people who not only want to avoid creating things or consuming things on a mass-market level, they are engrossed in the concept of craft, especially something so intimately connected to the human body," Mears says.

Genuardi would like to have his own tailor shop one day.

"It takes a long time to learn, and the more I learn, the more I know it takes longer. And I'm OK with that, because I love what I'm doing," he says.

As for Centofanti — he has no plans to retire.

And he expects his shop to outlive him.

"My daughter is going to take over," Ceontofanti says.

Then his daughter, Helen, chimes in: "And hopefully Joe will stick with me."

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.