MEN OF THE CLOTH Screens at San Joaquin International Film Festival

It was wonderful to have my San Francisco friends and my niece Donna and sister-in-law Carol present for the special screening of MEN OF THE CLOTH at the San Joaquin International Film Festival in Stockton, California. This jewel of a festival in the Bay Area is organized by Sophoan Sorn, who’s also the director of San Francisco’s Berlin & Beyond Festival. MEN OF THE CLOTH was part of the Cinema Italia program, which included THE GREAT BEAUTY (Italy’s Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language film) and the Isabella Rossellini movie THE ZIGZAG KID. It was quite an honor to be in such fine company! And to top it off, the audience at the Janet Leigh Theater was incredibly appreciative and gracious. Thanks to the super-talented Leslie Asfour of the San Joaquin Delta College Fashion Program for being a sponsor – and to calligrapher and stationer Billy Ola Hutchinson for conducting the Q & A. The fashion design students from Delta College gave me the most amazing gift by taking the festival flyers for the film and creating “couture” paper dresses!


(Photo by Tim Ulmer)

San Joaquin Film Festival

Leslie Asfour of Delta College, Director Vicki Vasilopoulos. Billy Ola Hutchinson, SJIFF director Sophoan Sorn (Photo by Tim Ulmer)



Director Vicki Vasilopoulos (Photo by Tim Ulmer)


A “couture” paper dress from a Delta College fashion student (Photo by Tim Ulmer)


A student creation from Delta College (Photo by Tim Ulmer)

Reflections on MEN OF THE CLOTH’s World Premiere

It was thrilling to have two sold-out screenings for MEN OF THE CLOTH’s World Premiere at the DOC NYC film festival, held at at the IFC Center. It was especially meaningful to share my labor of love with some of my New York friends and to have both my editor, Sandrine Isambert, and the subjects of my film in attendance along with their extended family. DOC NYC senior programmer Basil Tsiokos conducted a fantastic Q & A. The audience reaction to the film was absolutely phenomenal — and overall, it was a truly gratifying experience!

Director Vicki Vasilopoulos

Director Vicki Vasilopoulos



Vicki Vasilopoulos with Master Tailor Nino Corvato

MEN OF THE CLOTH Has World Premiere at DOC NYC Film Festival

I’m genuinely excited to announce that MEN OF THE CLOTH is having its World Premiere at DOC NYC, New York’s documentary festival, on Tuesday November 19th and Thursday November 21st. I’m especially pleased that the screenings will be held at the IFC Center, a venerable art house theater in Greenwich Village.


I hope to announce additional screenings in other cities and to have the film featured in other festivals. Stay tuned.

Japanese Tailors Apprentice in Naples, Italy

Echoing the issues raised in MEN OF THE CLOTH, Tom Downey writes in the Wall Street Journal magazine that:

… most master cutters and tailors in Naples began learning their trade at or before the age of 10—during an era of post-war Italian poverty when child labor was the norm—which means that the top tailors there are, at the youngest, in their sixties. Many more, though, are in their seventies or eighties and long retired. Most wonder openly whether a tailor who starts learning this craft at the age of 18 or 20 can ever attain the technique necessary to become a true master cutter.

And yet I was incredibly inspired by the dedication of Japanese men who’ve apprenticed and trained in Naples, Italy and then return to Japan to craft suits in the signature Neapolitan style.


Noriyuki Ueki wearing one of his own suits
(Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal magazine)


The Making of the Ultimate Bespoke Coat

I’m really looking forward to reading “The Coat Route: Craft, Luxury, and Obsession on The Trail of a $50,000 Coat” by Meg Lukens Noonan, which was just reviewed in The Wall Street Journal and other publications.

The $50,000 coat in question was commissioned by a wine company executive from John Cutler, a fourth generation master bespoke tailor in Sydney, Australia. Ms. Noonan thinks that the plain, boxy coat looks like nothing special to her untrained eye, so she sets out “to determine what makes this unassuming article so valuable” — from the vicuna sourced in the Peruvian Andes to the Florentine silk lining to the Buffalo-horn buttons from the English Midlands.

Echoing a theme in MEN OF THE CLOTH, the WSJ observes that “traditional textile artisans have bravely held their ground against the fast-fashion juggernaut.” But Ms. Noonan is apparently “distressed to learn that many of these crafts are destined for the ashbin of history — despite the current appetite for bespoke products — partly due to a lack of willing heirs and apprentices.” Indeed, Mr. Cutler’s own grown sons “have no interest in taking over” the family business.

The conclusion in the WSJ’s review is quite apt: “The Coat Route compels us to remember that behind every garment is a deep history and a pair of human hands….”

The Challenging Economics of Bespoke Tailoring

From one of my favorite columnists in the New York Times Magazine comes a story that’s close to my heart. Adam Davidson writes about economics and finance and applies his keen eye to the world of bespoke tailoring (or bespoke tailors, to be more precise). In “What’s a $4,000 Suit Worth?” he profiles a young Savile Row-trained tailor named Peter Frew who works our of his Brooklyn apartment and makes a modest income.

Frew explained “how he customizes every aspect of its design — the width of the lapel, the number and size of the pockets — for each client. What makes a bespoke suit unique, he said, is that it’s the result of skills that only a trained hand can perform. Modern technology cannot create anything comparable.” Indeed.

Davidson writes that “it became glaringly obvious why he is not rich. Like a 17th-century craftsman, he has no economy of scale. It takes Frew about 75 hours to make a suit — he averages about two per month — and he has no employees. A large part of his revenue is used to pay off his material expenses, and because his labor is so demanding, he relies on an outside salesman, who requires commissions. (Frew can’t even afford to make a suit for himself…While he hopes to one day hire full-time assistant tailors and rent a Manhattan showroom, he knows it will be a huge challenge to get there.”

In my film MEN OF THE CLOTH, master tailor Nino Corvato has been able to achieve his exalted status with an atelier in Midtown Manhattan not only because he’s an amazing craftsman but because of his prior business experience working for large firms like Brooks Brothers. And of course, one has to build up one’s reputation and have access to capital.

Peter Frew at his apartment in Brooklyn, where he works (photo by Marvin Orellana for The New York Times)

Davidson concludes that “The only way to make money in the perfectionist craftsperson industry, it seems, is to stop being a perfectionist craftsperson.”He marvels that even Savile Row’s Anderson & Sheppard “with a century-old reputation and a profoundly loyal customer base” is not exactly minting money. He then cites the example of Martin Greenfield Clothiers in Brooklyn, which “has maintained high-quality tailoring standards along with modern efficiencies for decades.”

Greenfield’s factory makes custom suits, which are known in the business as made-to-measure. Customers can go to a third-party boutique, like J. Press, to pick a fabric and be measured. The cloth and measurements are then sent to Brooklyn, where patterns are created, fabric cut and then sent through the production line of cutters and tailors. Just as Adam Smith described in “The Wealth of Nations,” there are huge efficiency gains when one complex process is broken down into constituent parts and each worker specializes in one thing.

Despite this more efficient production process Greenfield is not hugely profitable. Davidson says “As the handcrafted stuff continues to cost more, it just keeps getting easier and cheaper to profit from mass-produced branded products.” He mentions (unsurprisingly) that Frew, Anderson & Sheppard, and the owners of Greenfield Clothiers all talked about “how there is now a large difference between what is monetizable and what is actually valuable.” I communicate this idea very subtly in MEN OF THE CLOTH.

Jon Greene, a reader from Brooklyn, NY, astutely observes that:

This piece, deceptively simple at first glance, turns out to have implications far beyond the struggles of the solitary craftsman it profiles, and begs consideration of a range of meaty topics involving the definition of value itself, as well as a whole bunch of political topics like globalization, exploitation of labor, trickle-down theories, skyrocketing real estate (oh, and some very technical discussion of garment construction and men’s fashion!).

And he rightly points out that “to those who chime in that Frew should ‘just raise his prices,’ it’s not that simple. In any market, there is a logic to the way goods are priced. Do the math and you’ll see A&S suits (with all their prestige), go for 4,500–a mere 500 more than Frew’s. The rich might be able to pay more for Frew’s suits, but why would they? The idea that simply raising prices can generate the cachet to drive sales is naive.”

But here’s the line that resonates the most for me : “I’d like to amplify the few voices who questioned why the goal always has to be exponential growth, endless licensing, branding, etc. What’s wrong with making an honest living on a small scale?”

Recording the Score for MEN OF THE CLOTH

Now that we’re essentially done editing MEN OF THE CLOTH (except for a few tweaks here and there) I wanted to post a clip from our music recording session at the John Kilgore studio in Manhattan. It was an all-day event orchestrated and supervised by my composer, Chris Hajian. The musicians were Allison Leyton-Brown on piano, Entcho Todorov on violin, Peter Sachon on cello, and Bernd Schoenhart on guitar. They were all superb and extremely professional. Joette Spinelli, my friend and fellow member of NYWIFT (New York Women in Film) was nice enough to take some video with her small dual-purpose still camera.

Director Vicki Vasilopoulos at John Kilgore Sound & Recording studio

Here’s one take from the opening title sequence of MEN OF THE CLOTH. You can see the film playing on the monitor inside the recording booth on the right side of the frame :

MEN OF THE CLOTH opening title music recording session from Vicki Vasilopoulos on Vimeo.

Celebrating James Bond on Screen

I always get excited when museums unveil new costume exhibits. So I’m quite jazzed that 007, my favorite secret agent, is getting a swarm of attention on both sides of the Atlantic in celebration of the 50th anniversary of his silver screen debut.

The Barbican Centre in London just opened its exhibition on James Bond’s “stylistic flair” (as the Wall Street Journal put it) curated by fashion historian Bronwyn Cosgrave and Academy Award-winning costume designer Lindy Hemming, who worked on five Bond films. Ms. Hemming told the Journal that the early Bond films “established the unmistakable aesthetic – the stylistic template against which all others are measured.” Indeed.

Bond aficionados love to argue over which film has the better wardrobe. I wrote a piece on men’s style in the movies a while back, and I said that “Goldfinger” may be the definitive James Bond film because  Sean Connery is the personification of suave and manages to look impeccable without trying too hard. For style observers, the quintessential Bond scene is when he strips off his wetsuit to reveal a white dinner jacket with a red carnation. Yes, it’s a little campy — but you can’t help but smile.

It’s notable that every bit of Connery’s tailored wardrobe in this 1964 film looks remarkably contemporary: like his office attire of a slim navy suit with a white French-cuff shirt and skinny tie. I’ve always loved the country look that Bond wears while driving his Aston Martin in Switzerland: a tweedy tan jacket with angled flap pockets paired with a knit tie and slash-pocket trousers. According to Ms. Hemming, Savile Row tailor Anthony Sinclair’s “Conduit Cut” was narrower in the body, softer in the shoulder and chest, and featured slimmer trousers. Mr. Sinclair made clothes for both Bond creator Ian Fleming and director Terence Young, and he subsequently gave former bodybuilder Sean Connery — the original Bond — a more sophisticated look. To wit, the silk turn-back cuffs on his tuxedo in the first Bond film, “Dr. No.”

Here’s a Vimeo clip posted by the Barbican in which Italian master tailor Checchino Fonticoli, a character in my film, “Men of the Cloth,” is fitting actor Pierce Brosnan (a former Agent 007) for a Brioni suit.

In a separate exhibit, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art pays homage to the iconic opening title sequences of all twenty-two James Bond films.

Here’s a great clip in which costume designer Jany Temime discusses Daniel Craig’s suits from designer Tom Ford in the upcoming Bond film, “Skyfall.”

Composer Chris Hajian Joins MEN OF THE CLOTH

I’m excited to report that Chris Hajian, a very talented and creative artist in his own right, has signed on to compose the score for MEN OF THE CLOTH.

Chris began his musical education at the age of five, studying trumpet under his father, Edward, a professional musician in New York City. His formal training started at New York’s famed High School of the Performing Arts, and continued at the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied classical composition. He has composed scores for a wide range of feature films, indies and documentaries.

After interviewing several New York-based composers, I fell in love with his work after seeing two of his most recent documentary projects at the Doc NYC festival last fall: First Position is a film about ballet students who compete in the Youth America Grand Prix. It will be released theatrically in May 2012 by IFC/Sundance Selects. Unraveled will have its broadcast premiere on the Showtime Network and a theatrical release in April 2012. It’s a film about attorney Marc Dreier, who committed fraud on a scale that made him second only to Bernie Madoff.

Chris brings a sensitivity to these very different subjects, and his music heightens the dramatic impact of those films. I’m confident that his score for MEN OF THE CLOTH will enhance its cinematic appeal.

Master Tailor Joe Centofanti — In Memoriam

In the wake of the Thanksgiving holiday, I feel incredibly thankful to have known the great master tailor Joseph Centofanti, who died recently at the age of 93. I started filming Joe for MEN OF THE CLOTH in 2004.

Joe was a past president of the Custom Tailors and Designers Association of America where he received numerous design awards over the last 60 years. In 1997 Joe was named the International Master Tailor of the year at the Congreso Mundial de Maestros Sastres (the World Congress of Master Tailors) in Valencia, Spain. He was named one of the Top 10 Custom Tailors in the USA by the magazine Robb Report.

May he rest in peace.


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