By Diana Schwaeble
Tucked inside the Neumann Leather Building is Genuardi’s tailor shop. Joseph Genuardi is known to some by reputation and to others only when they see his work, like a beautifully crafted suit that invites comment. He calls what he does an “applied art business.” The business of building a wardrobe from scratch takes time. It also requires a certain level of success from the buyer. A handmade suit is an investment.
But what better way to bespeak success than through clothing? So much of what we convey to the world is through our appearance. How we look, how we carry ourselves, the clothes we choose, all give messages. Joe realized early the power of clothes that fit.
“My entire young adult life I never had clothes that fit me right,” he says. “When I found the beauty of well-fitting clothing it really had a transformative effect on me, physically and emotionally. You feel the difference. You feel it physically, and you look so much better. It really does have an impact on a person. It impacts the way they carry themselves, the way other people see them. In the grand scheme of things, it is a small part of life, but I think it is an important part. I really love when guys discover that.”
Joe acknowledges that he is a small guy, which may have something to do with his memory of ill-fitting clothes. In person, Joe doesn’t come across as small. Perhaps it’s the assured way he moves or the cut of his clothes. Even in jeans, he manages to look like he’d be comfortable leading a meeting. Unflappable is a word that comes to mind. And calm is the way you feel in his presence. Surely, good qualities when getting up close and personal measuring clients.
There’s something genteel in the notion of a tailor laboring away at his craft. You might picture an old man, needle in hand, thimble on thumb, burning up the hours as he makes alterations. That picture isn’t far off. Tailoring is hard work. It’s an old-world skill, and making anything from scratch requires time. Joe believes that some things are better when you wait for them.
He could tell you something about waiting and striving for a goal. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, he decided to ditch his education and embark on a new career as a tailor. He had some ideas about that. The first was to move to Italy and learn the art of tailoring from a master tailor—undaunted by the fact he doesn’t speak Italian.
Making the Cut
But it wasn’t Italy but Pennsylvania, where Joe worked for five years under the tutelage of tailor Joe Centofanti. When he met Centofanti, Joe says the story took a turn: “He was unbelievably interesting as a person. I was mystified and amazed by these old guys who were in this little shop making these amazingly beautiful clothes.”
During the first four months, he received only a travel stipend of $30. “I couldn’t think about money when I started because I would have stopped in six months. I had to focus on the work. There are sacrifices. Big sacrifices. Your social life goes out the door. You aren’t living any kind of high-class lifestyle, and you are in the shop Monday through Saturday. And to make money I used to work two nights a week. It was at a department store. That’s not glamorous work, you know? Someone is throwing a pair of pants at you. But I had to do it, and that got me through the early stages, and then you just build and build and build.”
Fitting the Famous
That focus helped hone his skills in everything from drafting and cutting to hand-sewing and fitting. It paid off. His training enabled him to land a job at one of the most famous custom clothing makers, Martin Greenfield Clothiers in New York City. For five years, he managed the custom-made division, fitting clothes for the rich and famous, including President Barack Obama, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Donald Trump before he was president.
“I dressed a couple of people that are presidents,” Joe says. “I’m very proud of that. I love all my customers. I don’t do anything different for somebody that is famous. It’s all the same. Every suit is the best we can do.”
While he loved his job, he wanted to do more, and decided to open his own shop in Hoboken. “I’ll tell you, it was probably the scariest thing I ever did,” he says. “When I put in my resignation at my old job, my second son was about to be born. Living in Hoboken, it’s not cheap. I was really fortunate. People came, and we’ve been busy ever since. I couldn’t have asked for a better start.”
His Hoboken office, which opened in 2016, is strictly modern. With high ceilings, a large drafting table that takes up much of the space, and suit jackets hung on garment racks, at first glance it could be a studio apartment for a well-to-do bachelor. It’s a masculine space. The artistic flourishes come from the lighting and large canvases of urban spaces by local artist Tim Daly, who also works in the Neumann Leather Building.
When a client enters his studio, Joe first talks to him to get a sense of who he is before a single measurement is made. This is an important step, he says.
“We usually start with people who have been to other tailors, and they aren’t too happy, or they bought off the rack, and it’s subpar,” he says. “Maybe they were OK, but now they want true bespoke, where it’s made from scratch. They want the quality. They want the beautiful cloth.”
Joe is as precise with his words as he is with his measurements. He notes that the word “bespoke” is now used to describe far more than custom clothing. There are bespoke pizza, restaurants, and even water. While some have misappropriated the word, Joe’s tailoring is truly custom-made.
No average Joe
Before he opened his shop, Joe spent two years developing his own drafting process.
“We make a paper pattern for every customer we have here,” he says. “There is no standard sizing. Everything is drafted on paper from scratch for each customer. I know how guys are built because I’ve fitted and delivered thousands of suits for the past 15 years. So I made a system that is really modern and refined and relevant.”
Joe’s sincerity is appealing. Asked where he draws his inspiration, his answer is detailed and intelligent. It also reveals much about a work ethic that demands hours of time. He cites architecture, which makes sense. Design, structure, and balance are necessary when crafting a suit that’s not only functional, but visually stunning.
He channels the master painters of the Renaissance. “These guys would spend a lifetime just refining their craft, just day in and day out,” he says. “Just painting, painting, painting. Their whole career was this process of development. That sort of is the beauty of what we do. It’s this continuous process of design, refinement, and reinventing things. I think that is true for any crafts person.”
It’s not the technical aspects of building a suit, but the artistry that renders it beautiful, he says. Each customer presents different design challenges. Joe’s understanding of proportion makes tailoring an art form.
“What I really love is when the cloth and the cut and the customer all come into harmony,” he says. “That’s the perfect equation.”—07030
Genuardi is at 300 Observer Highway. For more information, visit: genuarditailor.com or Instagram @genuarditailor.