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After a career that includes stints at Bergdorf Goodman, Alfred Dunhill and Alan Flusser, custom tailor Domenico “Mimmo” Spano will be honored tonight with Saks Fifth Avenue’s inaugural Men’s Wear Icon Award.
Spano has headed Saks’ custom department since 2002 and is the store’s top salesperson, according to Tom Ott, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s for the luxury retailer.
“With business being this difficult, we were looking for something we all could feel good about, both internally and in the industry,” Ott said. “Mimmo is celebrating his 35th anniversary and has a very strong following. In fact, many of his clients thought he should be honored. So we decided to launch an annual recognition award and start with Mimmo.”
Although executives declined to provide figures, Spano is believed to have the largest “true bespoke business in the U.S.,” according to Ott. Loyal customers tend to buy his suits, which require several fittings, in multiples. Even though the suits retail for $4,500 on average, Ott said Spano’s business is “actually pretty good. He sees his top 100 to 150 clients on a regular basis.”
Ott said Spano’s suits and sport coats are “investments. You have them forever.”
Spano is known for his classic suits and unique sport coats, but he has recently introduced a new model that features a plain-front trouser, softer shoulder, larger lapel and a higher two- or three-button stance. “It’s a really modern silhouette,” Ott said, adding the store is “talking about putting an outpost [for Spano] on the seventh floor,” where it houses its more-contemporary merchandise.
With his Italian accent, impeccable manners and personal style, Spano is the quintessential custom tailor. He gave up a career in the Italian military to follow his future wife to the United States in 1971, without a job or a grasp of English. But his future father-in-law, Joseph Gangemi, was “the premier custom tailor in New York” and counted Nelson Rockefeller and Joe DiMaggio among his customers, Spano said. He loved the old movie stars and was “interested in style,” so he joined the business, making $75 a week.
After Gangemi’s death, he worked for Roy Rogers for a while — “I dressed like a cowboy for two years and learned to say, ‘Happy Trails,’ ” he said. — but saw an ad in the New York Times from Dunhill seeking a bilingual tailor.
After Dunhill, Spano managed the Alan Flusser custom business before joining Bergdorf Goodman and then Saks in 2002. He credits Dawn Mello, formerly of Bergdorf, with helping him name his label, insisting on Domenico Spano rather than his nickname, Mimmo. “She said it sounded like someone who played soccer,” he said.
Today, his closely guarded client book boasts over 1,000 steady customers, many of whom have followed Spano’s career path for years. He dresses fathers and sons and even made a $4,200 custom suit for a three-year-old to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. “He probably wore it once,” Spano said.
Although Spano does feel the effects of the recession, “I did not lose any customers,” he said. “They’re still coming in. I don’t sell things people need, I sell things they want.”
Part of Spano’s success derives from his silhouettes — he describes them as very Gary Cooper or Clark Gable — as well as his exclusive fabric selection. Every year he works with the English mill Moxon Hudder to design about 10 fabrics that will sport his name on the bolt.
Despite his heritage, Spano is proud to boast that everything he produces is made in America. “We can do everything in this country,” he said, crediting his master tailor, Antonio, who has been with him for 25 years and the 12 additional tailors provided by Saks .
Although he’s 64, Spano has no intention of retiring. “The body ages, but the mind does not,” he said. “I still think I’m 20 years old. My goal is to work as much as I can and then train someone to take over for me. That would be my legacy.”
But he knows tailoring is a dying art, and Spano wouldn’t be surprised if custom clothing in the future were made by machine. “It’s amazing what machines can do,” he said. “I believe that 10 years from now there won’t be tailors, and technology will take over.”