Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t — he’ll never tell.
This story first appeared in the March 20, 2017 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Martin Greenfield, the Brooklyn tailor who has dressed presidents and luminaries by the dozens over the course of his legendary career, is mum on whether Donald Trump wore one of his suits or his overcoat for his January inauguration.
“Well, he is a customer,” was all he’d say.
But what Greenfield is not reticent talking about is his life story. In fact, in 2014 he published his autobiography: “Measure of a Man: A Memoir, From Auschwitz Survivor to Presidents’ Tailor.”
The title is apropos since it describes in graphic detail how Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi doctor known for his grotesque, criminal medical experiments, spared the lives of Maximilian Grünfeld, as he was known then, along with his father and one sister, while his mother, another sister and baby brother were sent off to their deaths.
Greenfield, now 88, was the only member of his family to survive the war, although he was in the slave labor camp Buna and the concentration camps of Gleiwitz and Buchenwald.
Anointed “America’s Greatest Living Tailor” by GQ in 2009 and “Tailor Extraordinaire” by Gotham magazine in 2011, Greenfield has been in New York since 1947 when some far-flung relatives he’d never met offered to sponsor him and he jumped on a boat destined for a new life. It was in New York that he landed a job at the men’s tailoring GGG, named for the three Goldman brothers — William P., Mannie and Morris — in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
He started off sweeping floors and eventually worked his way up to vice president of production. And 30 years later, he bought the factory and renamed the business Martin Greenfield Clothiers.
“I was determined to learn every single task at GGG,” he wrote in the book. “I wanted to be the best, to stand out. Hand-basting, darting, piping, facing and lining, blind stitching, pressing, armhole work, joker tags, fell stitching, preparing besoms, finishing — I would learn how to execute every procedure better than the person who taught me.”
Today, the business is run by Greenfield along with his sons Jay and Tod, who together operate a union factory in East Williamsburg with 100 employees. Over the years, they’ve produced goods for companies as varied as Rag & Bone, Freemans Sporting Club, Neiman Marcus and Brooks Brothers, but there’s now a bigger focus on made-to-measure suits, tuxedos and overcoats — all of which are built by hand.
That craftsmanship is what sets a Greenfield suit apart and what makes the garments “mold to the shape of your body and fit better the longer you wear them,” Martin has said.
Among those who have been fans are Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Trump, as well as scores of celebrities and athletes.
Although he’s certainly earned the right to sit back and kick up his heels, Martin Greenfield is still a daily presence on the floor of the factory, Tod said. “What he likes to do best is to walk around the factory, check the work — sort of like a floor boy. He still does some trimming, pressing and he helps move the work through the shop.”
But he’s become such a celebrity that he also spends his time meeting customers, posing for photos and autographing his book — and telling stories.