Martin Greenfield is regarded as America’s greatest living suit maker. A Holocaust survivor, Mr. Greenfield is the tailor to America’s most powerful and influential men.
Breitbart News interviewed Mr. Greenfield about his new book, Measure of Man: From Auschwitz Survivor to Presidents’ Tailor.
1. Why did you write Measure of a Man?
I wrote the book to say thank you to America, to our Armed Forces who saved me, and to honor my parents, grandparents, two sisters, and baby brother who were all murdered during the Holocaust.
Everyone says “never forget,” but some people do. And I worry that we don’t do enough to teach our younger generation about what Hitler did and how American power was used to liberate and bring freedom to the oppressed.
I also wrote Measure of a Man to bring hope and encouragement to people going through tough times. America is dreams. So never lose hope. I survived hell. You can too.
2. When did the Nazis seize you and where?
I grew up in Czechoslovakia in the Carpathian Mountains. I was 15-years-old when the Nazis took us to Auschwitz in April 1944. I never saw my family ever again after that first night at Auschwitz.
Later I was relocated to Buna before being forced to make the Death March in the snow to Gleiwitz. I was finally taken to Buchenwald, the last concentration camp I was in.
Were it not for Gen. Eisenhower—whom I later dressed when he became president—Gen. Patton, and the hundreds of thousands of brave American soldiers, I would have been killed too.
3. GQ dubbed you “America’s greatest living tailor.” Is it true you learned to sew inside the Auschwitz concentration camp?
Yes. One of my first jobs at Auschwitz was in the laundry scrubbing Nazi uniforms. I scrubbed one so hard I ripped it. After the soldier beat me, I took the shirt and a nice prisoner taught me how to sew and repair it.
I then put the Nazi shirt on under my striped prisoner uniform. Why, I don’t know. But I did.
And then I noticed the guards treated me a little better.
“The shirt means something,” I thought.
And that’s when I first learned clothes possess power.
4. In your book you describe some of the most vivid and haunting scenes imaginable. What was life like inside Auschwitz?
It was a hell unlike any other. Civilized minds can’t fathom things like that.
I was beaten, forced to carry and bury dead bodies, and became a walking skeleton. And I was one of the lucky ones. I still have my tattoo. A4406 is the number they gave me. The “A” stands for Auschwitz.
The first night at Auschwitz my father split us up. He said, “If we stay together, we will suffer double seeing how each other gets treated.”
He said, “You will survive. And when you do, you must not feel guilty for surviving. You must live your life and be somebody.”
So that’s what I did. America saved me, I came here, and I became somebody.
5. In the book you share some funny stories about all the Presidents and famous celebrities you’ve made suits for. Is it true you used to hide little notes for President Eisenhower inside his suit pockets?
Yes. Back then the controversy over the Suez Canal was happening. So I wrote President Eisenhower my views on the subject and slipped them into his jacket pockets.
Then one day President Eisenhower told some reporters that a tailor in Brooklyn was leaving foreign policy advice for him in his clothes.
Later, when I dressed President Clinton, he told me, “Martin, if you ever have advice for me, you don’t need to leave notes in my suits. I’ll give you my FAX number instead!”
And I used it. More than once.
6. Talk about some of the other men you’ve made suits for.
I’ve been blessed. I’ve dressed everyone from Frank Sinatra, to Paul Newman, to Sammy Davis Jr., to Shaquille O’Neal to Al Pacino to Jimmy Fallon. Gen. Colin Powell, Donald Trump, Sec. Donald Rumsfeld, Sen. Bob Dole, Vice President Joe Biden…how much time do you have?
We made all the suits for Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Mcguire in The Great Gatsby, which won Costume Designer of the Year for the wonderful Catherine Martin. We also did Leo’s suits in Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street.
I especially like doing the suits for my friend James Spader on NBC’s hit show The Blacklist. We also did 600 suits for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire with Steve Buscemi. The gangster clothes remind me of several of the real life gangsters I dressed back in the day.
I dressed the real Meyer Lansky. He wore a 40 short. He was so careful about security I had to ship his suits to the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami.
Mobsters were great clients. They always paid in cash.
7. Why do you think you survived the Holocaust when others didn’t?
I ask myself that question a lot.
The only answer that makes any sense is that, for some reason, God spared my life.
I helped others in the camps and nearly died on the Death March and after five days of beatings. But somehow I survived.
I’m so thankful and happy to be alive, to be an American, to get to make beautiful suits for powerful men.
No matter what happens in life, you can find beauty if you look hard enough.
8. What’s the most expensive suit you ever made?
Many years ago I did a true made-to-measure Vicuna jacket that cost $40,000.00.
9. Any fashion tips for businessmen who wear suits each day or for young fellas just starting out?
One quick way to spot a quality suit is to look at the buttonholes on the sleeves. If they’re hand-sewn and functional—they button and unbutton like a regular shirt sleeve—that’s a mark of quality.
For the young guys just starting out, if you can only afford one suit, go with navy or gray. But learn to dress like a man. As I say in the book, you can always tell when a boy has reached manhood by the clothes hanging in his closet.
Also, dry clean your suits as little as possible to preserve the integrity of the fabric.
And three, at some point in every man’s life he should own a hand-tailored, made-to-measure suit. It costs more but is well-worth the investment. And once your wife or girlfriend sees how good you look in a suit built specifically for your body, she’ll never let you go back to anything less.
As I like to say, quality is always the best bargain.
Martin Greenfield is the author of Measure of a Man: From Auschwitz to Presidents’ Tailor. He and his sons run Martin Greenfield Clothiers in Brooklyn, New York.