Tailor Georges de Paris is a Washington legend, a charismatic Frenchman with long, flowing gray hair who works out of a cramped shop two blocks from the White House. And he has tailored suits for every president since Lyndon B. Johnson.
After all these years, he still uses the same scissors and thimble.
The sartorial giant has tailored many an inaugural suit, but when asked if he is doing the next one, for President Obama on Monday, de Paris remains coy.
"Well, we'll work for that," says de Paris.
He came to America in 1960 for a French-American woman, saying he arrived on a Tuesday evening, and moved out of her house the next night. He was penniless and lived on a park bench in Franklin Square Park for a year.
"I feel pride for myself," says de Paris. "I work, hardworking. I saved my pennies, you know, to be in this location."
Photos of de Paris with all the presidents adorn the shop. Obama wore his suit to deliver his State of the Union address. Ford was buried in a brown, three-piece Georges de Paris suit. De Paris even made the suit Reagan wore when he was shot, had in fact hand-delivered it the day before. Later, Reagan told Larry King that one of his memories of that day was waking up on the hospital gurney, horrified that the doctors where cutting off his brand-new suit.
Yet the pint-sized tailor remains humble and unfazed by the stature of his clients, saying he has been doing bespoke suits for 61 years and does not get nervous. Talking to the president while taking his measurements at the White House, says de Paris, is "no different than I talk to you now."
"Every president's got a different charisma. Bush has got a differences, Obama has got differences, but friendly," says de Paris. "Most friendly was President Reagan."
It all began with Johnson, when a Louisiana congressman introduced then-Senator Johnson to de Paris. It was a difficult assignment for the tailor, who at the time struggled with English. Still, even with the language barrier, he was able to, er, measure Johnson.
"He wear long zipper," says de Paris. Did Johnson request the long zipper? "Well of course, you cannot make a short zipper for him, you know!"
De Paris also tailored suits for both Bush's, and continues to make suits for George W. Bush, who recently ordered a morning coat.
"It was very happy to work with him, you know. He wanted time to touch the material," says de Paris of the younger Bush. Their relationship was even parodied in a New Yorker cartoon.
The tailor to the presidents remains neutral when it comes to politics, but not when it comes to style.
Republicans, he declares, generally dress better.
To hear more from Georges de Paris, including tailoring for Obama, and the 78-year-old's thoughts on retirement, check out this week's Politics Confidential.
- Politics & Government