It’s like a secret test where you can only find the tailor/shoemaker if you really want to. Finding Ambrosi in Naples is a journey in itself, as is locating the headquarters of Brunello Cucinelli, tucked away in the tiny village of Solomeo in Perugia. This isn’t always the case, with Savile Row being a landmark in the heart of London and several other leading businesses in handmade menswear are found easily in other major cities. But if the tendency for many of the great tailors to remain hidden can act as any kind of guideline, then Nino Corvato is keeping the tradition alive, in his hard-to-find atelier four floors above a single nondescript door in one of the worlds most expensive retail locations, Madison Avenue, New York.
The first giveaway that Nino has a respected past is the wall lined with framed photographs and thank you notes from individuals we’d all recognise. A hand written thank card from former President Carter is among the more memorable ones you’ll see. They’re a tribute to an individual who has devoted a lifetime, literally, to tailoring.
Born in Palermo, Sicily, in 1940, Nino’s education was largely with a needle and thread, having left formal schooling in year 5, once he’d learned the basics of reading, writing and math. These days that’s rare, but it was commonplace for that generation in post war Italy. Most families expected that children, if they went to school at all, would leave after a few years and begin a trade. He made great friends in tailoring school and has no regrets about spending his life, since then, making clothes.
With Italy’s economy struggling in the years following World War 2, and showing little sign of improving, Nino, like many others, looked further afield to see what opportunities might exist which would allow him to build a better life. America, as it would for millions of others, offered hope. At 19, a friend of his from Palermo, who had already emigrated to New York and was working for the men’s clothing giant Brooks Brothers, contacted Nino and suggested he make the trip too, with a promise of a job if he’d be willing to make the journey. Nino agreed and it would be the beginning of a 20 year relationship with the company.
At first, he was given menial work in alterations, which he had no interest in and quickly made it known to his superiors. At 19 he was already a fully qualified tailor, so hemming trousers wasn’t the best use of his skills, so he was quickly promoted to his area of expertise, handmade suits.
He eventually became the Assistant Manager of Brooks Brothers palatial main store in New York. Although not officially the Manager, given his close relationships with the tailors and other employees, he was effectively running the store himself anyway. Late in to his 30’s, the opportunity to become the official Manager of the store arose, but he was overlooked at interview once senior management realised that he hadn’t finished school or attended university. Nino resigned, feeling feeling let down after 20 years of service, not to mention the fact that he’d already shown that he possessed the necessary skills to run their flagship store.
He moved on to another menswear firm (by this point, Brooks Brothers had realised their mistake and offered him a significant pay increase to stay) and within 12 months he would be called on again by Brooks’, this time with an offer of a position of General Manager within the business, a level above that role which he was deemed unsuitable for a year earlier. This was the catalyst for Nino to go out on his own, which he did shortly after, coming to the conclusion that he no longer wanted to work for anyone other than himself.
Now over 30 years later, it would appear he has made the right decision. Still overwhelmed with demand for his services, in addition to his atelier on Madison Avenue, he also has two other locations in New York where others work for him.
Whilst celebrity clients have formed a part of his business over the years, like Leonard Logsdail, it’s many of his non-famous clients who he speaks of with the greatest affection. The numerous Christmas cards which sit above a cabinet near the entrance to his atelier, from individuals and families who he has clearly had an impact on, are testimony to his warmth and kind nature.
Perhaps most striking about Nino is his enthusiasm. His energy is contagious and the excitement at the thought of his work is palpable. His youthful passion easily identified in his still strong Sicilian accent, mixed with hints of a long time New Yorker. Bouncing of the ends of words as only Italians can, you’ll hear a mixture of words like “it’s-a easy ” followed shortly by “in Noo Yawk”, the pronunciation of New York sounding as if he’d never spent a day outside Manhattan.
Having spent 15 years teaching tailoring at the Parsons School of Design in New York, his desire to pass on his love and knowledge of the craft is as strong as ever, with hopes of starting a school purely to teach tailoring to a new generation at some point in the years ahead.
For now, he’s happy to impart his encyclopedic knowledge to anyone who cares enough to ask questions and listen. Which would be well worth finding the time to do when you’re in New York. For those who won’t have the chance to visit New York in the near future, Nino features heavily in Vicki Vasilopoulos’ excellent documentary Men of the Cloth.