Holocaust survivor Martin Greenfield, 82, once sewed to save his life. Now he sews to suit the stars, literally. Mayor Bloomberg, the cast of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” and famous fashion designers like Rag & Bone are among the many posh clients who call upon Greenfield for his superior tailoring talents. Bloomberg, who credits Greenfield with making all his suits, recently told The New York Times, “He does simply outstanding work.”
Greenfield first learned the value of appearances while trying to stay alive in Auschwitz. He and his family were deported to the concentration camp from their home in Pavlova (in what was then Czechoslovakia) when he was 14 years old. While working in the camp’s alteration shop washing clothes, he accidentally tore an SS officer’s shirt. Greenfield received a beating for the offense and also the damaged shirt, after the officer threw it at him. Greenfield mended the rip and began wearing the shirt himself, in place of the prisoners’ uniform, and soon noticed that both the guards and prisoners began to treat him with respect. Jay Greenfield, 52, Greenfield’s oldest son and the executive vice president of the family’s company, Martin Greenfield Clothiers, told the Times that his father believes that shirt was the reason he survived.
Following the war, Greenfield set off to the U.S. He landed in New York, where, in 1947, he was hired by GGG Clothing, a clothing manufacturer in East Williamsburg. In the 1970s, he was able to buy the business, which then comprised six employees.
Greenfield’s business grew, as did his reputation, and soon big names like Cardinal Edward M. Egan, Paul Newman, Colin Powell and Patrick Ewing called on him for custom-made suits (for the price of $2,600). In 1992, when President Bill Clinton was elected, the White House sought out Greenfield with the request of a tailcoat for the president’s first state dinner.
Despite Greenfield’s incredible success, he hasn’t gotten too big for his own britches; He continues to work out of the factory in East Williamsburg, where he and his two sons oversee 117 workers. And more than six decades after he mended the shirt that saved his life, Greenfield remains committed to to the labor-intensive, meticulous art of hand making tailored garments.