Two years later, an uncle helped Greenfield cross the Atlantic, and a fellow Czech immigrant guided him to a job as a floor boy in a Brooklyn garment factory. Within a few years, Greenfield became a tailor, assigned to the factory’s famous clients — actors, athletes, politicians. By the 1970s, he had amassed enough skill and capital to buy the factory. And today, at 84, Greenfield can count among the tens of thousands of men he has dressed, three presidents, a vice president, Cabinet secretaries and countless senators and representatives.
Through the decades, Greenfield constructed made-to-measure suits that customers ordered at special sales at Brooks Brothers and Neiman Marcus stores nationwide. Such trunk shows brought him often to the capital of the country that saved his life, where he suited up many of the men who run it.
There appears to be a fourth president among his clients. In February 2011 and then again one year later, Greenfield and his two sons — now his business partners — made trips to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The White House logs reveal that the Greenfields visited a personal aide in the official residence. The tailor doesn’t talk about any well-known client, until the client talks about him first.
By all accounts, the president doesn’t focus much, if at all, on clothes. He wears the same outfits into disrepair. When asked about his suits during the 2008 campaign, Sen. Barack Obama looked inside his jacket and said he was wearing an off-the-rack suit from Burberry. For his inauguration ball, he wore a tuxedo by Hart Schaffner Marx, the storied Chicago suit maker.
Greenfield’s bespoke suits fit the bill for White House wear. They can range from $1,800 to $2,700, depending on fabric and features. The tailor works simply, as he always has and in a way that few competitors still do, showing up six days a week in a union shop that employs more than 100. The plant has stayed open in a rough neighborhood during bleak decades. Greenfield’s factory has been burglarized 11 times.
On a recent visit to Greenfield’s office, before conversation could begin, his sons removed two framed photographs from the walls and shelves from among the signed photos of Paul Newman and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. If President Obama belongs in this gallery, the father and sons — and the White House — aren’t saying.
* * *
At Auschwitz, the prisoners were sorted by gender, and Martin’s 5-year-old brother, who had been hanging on him “like I was a hero,” went with his father. His younger sister was pulled away from his mother and other sister and sent in another direction because she had blond hair and blue eyes. When the registrars asked if anyone knew a trade, his father offered up Martin as a skilled mechanic.