The Washington tailor Georges de Paris — who would become an outfitter of the city’s power brokers and political elite, even presidents — liked to talk of a romance that brought him from Paris to Washington but left him disillusioned and broke, and living in a city park.
He said his fortunes changed when a woman who worked at a men’s clothing store found him work as a tailor’s cutter. He saved his earnings to purchase a sewing machine and, eventually, open his own work space.
“Petit a petit, how we say in France. Slowly, slowly I built it up, my business. Myself,” he told The Washington Post Magazine in 2010.
But Mr. de Paris, as he fashioned himself, was neither born Georges nor was he from Paris. He was Georgios Christopoulos of Kalamata, Greece, and he came to the United States about 1960 after a stint in the Greek navy and tailoring apprenticeships in Germany and France. There was a relationship with a woman, but it turned sour and he briefly was homeless.
At some point, he picked up the surname de Paris, a peculiar French accent and invented an early biography that seemed in places, well, made up out of whole cloth.
Mr. de Paris died Sept. 13 at a hospice center in Arlington, Va. He was 80 and had prostate cancer, said a grandnephew, Georgios Poulakidas.
Over the years, Mr. de Paris said he provided tailoring services to every U.S. president since Lyndon B. Johnson. He displayed mementos and signed thank-you notes from the past commanders in chief at his two-room shop at 14th and G streets NW, three blocks from the White House.
He said the suit that President Ronald Reagan wore the day of an attempted assassination in 1981 was a de Paris design, as was the black suit that President George W. Bush wore when he addressed the nation following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Most recently, he said he fitted President Obama for the suit he wore for his 2011 State of the Union address and his much-discussed tan summer suit from 2014.
Given some of his personal embellishments, Mr. de Paris’s professional claims might seem dubious. Just how extensively he worked for various presidents is unclear. Officials with the White House and several presidential libraries either could not verify the claims or did not respond to inquiries.
However, former president Gerald R. Ford told the New Yorker in 2004 for a profile of Mr. de Paris: “When I was in the Congress, we were not as persnickety about our appearance, but when I became vice president and president it was almost mandatory that I spruce myself up. . . . Georges was just the person to make me look presidential. My wife was always nagging me — ‘Jerry, you’ve got to improve your appearance’ — so Betty was very happy that I began using him as my tailor.”
Freddy Ford, a spokesman for former president George W. Bush, wrote in an e-mail to The Post this past week: “I know President Bush was glad to know Mr. de Paris and proudly wore his suits.”
Tailors are expected to be discreet, and for the most part, Mr. de Paris was. But in the latter years of his career, he was more forthcoming about which presidents he preferred as clients.
In a 2002 interview with Agence France-Presse, he said Johnson was “nice,” Richard Nixon was “cordial,” Jimmy Carter was largely mum and Ford “teased me about my small size by asking me whether I played on an American football team.”
Reagan offered him jelly beans and appreciated quality fabrics. He found George H.W. Bush “not the most agreeable,” but he said George W. Bush always put him at ease. He found Bill Clinton “least pleasant . . . very demanding, cold and always occupied.”
Although a majority of his clientele consisted of lobbyists, Mr. de Paris also did work for Cabinet members and other executive branch personnel. He customized his handiwork as needed: a hidden zipper for a diamond dealer or an inside pocket large enough to conceal a gun for Secret Service agents.
Georges de Paris was born Sept. 24 or Sept. 28, 1934 — the exact date varies in documents and in family recollections. In interviews, he claimed to have been born to a well-to-do family in the French port city of Marseille and that he worked as a messenger for the French Resistance during World War II. He said his father, a judge, was assassinated in front of him by a man enraged by the sentence he handed down on a relative.
He told reporters he had moved to the United States for work opportunities and because of a budding romance through the mail with a female tailor in Washington. He told the New Yorker that the photo she had sent him bore an enticing resemblance to Brigitte Bardot.
They were soon engaged and he offered her his life savings, about $4,000, for safekeeping, he said. But upon arrival, she was no Bardot. In fact, he could not stand the sight of her. He said that when he refused to marry her, she kicked him out on the street and kept his money, leaving him homeless and penniless.
According to relatives, that was not the actual story. Georgios Christopoulos grew up impoverished, the son of a farmer in Kalamata. Family members said he began studying tailoring at age 12 and served a year in the Greek navy before continuing his tailoring apprenticeships in Europe.
Les Thompson, a friend who has power of attorney, said Mr. de Paris did meet an American woman — but in person in France, not through the mail — and moved with her to Washington. When the relationship ended, he found himself on the street.
He never married and had no children. Survivors include a sister in Kalamata.
Whatever the precise details, Mr. de Paris created a new life for himself — as an American citizen in 1972 and eventually as the “presidential tailor.”
“People say, ‘You are a personality, famous.’ No. I am a very simple tailor,” he told The Post in 2010. “I make my living, I pay my bills. I get more popular, my life no change. I’m very simple guy. I live alone. If I go out and people recognize me, do I say, ‘Oh, I’m George de Paris. Move away’? Hell, no. Hell, no. Not me. If you sleep in the street, you don’t thank yourself. You thank the Lord, and you thank other people. And I do.”