Most anytime you hear about Georges de Paris it is in reference to his work as the official tailor to the president of the United States. And for de Paris, it’s a distinction that certainly isn’t bad for business.
Walking into his shop in the Metropolitan Square building on 14th Street Northwest, a sort of shrine of personally signed photographs from the most powerful men in the world is one of the first things that strikes a visitor’s eye.
But what most people don’t realize is that although the chief executive might be de Paris’ most high-profile customer, the French-born master designer who holds tailoring diplomas in two countries also outfits a large portion of America’s legislative branch.
And while de Paris probably wouldn’t admit it, it seems that the occasional job for the president provides the tailor with rightfully earned prestige, but his steady work for Congress goes a bit further in paying the bills.
In fact, the jovial “first tailor,” who has designed and fitted suits for every president from Lyndon Johnson to George W. Bush, estimates he currently does business with about 90 Congressmen and Senators. And he actually credits the late Rep. Otto Passman (D-La.) with giving him his start in Washington, D.C.
On a recent Wednesday morning de Paris, a short man with a wild crop of flowing white hair and a thick French accent, pointed out that he is currently in the middle of three jobs for Members of Congress. With a pincushion on his arm and a thimble on his finger he pointed to a dark suit next to the front counter that appeared to be in the early stages of being taken in, which he said would soon be the property of an unnamed House Member.
De Paris, 69, first came to the United States at age 27 pursuing love and success. After reading an article about a female tailor in Washington, the up-and-coming de Paris wrote to her and began a romance which led to an engagement and brought the young tailor to work in his fiancée’s shop in D.C.
But when the romance went south, de Paris found himself out on the street, penniless and, with his limited English, unable to communicate well in his new surroundings despite being proficient in French, Spanish, German, Italian and Greek.
For the next six months the man who now measures the inseam of the most powerful men in the world slept in Franklin Park, just four blocks from the White House.
After finally finding a job as a cutter in a local clothing store, de Paris began to save up money and in time eventually opened his own tailoring shop. As business grew and word of his skill with the needle spread, de Paris began to attract influential clients, including Passman. It was the Bayou State Congressman who wound up introducing de Paris to then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson in 1963, and when Johnson took over the presidency, he began inviting his feisty French tailor to do alterations and fittings in the executive mansion.
But while de Paris says it’s always a thrill to do work in the White House, he’s also more than happy to head the other direction down Pennsylvania Avenue and ply his trade in the halls of the People’s House.
He admits that a job for a Member of Congress is a bit different than working on a presidential suit. He said he can usually take more time when creating a Member’s suit, and many of his Congressional clients have the flexibility to come into his shop for a fitting or to see his selection.
But that’s not to say he doesn’t get the occasional rush job from Members.
De Paris fondly recalled one incident when an unnamed Senator came to Washington for a party at the Hyatt but accidentally left his tuxedo in his home state. Late in the afternoon a call went out to de Paris, who most nights works until midnight, to outfit the tux-less Member.
At 6:30 p.m. de Paris went to work shortening the sleeves and refitting one of his backup tuxes. An hour later de Paris was putting the finishing touches on his work, and by 8 p.m. the neatly attired Senator was strolling into his party with no one the wiser.
Although he is a man whose job it is to make politicians (and all his other clients) look good, de Paris, like any business-savvy Washingtonian, is quick to state, “I don’t have a [political] party.” To prove his point he can tick off a bipartisan list of Members for whom he enjoys working for, including former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). He says he’s met a large number of his Congressional clients from invitations he’s received from various Members to wine and dine around the Hill in such high-powered gathering places as the Capitol Hill Club.
And despite the fact that he’s never made a suit or held a tape measure up to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the master tailor seems more than ready to take up the job should the presumptive Democratic nominee win the presidency in the fall. When asked, it took de Paris all of two seconds to judge Kerry’s suit size at around 44 — possibly 45 — long and his pants to be about 34 to 36 with an inseam of 32 or 33. (According to Kerry’s office, the Senator actually wears a coat size of 41 long and his pants size is 35 with a 33 inseam.)
But with perhaps one of the most bitter presidential campaigns in memory starting to heat up, de Paris is quick to point out that he won’t be taking sides and will be happy to make suits for whoever takes up residence in the White House come November.
“Who I vote for, that’s my secret,” de Paris said with a sly smile.