Acquired Taste

There was an old tailor shop behind the skating rink at Yale University, in dreary New Haven, Conn., which did most of the sewing for Chipp, a boutique menswear clothier which enjoyed a too-short, cultish heyday in the 1970’s. Paul Winston, whose family ran the original store, has revived the brand as Chipp2 and today operates a store with that name in Manhattan. Below are Eric Konigsberg’s thoughts on the store and its heritage, from yellow journal The New York Times:

Memorial Day has come and gone and summer stretches out languidly before him; now is the time that a certain kind of Northeastern dandy, when in polite company, may safely revel in a certain kind of highly coded casual wear.

So I stopped by the fifth-floor atelier of Paul Winston, the proprietor of Winston Tailors (a k a Chipp 2). Chipp, which is what most people still call it, is a family-owned business at 11 East 44th Street. It has occupied various locations near this same spot in Midtown, between Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue, since it was started by Mr. Winston’s father, Sidney, in 1945.

Mr. Winston recalled his father’s visits to Washington to measure both John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. “My father made everything for President Kennedy — that heavy chalk-stripe suit he was always photographed in, for instance,” Mr. Winston said. “And then with Bobby, my father used to have meetings about his clothing, because on the campaign trail, people kept ripping his clothes off him.”

Of course, that was business wear. What may prove to be Chipp’s lasting contributions to preppy civilization were the elder Mr. Winston’s inventions of patch madras cloth, four-panel trousers, and embroidered corduroys.

“We did pheasants, frogs, fish, all sorts of things,” Paul Winston said. “Not whales. That came later.”

Mr. Winston, who is a slim and ruddy 69, oversees a couple of tailors in his shop and employs two other workrooms in the other boroughs. At the moment, he was most excited about a new cloth he had recently bought in 14 different colors — the bolts were stacked near a wall in shades of teal, seafoam, turquoise, navy, sapphire, sky blue, cream, gold, crimson, coral.

“It’s tussah silk,” he said, proudly. “It’s very rough but it’s pure silk. I looked all over for it and found somebody in India who could make it for me. It will make a terrific sport jacket — informal, for Palm Beach or Palm Springs, or somebody who’s wearing it to his country club.”

He also showed off an array of brightly colored poplinsfor “odd trousers,” possibly the world’s greatest collection of bold Scottish tweed cloth this side of the Firth of Forth, and seersucker fabrics in hues not found in nature.

“But I don’t like to make a seersucker jacket or suit for anybody,” he said. “I’ll do it, but I really shouldn’t. Because of what I have to charge them for the tailoring” — his prices start at $1,400 for a jacket made-to-measure in standard patterns and sizes and up to $2,400 if it is custom-made — “it’s not worth it for something that’s just made of cotton.”

He continued: “It’s like this … even the richest guy in the country wouldn’t pay $20 for a banana. He could afford it, but he wouldn’t do it.”

One of Mr. Winston’s favorites is a bolt of clothprinted with Zodiac-themed variations on the Kama Sutra. “A customer had me make a jacket out of this for his sister’s wedding on Fishers Island some years ago,” he said. “I bought a lot of it and use it as tuxedo linings now. Some of the women in my workrooms refused to do it, so I had to have one guy bring it home to work on.”

Another Chippstaple: conservative-appearing rep ties which, upon closer viewing, turn out to have lewd images or messages (athletic supporters, Santa Claus with his pants down, and the repeated words testiculos tene: capiuntur mens et cor — Latin for, roughly, when you have them in a certain hold, their hearts and minds will follow.

“People associate that with Chuck Colson, but the real origin goes back to President Johnson,” Mr. Winston said.

Most of Mr. Winston’s customers tend to be older gentlemen, he said. “There are very conservative young businessmen today who deny themselves the fun,” he said. “Whoever heard of a black suit? Navy blue or charcoal gray, I understand, but black? Did you know it’s most popular color for a suit now?”

Mr. Winston brought out a dummy-model sport coat made of the raw silk cloth, which he asked the supplier to sew up, to see how it would look. For some reason, the supplier chose to make it in near-fluorescent magenta. “Even I don’t think I know the customer who will wear this,” he said, chuckling.

Perhaps only somebody very old or very cool could possibly get away with wearing such a jacket (Mick Jagger, possibly, or Wayne Maser, the fashion photographer?).

“It has nothing to do with any of that,” Mr. Winston said, dismissing such a notion. “My father, he wore the wildest things his whole life. He was enormous, very overweight. He just really liked to stand out.”


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