Georges de Paris
1934 – 13-9-2015
Once a vagrant who slept rough on the streets of Washington and washed in the Potomac River, Georges de Paris staged a spectacular recovery thanks to his skill in making men's suits. French-born de Paris became the acknowledged "tailor to the presidents", designing suits over five decades for every American head of state from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama (pictured with de Paris). At his shop three blocks from theWhite House, entitled "Georges de Paris, custom tailor", de Paris measured the inside leg of nine American presidents.
De Paris, who has died aged 80, was a short, corpulent man with a mane of silver white hair that bounced on his shoulders. He had an impenetrable Marseille accent and a liking for red bow ties and braces and oversized rings. Gerald Ford teased him about his size, asking in jest if he played American football.
Reflecting on his famous clients, De Paris recalled that Ronald Reagan was particularly charming, and knew his cloth: "[He] spoke a lot. He, like George W, knew how to appreciate the quality of fabrics. He gave me jelly beans and was always afraid that I would prick him with my needles during the fitting."
George de Paris was born in Marseille in 1934 (his exact date of birth is unknown). In the late 1950s he left France for America, spurred on by a love affair with an American woman, arriving with his life savings of $4000. He moved in with his girlfriend but when De Paris would not marry her he was sent on his way. He spent several months on the streets of Washington, sleeping in a park within sight of the White House.
After getting a job as a cutter for a French-Canadian tailor he saved enough to buy a sewing machine and later to set up his own shop. He became an American citizen in 1969.
De Paris hit the big time in 1963 when he made a suit for Lyndon Johnson. "Congressman Otto Passman introduced him to me," De Paris recalled. "He said: 'This guy's a good tailor, but he no speak English'." A tradition was born, although it was never an official role.
"Each president has got a different charisma," De Paris observed. "I tell them, wear something that fits your personality." During fittings – watched over by Secret Service agents – Nixon was cordial and Carter quiet. De Paris found the "friendliest and also the most elegant" of his presidential customers to be George W Bush and Reagan - the latter was wearing one of his suits when he was shot by John Hinckley in 1981. Although George Bush Snr was "not the most agreeable" it was Bill Clinton who most irritated De Paris: he was "very demanding, cold and always occupied". One feature united them: "Presidents all prefer dark colours."
His other clients included Kofi Annan and Michael Bloomberg. In 2010 De Paris told Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF chief, who was then being touted as a future French president but who was later disgraced, that "if you wear my suit, you'll win the election".
Fond of cheese and wine, De Paris would often end the day at the Old Ebbitt Grill, Washington's oldest restaurant. During his time in presidential circles he always focused on the task at hand. "I want to stay away from the politics," De Paris said. "I want to be a tailor."
He never married.
The Daily Telegraph