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The Dress Circle

Craving forties elegance or eighties gloss? Custom dressmakers can bring favorite vintage looks to life.

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This story starts with a quest, as so many shopping stories do. Here's the scene: You've dropped a cool half-K on a pair of cognac knee-high leather boots, and -- of course -- nothing in your closet can stand up to their blinding chic. It's obvious that you'll need to find a new dress, possibly in tweed, possibly a fitted shirtdress, possibly in a dark burgundy. But no designer is doing quite what you want, so you visit the vintage boutiques. Rooting through the antique items, you feel like you're getting warmer, but still, nothing is quite right: One is dotted with water spots, another is perfect except that it's puce. As in ghastly red. As in, no way.

What's really needed is a new dress that incorporates the details of vintage ones -- the fabric, the tailoring, the one-of-a-kind-ness. Here are six dressmakers who can custom-create nearly anything, from a Bonnie Cashin-esque jersey outfit to a grosgrain circle skirt à la Miuccia Prada's to an Ultrasuede shirt-dress, designed by, and for, you.

Dynasty Custom Tailors
6 East 38th Street (212-679-1075); Monday to Friday 9-6:30, Saturday 10-4

Inside Dynasty Custom Tailors, located in the shadow of Lord & Taylor, a table is covered with dog-eared fashion magazines set beside a basket of Chinese "lucky candies." And that mix aptly reflects the feeling of the place -- aware of fashion, but not annoyingly so. On the day I visited, a female mannequin wore a dreamy vintage gold silk-satin coatdress, complete with faux belt and a zipper up the back. "Lots of women these days want to wear Grandma's clothes," says store designer Luna Song, with a small smile. The tailors will fully modernize and refit most any item, or copy it in a new fabric (they recommend B&J Fabrics, 263 West 40th Street; 212-354-8150 for material). Custom dresses start at $270, skirts at $190. They also make suits ($590 and up) and, this season, Burberry-inspired, plaid knee-length coats (about $550).

Atelier Eva Devecsery
201 East 61st Street, No. 1 (212-751-6091); by appointment only

In a sunny room filled with gilt-covered furniture and plants that look the slightest bit anemic, Eva Devecsery, a self-described "little old lady," runs a thrummingly busy workshop. She employs two master tailors and three dressmakers to run up daytime suits and evening gowns for ladies d'un certain cash flow, whom she is far too discreet to name. Devecsery does the fittings herself and will make nearly anything new, or re-create anything old: a wedding dress, prom gowns, trousers, even a suit based on a photograph torn from a 1952 Vogue. The studio is filled with books of fabric swatches, or you may supply your own, though Devecsery may tell you it won't do. If need be, her daughter-in-law and partner, Sandra Bors, will scour the garment district for the proper tweed, silk, or double knit. Suit prices range from about $1,400 to $2,400, blouses from $250 to $1,000, gowns from about $1,600 to $3,000.

Fine Alterations-Sewing
240 East 6th Street (212-254-0829);
by appointment only

On an East Village block, not far from the Daryl K outlet, sits a small, unprepossessing apartment building. Inside, up a flight of worn stairs, you'll find the sewing studio of Gayle Dragt, a tiny eight-by-ten-foot room just inside her lace-curtained apartment. Dragt will take on nearly any clothing or home-ware project that she can dispatch within three weeks (she likes to work fast, she says), from a simple bridesmaid dress, to the modernizing of an all-too-eighties woolen coat, even to the patching of a pair of dungarees with shiny black satin. In fact, she says, the more specific and the quirkier the project, the better. "I need fussy customers," she says. For Martha Stewart Living, she once sewed a patchwork bedspread of hand-dyed lamb's wool, which The Martha herself reportedly took home. Custom dresses start at $300, skirts at $160, and patterns are $50 to $100 extra.

Hong Kong Tailor Jack
136 Waverly Place (212-675-0818); Monday to Saturday 10-7

Like Cher, like Madonna, Hong Kong Tailor Jack uses no last name; his business cards read simply "Jack." Though his English is limited to tailor-speak, he can make nearly any skirt for $115 and a variety of dresses for $160 and up. While he specializes in mandarin-collared Chinese silk frocks (about $450), Jack and his staff can create or alter whatever you please, from soup to nuts. Just recently, for instance, they replicated an intricately bias-cut sleeveless wool Shin Choi dress two times over, for about $700 the pair. And they've been known to make what look like Helmut Lang trousers for less than half the retail price.

Riviera Tailor
144 East 22nd Street (212-533-3944); Monday to Friday 9-6, Saturday 9-5

Not so long ago, a young fashion-magazine editor came down with a case of clothing ennui. Nothing new seemed worth wearing. She liked nip-waisted dresses from the forties and fifties, but designer versions would be too pricey and all her favorite vintage items were falling to pieces. So she did what any resourceful clothes hound would. She walked to the tailor nearest to her Gramercy Park apartment, two dresses in hand, and said, "Copy these!" Armenian David Dursunyin, from Riviera Tailor, obliged. His basement shop may be devoid of atmosphere and decorum ("She's very fat," he says about one of his customers), but the service is prompt and the prices are eminently do-able ($300 and up for one dress, plus fabric, with a minimum order of two dresses; suits $750 and up). The editor eventually had four copies made, and Dursunyin let her take home the paper patterns so she can have the dresses cloned whenever she feels the need.

Albert Sakhai
144 West 19th Street (212-647-1241); by appointment only

If you're looking for a long tunic embroidered with gold braid, or a denim two-piece dress that looks like a fabric remnant on the hanger but morphs into a downtown frock on the body, then Albert Sakhai is your man. Sakhai, who likes to wear do-rags dotted with rock-size costume jewels, is something of a design polymath. Inside his fey little shop he makes his own line of clothes, which includes simple trapeze dresses ($375) and pleated items à la Miyake's Pleats Please line. He'll also help clients realize their own designs (Sakhai prefers to work from "dreams" rather than from actual pictures; dresses start at $750). He will even transform old items into new ones: The day we visited, he bragged about making a paisley silk evening wrap out of an old pair of Ralph Lauren culottes. Sakhai also turns out fluorescent fur pocketbooks, drag-queen spangly gowns, and trendy metallic studded belts (about $100) with topaz-rhinestone clasps.


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