As a young boy, I spent a lot of time in my grandfather’s closet hiding among his suits, marveling at the rows of jackets with his name emblazoned in the lining—evidence that my grandfather was the most important man in the world. But my favorite suit of his was the one that hung way in the back: a shawl-collar, double-breasted, satin-flecked tuxedo. The name on the tag was that of a man I did not know: “Pierre Cardin.” After my grandfather’s death, I assumed full custody of his wardrobe, including the old Pierre, which required some tailoring (my grandpa had a proud bowling ball of a belly). As the years went by, it became my last sartorial reminder of home and him. Then a freak electrical fire erupted in my apartment. Everything was either burned or ruined—the tux included.
As I soon discovered, finding a double-breasted tuxedo in 2013 New York is nearly impossible. Searching the storefronts on Madison Avenue in vain one afternoon, I ducked into Nello, the haven for high-roller haute cuisine, for a lead on where I might find a replacement.
“I have a friend, Avi. He will help you,” said proprietor Nello Balan. He snapped his fingers, and soon after, a waiter appeared with a card. On it: an address off Fifth Avenue, at 57th Street. I walked there. GOING OUT OF BUSINESS, a sign out front said.
Inside, suits were hanging on the walls, in the aisles, stacked in the corners. I met Avi—wild curly mane, shirt unbuttoned, patch of chest hair exposed.
“I show you all the tuxedos in the world,” he told me, flipping through the garments on a counter as if they were pages in a magazine. One sparkled like rhinestones. Another seemed to belong in a Chippendales act.
The muscles in his face contorted as if he’d chugged a gallon of sour milk. “Nobody want it,” he said. “Everybody now, they go to gym. They want slim fit, slim fit, slim fit.”
I persisted, describing the tux to him in detail, emphasizing how the shawl of the breast hung low and attached with a button. “I have it,” he said. Soon after, an employee returned from the basement, and I was slipping the jacket on.
“I have for ten years and nobody buy it,” Avi said, brushing off the shoulder pads. I checked the label. Different guy: “Giorgio Armani.”
I looked in the mirror. I’d found it. The fit was perfect.
I asked Avi, “How does it look?”
“If you like fashion, then no, no, no,” he said. “It cost $2,000—I give it to you, $600.”
“I’ll take it,” I told Avi, and turned to try on the pants.
He looked around the store. An employee checked in the basement. Another went down to help him. A half-hour went by. I walked out empty-handed. The pants were missing; proof that what I was looking for did not exist anymore. It was time to find a tux of my own.