Tailoring in the American Dream

Apr 29, 2013 1336

Master tailor Luigi Firmani and wife Norina left Italy in 1955 seeking the American Dream. Speaking on the eve of retirement after 47 years on Pleasant Street, the couple says they found it in Malden.
"The American Dream is good, if you are healthy, young and aggressive," he said. "You have to love to work. If you don't love to work, you'd better go home."
Luigi learned tailoring as youth in Abruzzo. Norina hails from Campania, and came to America with $20 in her pocket. Both crossed the Atlantic in '55 on the Andrea Doria (which famously sank a year later). Eldest daughter Clara Herlihy said they met soon after while working in Boston's Garment District.
"They worked in different places, but one of the factories had extra work, mother happened to go work there and that's where she met my father," said Herlihy.
The couple wed in '59, and opened Firmani the Tailor in the Masonic Building on Pleasant Street in June of 1965. Though they came to America with basically nothing, Herlihy said they made a go of things as a mom-and-pop operation.
"They worked six days a week for [nearly] 48 years," she said, adding health was a factor in the bittersweet decision to retire. "They initially wanted to stay open until they were 80, they'll be 78 this year — and the business has changed."
Located at 150 Pleasant St., Firmani the Tailor will close its doors on Saturday, April 17. While the shop has a retail component, the main focus is skilled hands working with cloth — whether it's taking in a hemline or complex alterations to a bridal gown. Before opening their shop, Luigi wove fine suits, overcoats and pants at a Boston factory, and he said the best part of tailoring is that process of creating unique clothing for a client.
"When you make a customer happy, you caught his inspiration, how they want to look, the style they prefer and the style that goes with their body," he said. "You're making them look their greatest."
Explaining the appeal of artisan clothing, Firmani said it's high quality and offers a perfect fit. Luigi's handiwork has been sold from some of the best shops on Newbury Street — but added that the retail landscape has changed drastically over the years.
"Don't confuse Newbury Street with custom-made," he said. "It does not exist anymore. The best they have today is called measure-to-orders. Yesteryear is gone."

By Nathan Lamb / Malden Observer

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