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Martin Greenfield, tailor for US presidents and survivor of the Holocaust, dies at 95

Martin Greenfield, a tailor who dressed six US presidents, countless A-list actors and professional athletes, died on March 20 at the age of 95, according to his sons Jay, Tod and David Greenfield.

Dubbed by GQ and other media outlets as “America’s greatest living tailor,” Greenfield founded the longstanding menswear shop Martin Greenfield Clothiers in Brooklyn in 1977 after 30 years of working in a clothing factory.

For decades, his custom, handcrafted suits were sported by heavyweights of American culture: Frank Sinatra, Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio and LeBron James, to name a few. Greenfield also outfitted six US Presidents.

“My craft is very difficult to define because it’s many things,” he explained in a 2016 video interview with Great Big Story. “I am a maker of clothing. I know how to measure. I know how to fit people. Very few people could match me.”

Greenfield made suits for a number of film and TV productions, among them <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/CTxLXVJt5E2/">the 2013 film adaptation of "The Great Gatsby"</a> starring Leonardo DiCaprio. - Bazmark Films/Warner Bros/Kobal/Shutterstock

Greenfield was born Maximilian Grünfeld in 1928 in the village of Pavlovo, then Czechoslovakia and now part of Ukraine. In 1944, Nazis forced him and his family from their home and onto a train to Auschwitz, where he was separated from his parents and siblings and incarcerated for more than a year. Of his entire family — his mother, father, two sisters and brother — Greenfield was the only one to survive.

The notorious concentration camp was where Greenfield picked up the skills that would later define his career.

While assigned to wash Nazi uniforms, he accidentally tore a soldier’s shirt — and was brutally beaten for it, he wrote in his memoir “Measure of a Man: From Auschwitz Survivor to Presidents’ Tailor.” He kept the shirt, and a fellow prisoner taught him how to sew up the collar. He later decided to wear the mended garment under his prison uniform; people seemed to respect him for it, he recalled. He felt so empowered in the shirt, he wrote, that he risked ripping a second one so he could have two.

“Strangely enough, two ripped Nazi shirts helped this Jew build America’s most famous and successful custom-suit company,” Greenfield continued in his memoir. “God has a wonderful sense of humor.”

In 1947, he immigrated to the US and changed his name to Martin Greenfield to sound more American. He got a job as a floor boy at a clothing factory in Brooklyn, working his way up to production manager until he eventually bought the factory to start his own business.

Greenfield credited himself for turning Eisenhower on to three-piece suits: “Once he had the first three-piece suit, from then on you didn’t see Eisenhower in nothing but the three-piece suit,” he told Great Big Story.

In addition to Eisenhower, Greenfield also dressed Presidents Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Joe Biden. But some of his most storied creations were designed for President Obama, who earned often praise for being a sharp dresser.

Greenfield made countless suits for President Barack Obama, including the infamous tan suit that caused uproar in 2014. The suit, a departure from the President’s usual charcoal or navy ensembles, was the source of sustained, headline-grabbing controversy. - Evan Vucci/AP
Greenfield made countless suits for President Barack Obama, including the infamous tan suit that caused uproar in 2014. The suit, a departure from the President’s usual charcoal or navy ensembles, was the source of sustained, headline-grabbing controversy. - Evan Vucci/AP

In 2010, the White House contacted Greenfield to make some suits for Obama, according to his memoir. The President didn’t want to be measured, however, and asked Greenfield to replicate the sizing details of one of Obama’s existing suits. He refused to do so.

“Martin Greenfield does not copy anybody’s suits,” he wrote. “Everybody copies Martin Greenfield’s suits.”

Ultimately, Obama agreed to be measured by Greenfield, thus beginning a long, fruitful sartorial relationship. “In fact, virtually every suit he’s worn since February 2011 has been one of ours,” Greenfield wrote.

Aside from outfitting politicians and dignitaries, Greenfield also worked with the likes of Sinatra and Denzel Washington. And he ventured into Hollywood, making 1920s-era suits for the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire,” as well as costumes for films such as “Argo,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “The Great Gatsby.” Perhaps one of his most recognizable movie moments is the bright red suit and neon orange waistcoat Joaquin Phoenix wore in the 2019 film “Joker.”

Greenfield's business made costumes for a number of Hollywood productions, including the red suit and orange waistcoast Joaquin Phoenix wore in the 2019 film "Joker." - Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Entertainment
Greenfield's business made costumes for a number of Hollywood productions, including the red suit and orange waistcoast Joaquin Phoenix wore in the 2019 film "Joker." - Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Entertainment

After Greenfield retired, his sons Jay and Tod took over the family business, according to the Martin Greenfield Clothiers’ website. But Greenfield’s obsession with quality and attention to detail has remained: The clothes are still manufactured by hand in Brooklyn.

“Martin Greenfield worked at the factory for 71 years, he loved meeting, dressing, and befriending world leaders, celebrities, athletes, and everyone else,” his sons wrote in a tribute on Instagram. “May his memory be a blessing to everyone who had the pleasure to meet him.”

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