Umberto Pitagora, widely known as Umberto the Tailor, is an artist, but instead of oils or pastels, he works with beautiful fabrics imported from Italy and England
Umberto Pitagaro, widely known as Umberto the Tailor, is an artist, but instead of oils or pastels, he works with beautiful fabrics imported from Italy and England. He is one of the last of a dying breed of bespoke tailors who discovered his life’s work the old-fashioned way, with an apprenticeship in Italy as a young man. Facing an uncertain Italian economy, a friend recommended he move to the United States. For three years, he worked with a tailor in Darien. Then, in 1970, he opened his own business in Wilton Center, at 20 Center Street, where he has plied his trade ever since.
Umberto’s primary business is making custom suits for successful businessmen—CEOs, lawyers, bankers, and such. Back when office attire was more formal, he had more female clients. But now, only about 15 percent are women. Umberto spends time with each client, getting to know them personally, and obtaining detailed measurements which he translates onto paper patterns. He keeps each individual pattern on file in his back workroom for future use.
Not interested in the latest fashion trends, Umberto has always advised his clients to avoid what he calls “the extremes”—slim pant legs or wide lapels, for instance. Instead, he prides himself on crafting a well-fitted and timeless suit. “The customer is always right, as long as it meets with my approval,“ he laughs. Judging by the word-of-mouth business he has sustained all these years, he must be doing something right. According to long-time client, Joe Franceski, “I was riding the train one day when a young man approached me to ask me where I purchased my suit.” Within a week, that young man walked into Umberto’s Sartoria and became a client too.
Umberto believes that when a person is wearing a well-fitted suit or jacket, he moves in the world with more confidence. In fact, it is that look of surprise and happiness when a client first tries on one of his garments that keeps him going. “I should have retired a long time ago, but I still love what I do every day,” he says. “As long as my health stays good, I will be here.” With no one to take over the business when he retires, many of his clients have begged him to stay open as long as possible.
In addition to making suits, Umberto helps clients select the finest Italian cotton for shirts which are then custom made in New Jersey, and Italian silk ties, for a total coordinated look. Eugene Venanzi, who supplies Umberto with his beautiful ties, describes him as a renaissance man. “He has dedicated his life to quality. He is truly one of the last of his kind.” In fact, Venanzi estimates there are no more than 10 to 12 “maestros,” as he calls them, left in the United States. The tradition of bespoke tailoring, famously started on Savile Row in London, is a dying art. “It takes too many years for an apprentice to become a maestro. People just don’t want to devote that much time to training for a career anymore,” explains Venanzi. “Things have changed,” adds Umberto, philosophically.
When asked about his most interesting client, Umberto gets a twinkle in his eye. “I once made a black-tails jacket for a magician. Now I know all his secrets!” he says with a laugh. In fact, making it was quite a challenge. “There were hidden pockets everywhere, including one that had to be round, for a pigeon.” Of course, Umberto was up to it, and the magician was very pleased with his new jacket. Anyone else wishing to experience the pleasure of a well-made suit, had better get to Umberto’s Sartoria soon. At the still spritely age of 73, Umberto is happy to keep working for now. But you never know when he might change his mind.