A CRAFT BORN IN ITALY LIVES ON IN BERGEN COUNTY AT THIS FAMILY OWNED MASTER TAILOR AND HIGH END MENSWEAR STORE

BY AMANDA McCOY • PHOTOS BY ROBERT NUZZIE

The year was 1962. Italian born Raffaele Lauretta, a master tailor with a small shop in Vittoria, had made the decision to leave his home in Sicily in search of greater opportunity in the United States. Joining him would be his teenage son, Sal, who had been working alongside his father since the age of 12, diligently learning from Raffaele’s fastidious technique. Their approach to the craft was highly methodical, from the cut to the fabrics. No detail was deemed too small.

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“There were no suits o the rack at the time; every suit was custom made,” added Sal Lauretta’s son, Ralph, of his grandfather’s shop in 1960s Italy

While the Laurettas did not bring a fortune with them on their journey across the Atlantic, they did bring something that would prove to be invaluable: their craft. The father and son team understood the nuances of men’s clothing, from expert fitting to fabric selection to how to make the perfect cut. To the family, Ralph explained, tailoring wasn’t merely a trade, it was an art.

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During their first decade in New Jersey, father and son worked at separate tailoring shops, with the younger employed at a custom dressmaker in Manhattan. In 1971, nearly 10 years after bidding farewell to Italy, the duo embarked on their first entrepreneurial enterprise, a New Jersey dry cleaning service. Three years later, the true family dream became a reality when the Laurettas opened a specialty tailor and custom menswear store in Midland Park, bringing their classic European style artistry to the Garden State. They named the store Sal Lauretta for Men.

“It’s a true family atmosphere; we welcome new customers to the family,” said Ralph, who joined the operation in the late 1990s. He, unlike his dad, did not always know he wanted to go into the family business.

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“I used to get dragged here on the weekends, kicking and screaming,” he added with a laugh. “I went to school for math and then worked at a bank, but it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. I started coming in on Saturdays for a little while to see how it went.” That was more than 20 years ago.

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Today, the third generation Lauretta serves as the shop’s general manager and buyer, and also assists with the fittings for custom clothing. His dad still uses the same attention to detail he learned from his father in Italy, but with a present day twist. The owners call it “a modern take on old school men’s clothing.” They offer menswear for all occasions, from casual to formal, including shoes, suit accessories (such as ties, bow ties, and cufflinks), and boy’s clothing. Contemporary sportswear, designer suits, and special occasion outfits all have their place. Customers have the option of buying ready to wear attire or having a suit or piece of clothing custom designed and crafted specifically for them.

The custom process consists of four steps: measuring, which the Laurettas explained is the basis for the entire look; selecting, where desired fabrics are picked from more than 6,000 choices; designing, where the customer’s personality and tastes “really come to life;” and construction, wherein pieces are meticulously put together by hand.

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This process, which has been fine tuned and perfected over the years, focuses on two core principles: offering clothing of exceptional quality and providing high end customer service. This service, Ralph explained, is one of the elemental reasons the clothing store has remained successful for half a decade.

“We are not just in the retail business,” he said. “We are also in the business of customer service. That’s what drives the customer base.”

The staff is small and highly skilled. The tailors can take a suit apart and then put it back together again, while the salespeople work one on one with clients to go beyond merely recommending a suit or a pair of slacks. Customers sip espresso while considering different fabrics, cuts, and styles. The process, Ralph pointed out, is never rushed or high pressure.

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“Our guys can deconstruct a suit and then put it back together again. They go beyond the basics; it’s visionary. There’s not always a direct line to get somewhere, and you need to figure it out on your own. A master tailor can figure that out. My dad is 73 years old, and you won’t meet a true master tailor younger than him.”

While the devotion to technique has remained constant over the years, advances in technology have slashed traditional turnaround times. What once would have taken more than a month to construct can now be completed in just a couple of weeks.

“Technology has taken over; the speed at which things can be done is much quicker,” said Ralph. “It used to be six weeks to complete a custom suit; now it’s down to two weeks. This day and age, people don’t want to wait six weeks.”

For clients searching for wardrobe advice, the team also makes house calls. “We will go to clients’ houses if they are unsure about their wardrobe,” he said. “We go through their closets with them, and tell them what they should get rid of and what they should not.”

When asked if the surge in the online fashion industry (which, according to shopify.com, is poised to ring in $481 billion in worldwide revenue this year) has hurt the business, the general manager explained that its effects have actually been minimal. In fact, he’s noticed a resurgence in the demand for custom clothing.

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“Guys don’t want to waste time,” said Ralph. “They want to try it on. They want to touch and feel the clothing.” The store’s numbers back him up: Sal Lauretta for Men has grown every year for the past decade.

The owners’ family oriented attitude extends beyond the shop. The Laurettas are involved in philanthropic activities throughout the area. Although the store takes part in a wide variety of fundraisers during the year, there is one event that is particularly near and dear to the proprietors’ hearts.

“Behind the Seams,” the brainchild of Ralph Lauretta and one of his frequent customers, is an annual runway fashion show that benefits Eva’s Village, a non profit in nearby Paterson that provides a variety of services to the less fortunate, including shelter, treatment for substance abuse, and medical and dental care. Every year for the past nine years, the Sal Lauretta team has hosted the extravagant show at Bottagra Restaurant in Hawthorne, where it showcases the store’s spring and summer lines.

“One of my customers is an event coordinator, and we brainstormed doing this show,” Ralph said.

“We had 80 people at our first, and last year we had 450 people.”

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The family is involved in other local fund raisers and education initiatives, too. “If we can find a way to help, we will,” said Ralph. “We are really lucky in this world, and we should help whenever we can.”

Sal Lauretta for Men
621 Godwin Avenue, Midland Park / 201.444.1666
sallauretta.com