My grandfather's landmark store in Harvard Square will be closing this week.
Joseph Rizzo made clothes for politicians and Nobel Laureates, including John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Robert Frost, John Kerry and Julia Child. His store on Church Street in Cambridge has been open since 1947. The store has been a fixture in the community, and he's even had a scholarship in his name at Harvard University.
This landmark sign in Harvard Square has stood for decades. The building may still keep it up indefinitely.
I don't talk about my grandfather much, and in truth I didn't know him very well. The Rizzo family, my mother's side, is an enormous family, and since my mother was the second youngest child, he was very old when I was still toddling. I think of him as holding court over a house full of relatives in Arlington.
But I was always in awe of his legacy as one of the most prominent tailors of his day. Today, he would probably have become a designer in the fashion industry, but a generation earlier, he made custom clothing for Boston-based celebrities.
Because his family grew up around this field, I came to learn what I know about fashion through them, and ultimately, because of my grandfather. I learned how to judge fabrics, and the quality of a suit, and how to assess whether a suit fit or not (for example, if the jacket lapels bend even slightly, you need more room in the chest and shoulders). I even learned tailor shortcuts from the family—did you know if you pick up a pair of pants at a store, and wrap the waist around your neck, that the pants will fit around your waist so long as the pants wrap completely around your neck with a little room to spare? See the photo below.
At some point, I was able to fit into one of my grandfather's old jackets, and the craftsmanship was so incredible, that it had lasted decades.
I always wanted to buy a suit from the man who took over from my grandfather. In my 20s, I was too broke to afford it, even though he extended a friends and family discount. Since then I've lived outside of Boston for most of my life. But I've been in the store a number of times, and loved examining the fabrics, and romanticized the notion of having a custom suit one day. My friend Roy assures me that it should fit like pajamas.
In the meantime, I'm very proud of my heritage, and I hope that there can be some lingering memory of the man and his craft.
The label I was too broke to afford for most of my life.
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