Never in his wildest dreams, as a poor boy in Sicily, did Nino Corvato imagine he'd become one of the most sought-after custom tailors in New York -- and now, the star of a documentary.
But Corvato -- who eventually immigrated to the United States and settled in Bay Shore, where he and his wife raised two children -- is one of three Italian master tailors profiled in "Men of the Cloth," a heartwarming documentary making its Long Island premiere Wednesday at Huntington's Cinema Arts Centre. The film is followed by a reception with Corvato and first-time director Vicki Vasilopoulos.
In an opening scene, he strolls along the docks in his hometown outside Palermo. In his youth, there were 100 tailors plying their trade in the town -- today there is one. The situation is just as dire in the United States, which worries him, but for now he just stares out at the sea.
"Every time I go and look out there, I feel like a kid again," says Corvato, 74, recalling that scene as he sits in his office on Madison Avenue. "We used to get together, five, six kids, and put in 10 cents each," he says, laughing, "and rent a boat for an hour and jump in the water. There was nothing else to do, really. But it was the greatest fun in the world."
Vasilopoulos, once a fashion journalist, became fascinated by tailors and their passion for an art form that now seems endangered, given these days of cheap, disposable fashion. In the film, we see her "unsung heroes" at work, nimble hands whipping over fabric with needle and thread like a violinist with a bow. Their unique stitching, like signatures; their creativity, alas, inside a garment, hidden from view.
Make no mistake -- these are not just some guys who hem your trousers or take in a jacket. Master tailors create clothing from scratch.
Or as Corvato puts it (in his lyrical Italian accent), "You make-uh the pattern, you cut-uh the suit."
Corvato was 7 when he started in the trade. Like many a tailor in training, he learned how to use a thimble by folding his middle finger into his palm and tying it in place. Such dedication paid off. Today, his clients include David Letterman, businessman Ronald Perelman and artist Frank Stella.
And Vasilopoulos. He recently made her a black wool suit.
"I'm wearing it Wednesday," she says. "It was a great process -- I put pictures of it up on Facebook."
Corvato is no stranger to such enthusiasm.
"Can I tell you one thing, and this is the truth -- even if you don't pay me, I couldn't care less," he says. "When the customer gets the suit and looks in the mirror -- the happy look in their eyes -- it makes you feel great. You created this. That's the greatest feeling you can have in your life."