Life Style

Domenico Spano, Clothier of Stars Who Found Fame of His Own, Dies at 79

Domenico Spano, a New York custom clothier who outfitted captains of industry and Hollywood stars, and whose own dandyish style made him a highly recognizable peacock on the streets of the city as well as in newspaper fashion pages, died on Oct. 23 in Manhattan. He was 79.

His daughter Elisabeth Spano said he died in a hospital of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Mr. Spano, who went by the nickname Mimmo, was born in the Calabria region of southern Italy. But although he grew up in a country known for its illustrious fashion history, he made his name in New York as a champion of classic American style, as epitomized by the timeless elegance of silver-screen legends like Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Cary Grant and Gary Cooper.

With his own head-turning outfits, rendered in colorful patterns and bold prints and complete with felt fedoras, paisley scarfs, suspenders, bow ties and an ever-present carnation in his lapel, he would become a fixture in street-style columns like The New York Times’s “On the Street,” written and shot by his friend, the photographer and fashion-world institution Bill Cunningham.

In a 2014 column, Mr. Cunningham celebrated what he saw as “signs of a new peacock revolution,” citing Mr. Spano as “a star of the movement.”

“He likes my style because it’s typical American,” Mr. Spano said of Mr. Cunningham in a 2012 interview with GQ magazine. “Everyone’s always trying to look elsewhere for inspiration, but we have such amazing heritage here. Hollywood in the ’30s, we were dictating the style all over the world.”

He adapted his own sartorial flourishes to suit the needs of billionaires, chief executives and leading men like Al Pacino and Anthony Hopkins — first as a salesman and manager for custom clothing at Dunhill and Alan Flusser, later as a designer of custom suits and other items for Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue, and finally at his own atelier on West 57th Street.

With suits that in recent years started at around $6,000, the Spano look was not cheap. But for some clients, money was no object.

Mr. Spano told the menswear website Film Noir Buff that a billionaire client once flew him to the Caribbean in his private 737 jet to lounge around his new villa and sample from his wine cellar so Mr. Spano could get a sense of the lifestyle that his creations — ultimately $283,000 worth of linen suits, dinner jackets and the like — would inhabit.

Quoted in the 2013 book “I Am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman,” by Nathaniel Adams and Rose Callahan, Mr. Spano recounted a time when a Japanese customer wanted an exact copy of a beloved old green herringbone cashmere jacket. Mr. Spano informed him that the fabric needed was no longer available. “I have to make a minimum of 70 meters at the mill,” he informed the client. “The jacket only requires two meters.”

Undeterred, the client ponied up the required tens of thousands of dollars, using the leftover 68 square meters to upholster his private plane.

Domenico Spano was born on Aug. 17, 1944, in the town of Scigliano, the middle of three children of Salvatore Spano and Elisabetta Oliva.

Because he came from a long line of military men, there was little in his background to suggest the career he would go on to have. He even followed in the steps of his forebears in 1970 by graduating from officer school in Florence for the Carabinieri, the Italian military police force.

Love, however, sent him in a very different direction when he became infatuated with his future wife, Rina Gangemi, an American who was studying in Florence. “Three days after we met, I told her I was going to marry her, leave everything and follow her to this country,” he said in a 2013 interview with the style website Keikari. “By nature I am an incurable romantic.”

The couple married in 1972 and settled in Jersey City, N.J. Mr. Spano took a job as a bookkeeper with his father-in-law, Joseph Gangemi, a custom clothier in Midtown Manhattan, before striking out on his own.

As a tradition-minded haberdasher devoted to a genteel yesteryear look, Mr. Spano found himself swimming against the tide in a style world dominated by baby-boomer casual. “My generation was the worst,” he said. “Long hair, leisure suits, flared pants. It was a terrible generation.”

He also had to remind people that he was not a tailor. “As a matter of fact,” he told Keikari, “I don’t know how to sew a button.”

In addition to his daughter Elisabeth, Mr. Spano is survived by another daughter, Cristina Spano; a granddaughter; and a sister, Tina Spano. His wife died in 2003.

Throughout his career, Mr. Spano’s instincts ran toward the abstract. “I dream 24 hours a day,” he was quoted as saying in “I Am Dandy.” “Dreaming is cheap. It doesn’t cost anything.”

“Sometimes,” he added, “I dream that I am in these 1930s movies. I cannot be the guy like Humphrey Bogart with my accent, but I can play a lowlife or gangster.

“I feel bad for people who don’t dream.”

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Mohammad SHiblu

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