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Insights: Indulgences—A Cut Above

The Mecca for custom-made shirts is a small firm in New York City
Matt Kramer
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Bacon, May/Jun 00

It's every buyer's fantasy: going to the source. If you're buying a bottle of wine, it's ideal to get it from the person who not only makes the wine but also grows the grapes. It's why Burgundy buyers spend so much time hunting down obscure estates. You want the definitive hands-on experience, the rare privilege of dealing direct.  

So, when I decided to pursue the ultimate custom-made shirt, I met with Mike Athanasatos. I've been buying custom-made shirts for decades. If you name a high-end company, I've probably bought from it. Were any of them bad? No. They all had lovely "shirtings" (that's the fabric in shirt-making parlance).  

But Mike is unique. He doesn't care about appearances, except yours. I went to him because he's the source, the end of the line, the go-to guy for some very fancy stores that'll sell you a custom-made shirt for twice his price. And all they do is send Mike your measurements. He does the rest, including sewing in the shop's label into a shirt he has made.  

Shirts are more sensuous than any other custom-made attire. After all, a shirt is draped over your entire upper body. You can feel it all day long against your skin. How it fits can make an amazing difference to how you feel. The ideal custom-made shirt fits so well that you'll forget you're even wearing it.  

You can walk into any big-name store and the salespeople will sell you a custom-made shirt for $350 to $450. Or you can meet Mike and get the same shirt for $175 to $250, depending on the fabric. And--this is no small point--the person fitting you will be Mike himself.  

To secure the ultimate in custom-made shirts, you need to make your way to Geneva Custom Shirts Ltd. A visit to Geneva Custom Shirts Ltd. may not be quite what you'd expect from a top-flight shirtmaker. Put out of your mind any visions of mahogany-paneled "gentleman's rooms" with distinguished-looking salesmen murmuring "Very good choice, sir." West 32nd is a gray and gritty Midtown street lined with Korean restaurants and small manufacturing outfits on the upper floors. On one of these upper floors lies Geneva Custom Shirts.  

Once you squeeze into a dingy elevator and go to the third floor, a sign tells you to turn right. There's a locked door with a buzzer to press. It feels like a "drop" in a spy movie. This is the source of some of the world's finest custom-made shirts for some of shirt making's most famous names?  

The door opens and you can see all of the shop. On the left, 17 employees, mostly women, work the pedals at a variety of sewing machines. Straight ahead is Mike's office, which gives new meaning to the word "utilitarian." Fancy this ain't. But splendid it is, in its fashion.  

Mike comes out to greet you. He's a robust-looking 50-year-old; affable, utterly unpretentious and downright solicitous. If you have a bit of a belly for your shirt to cover, not to worry. Mike has one, too. You feel as though you're meeting a family friend.  

On the wall are pictures of quite a few famous "friends," 8x10 glossies of notable people such as Gen. Colin Powell and Tom Brokaw, all inscribing their famous visages "To Mike." Mike flies once a year to Beverly Hills to attend to a sizable slice of the upper-end entertainment industry, actors and executives alike.  

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