He was unlike any individual I have ever met and probably you as well. His name was Georges de Paris, a suitably colorful name for an extraordinarily charismatic and kind individual. Georges was the tailor to the current president and to every president since Lyndon Johnson.
I met Georges about a dozen years ago when I worked at Old Ebbitt Grill as a hostess. He was a regular fixture there, where his libations of choice were burgundy and white wine. A co-worker at Old Ebbitt Grill introduced us after he noticed that the seam had come out of my pant leg bottom. Georges graciously hemmed the pants in his shop, which is adjacent the restaurant, while I waited in the fitting room. I noticed that the backroom of his shop seemed to be in total disarray, but as I found out over time, Georges always knew exactly where everything was.
Georges and I became friends immediately and during the years our friendship grew and became even more “fantastic,” one of Georges’ favorite words. Georges was like my D.C. grandpa and part of my family. My entire family knew him well, and I would introduce all of my friends to him. He would often give his signature ties and scarfs to my family and friends. When Georges was at Howard University Hospital about a year ago he expressed his gratitude by giving ties to the doctors who had taken care of him.
I would even bring boyfriends to meet him at his shop, in order to see if he approved. I have a grandfather who I am very close with, but he lives in Texas. Georges and I had a special connection and we related to each other very well. He understood me.
I would visit Georges every Saturday morning at his tailoring shop, which was located one block from the White House. We would have coffee and I would bring him a baguette and fruit. During our visits we would talk and share things that occurred during the previous week. He would often tell me if he had a difficult client, or maybe he was invited to the White House for a fitting, or he had a cute client who he wanted me to meet.
Georges came to the United States more than 50 years ago from France for a woman whose name he had since forgotten. Their romance did not work out and Georges never married. He would say that “Ms. Needle” was his girlfriend. After the breakup, Georges lived in the park at 14th and K in Washington. He soon found a couple of tailoring jobs, including at Brooks Brothers, before opening his own shop in the late 1970s at 11th and G St. NW. He moved his shop in the early 1980s to 14th and G, across the street from his current location, and then in 1984 or 1985, he moved to 13th and G, and then a few years later to his present location.
I never did learn to sew. Georges would say, “It’s not for you. Everyone is good at different things.” I was fine with that and just cherished our friendship dearly and appreciated the advice he gave me. Georges taught me patience and to be kind to everyone.
You could not miss Georges. He was short with a mane of long wavy white hair. He would always be dressed in a suit, one that he made, often with suspenders. He had a thick French accent and spoke many languages. He had a radiant personality and was always welcoming to everyone, including the tourists who would stop by his shop. When people walk into a tailoring shop they often feel intimidated. But, when people walked into Georges’ shop they felt different. Georges always made sure that everyone was comfortable and felt at home when they were in his shop. He had a charm about him that made people feel relaxed and that they belonged there.
I threw an 80th surprise birthday party for Georges last year at his shop. We had a cake with a picture of the Eiffel Tower on it and I gave him an antique iron, which I found on Ebay. Many of his friends attended, including Alexander, Lawrence, Gordon, Jim, Ali, Tony, Theresa, Amy and Josh.
Alexander was one of Georges’ closest and most dependable friends, helping Georges with daily tasks such as opening and closing and cleaning the shop.
Lawrence, who currently owns LA Executive Corporate Car Services, was also one of Georges’ best friends. They first became acquainted in the late 1970s and their friendship lasted until Georges’ death. Lawrence described his relationship with Georges like father and son.
Gordon Lau, a good friend of Georges for over 10 years, currently works as a financial advisor in Virginia. Mr. Lau first sought Georges to do alterations on a Navy pinstripe suit. After numerous fittings, they struck up a kinship that remained strong until Georges’ death. In Mr. Lau’s words, Georges was truly one of the last of the great tailors, someone who could make a bespoke suite by hand (a thread and needle, no machines) in just 72 hours. If you knew Georges, you could not help noticing that his hands were delicate like those of an artist.
Les, another close friend to Georges, is a retired military officer and currently working as a CPA and IT professional for the government. Les was another one of Georges’ dear friends who first met him more him 25 years ago while he and his son were passing Georges’ tailoring shop. Georges and Les’ son bonded immediately and they stayed in touch. Georges and Les were both Free Masons and they would discuss topics within the Masonic community, as well as the different aspects of Free Masonry as practiced in Europe and within the United States.
Georges’ suits were part of history. The brown suit that was worn by President Ronald Reagan when he was shot was one of Georges’ suits. Georges also made the navy blue suits worn by President George W. Bush in the events following 9/11 and in his Sept. 20 address to the joint session of Congress. Georges was always on call for last minute alterations for visiting heads of states. George spoke most fondly of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and his wife, and President and Mrs. Obama. The first time Georges met the Obamas at the White House, he was smitten with Mrs. Obama’s sense of fashion and the overall warmth of the couple.
Georges cherished all the letters of thanks, the presidential seal cufflinks and lapel pins given by the presidents and congressmen whose suits he made. To those who knew Georges, he was a man of character who saw the best in people and always wanted to serve. Georges would often say, “I’m not political, I’m a tailor.” He did not see a blue America or a red America, what views or background they came from, but rather the character of the person, from a head of state to a stranger who was sitting for his first-time alteration. Georges treated everyone equally and everyone as a friend.
Georges was diagnosed with prostate cancer about two years ago. He would still come to his shop almost every day, including Saturdays and Sundays. In July, it was discovered that the cancer had spread to throughout his body and a tumor formed in his brain. Georges was admitted to a hospital and later transferred to a hospice in Arlington where he spent the last month of his life. I continued to visit Georges regularly. He could not always converse with me, but I could tell he knew I was there. I would play opera and classical music for him, which were the types of music he enjoyed most. His favorite opera was La Boheme.
Georges died on Sept. 13, just shy of his 81st birthday. You only meet someone like Georges de Paris once in your life, and I feel so fortunate that I did.