Wardrobe: A Boxer's Rebellion

  • William Kissel

Conspicuous in a coat and tie, Frank Shattuck arrives for his regular morning workout at Kingsway gym on West 28th Street in Manhattan, where he has sparred almost every day for the last 14 years. Despite his boxing prowess and all the hours he has spent in the ring, he is known best among the other gym regulars as “the guy who makes the suits.”

The 43-year-old Shattuck finds this amusing, though indeed, he is a highly skilled bespoke suitmaker. A self-styled throwback to a bygone era, Shattuck personally prefers three-piece suits—“like the kind worn by Robert De Niro in The Godfather II,” he says. He cuts his suits in much the same manner as tailors did at the turn of the 20th century, making precision snips at weighty wool flannels and Harris Tweed designed to wear hard and last a lifetime. Even the details—exaggerated peaked lapels, hand-sewn buttonholes, horn buttons rubbed in olive oil, and the occasional matching vest—have a vintage, eternally elegant quality lacking in most modern menswear. “These are clothes for a guy who’s been grandfathered into tailoring,” says Shattuck. “The fathers and grandfathers of my clients wore beautifully handmade suits and taught them to appreciate the same.”

Despite his gifted hands—which are equally adept delivering a left jab–right cross–left hook combination as they are maneuvering a needle and thread—Shattuck never envisioned himself as a boxer or a tailor. Blessed with a chiseled square jaw and the rugged good looks of a young Brando, he set his sights on becoming an actor. At one point, he even landed the part of heavyweight champion James Braddock in an off-Broadway production of Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie, followed by some television commercial appearances.

His career path took an unexpected turn in 1980 when he befriended neighbors Frank and Carl Cesta, twin-brother tailors from Syracuse, N.Y., who made suits the way they had learned to while growing up in southern Italy in the early 1900s. The Cestas convinced Shattuck that he had tailor’s hands and subsequently taught him to cut patterns and stitch like a master. When they retired at the age of 87 in 1989, the Cestas passed the tools of their trade—scissors, a 16-pound iron, and pressboards—to their young apprentice, who says the brothers “are alive today in my hands.”

Since then, suitmaking has become almost an obsession for Shattuck. “The boxing and acting I love. But I don’t have to do them,” he says, citing the long nights he spends in his West 57th Street studio crafting sturdy tailored clothing with classic English details, such as jackets with center vents, roped shoulders, and square pockets. Rather than the au courant unconstructed coat, he favors the formal structure that two layers of canvas inner lining give to the overall shape of a jacket.

“It’s unapologetic tailoring,” says Shattuck, whose entirely handmade suits start at $4,500 and require as much as 80 hours of labor. “It’s a man’s suit—sharp, striking, and strong without the need to apologize like a lot of today’s suits made from more delicate fabrics.”

Frank Shattuck Custom Tailor
212.586.3892

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