Clothes make the man. But who makes the clothes? Nowadays, most of us walk around wearing cookie-cutter shirts, pants, and jackets, all produced en masse and for no one in particular. Sure, they come in a variety of standardized sizes, but very few bodies are standard.

Purchasing clothes in the 21st century is less about accentuating personality and more about wearing billboards. Our clothes announce to the world what brands we buy, what teams we cheer for, and what music we listen to. They say so little about our own individual personality that it’s almost an afterthought. That is until that man in the fully tailored suit enters the room.

It’s amazing what that suit can tell us. The color, the cut, the buttons, even which buttons are buttoned and which buttons are for show, every inch of that suit displays specificity. Each stitch, button, and thread speaks to the craft and the care with which it was made. That suit was made for one individual and no one else. And, it was made by hand.

That very craft and care are dutifully captured in director Vicki Vasilopoulos’ Men of the Cloth, a small but beautiful documentary.

Modern-day tailoring stems from the Italian Renaissance and Humanism—the glorification of the human form in art, painting, and sculpture—but it is quickly becoming a dying art.

Vasilopoulos focuses on three master tailors—Nino Corvato (working out of New York City), Joe Centofanti (Philadelphia), and Checchino Fonticoli (Penne, Italy)—armed with shears and tape measures. All three are artists, and the body is their canvas. Fabric is their paint.

Vasilopoulos uses title cards to explain the particulars and the steps involved in tailoring, which allows her subjects to fill in the rest with discussions about the process. Free from static talking heads, Vasilopoulos casually and quietly observes the tailors at work, allowing the audience to see their skill first hand. While they work, they muse candidly about their upbringing and training, never dwelling too long on any one thing, with each word, each anecdote carefully placed like stitches on a lapel.

All three come from a similar background, one that taught them to conserve every scrap of fabric, but all three have developed a specialized approach to their work. You see how they measure the client, design the patterns, cut the fabric, hide little signatures of color under the collar or pockets, etc. It’s all well thought out and thought out over a lifetime of work.

Which begs the inevitable question, what will become of them and their talents, their skills, and their knowledge after they pass? Their art is a dying art, one they are trying to teach and pass on, but like all art, the consumer must be present. In a way, their struggle is akin to the struggle of the independent filmmaker. One Vasilopoulos is most likely familiar with.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Men of the Cloth (2013)
Produced and directed by Vicki Vasilopoulous
Starring: Nino Corvato, Joe Centofanti, Checchino Fonticoli
Orestes Films, Not rated, Running time 96 minutes, Premiered Nov. 19, 2013 at DOC NYC.

The above review first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 22, No. 36, “Death of the handmade.”