The bloodline that courses through the Press family veins was encapsulated in the presentation of my father, Paul Press’s sport coats front stage in the faux campus store at the historic 2012 Ivy Style Exhibit at the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology exhibit that I co-curated with men’s fashion authority G. Bruce Boyer.
Dad’s tweeds were originally tailored in the third floor workroom above Val’s Barber Shop (where I got my first haircut) on the second floor of the J. Press Headquarters on 262 York Street. The garments were pinned and chalked by master tailor Ralph Chieffo and cut from cardboard patterns drawn by long-serving cutter Dominic Di Petto, both craftsmen from the bespoke trenches that lined York Street since the turn of the twentieth century. I still hear Paul Press and Mr. Chieffo chastising one another,
“For Christ’s sake Ralph, the pants fit me like a girdle. Why the hell did you make the notch on the lapel so goddamn wide?”
“Please, Mr. Press, if you don’t mind, let me finish the try-on!”
Blood, toil, sweat and tears in every stitch. Triumph of the finished product hugged the exhibit mannequins in an everlasting embrace. The Harris Tweed jacket still retained the faint aroma of peat from the smoke room in the Outer Hebrides where it was sponged and dried. I’m not suggesting any need to smell Harris Tweed jackets that currently hang on the racks at J. Press. The Prince of Wales plaid sport coats were fondly soothed with the unmistaken soft hand of superfine cashmere, their unblemished colors signature of their W. Bill, London genesis. “Mist of the Moors.” Dad’s prized Donegal Tweed “Presstige” sport jacket, ready-made circa 1966, flaunted its distinctive signed label, “I have woven this cloth by hand in Donegal, Ireland,” D.J. Cooch, Weaver.
Sometimes, the fleeting memories aren’t even my own. Episcopal Bishop of New York, Paul Moore, Jr., recalled his college days in My Harvard, My Yale. He and his pals were once bailed out of the New Haven jail on a Sunday morning by my grandfather after a rowdy fracas the night before outside of Mory’s. They were singing Christmas carols to their fellow inmates, when Jacobi Press, the local college tailor, appeared in a three piece suit, watch chain, and Derby Hat to bail them out.
“Mr. Press owned a small store on York Street and did more than anyone else to establish the Ivy Look.
His tweeds were a little softer and flashier than Brooks Brothers tweeds, his ties a little brighter.
J. Press’ sons assisted him and still run the business. We became friends and customers of the Press family.”
In grade school Grandpa introduced me to his customers whenever I visited the store. J. Press did not have a Boy’s department so he took me to Brooks Brothers for my Bar Mitzvah suit. Taking it back to his eponymous store across the street he couldn’t wait to tear out the Brooks Brothers label and sew on his own.
Jacobi Press’ heritage remains honored in the stores bearing his name. No need to tear off competing labels on yours truly. I remain strictly J. Press.
While most nostalgia is an illusion of present magic in remembering the past as so much better than it was, the reminiscences of Mr. Press do seem to take us honestly back to the times we should honor more, of a family business, of pride in quality offeeings to the public and by keeping safe those traditions we likewise share because by comparison with the present we can now make the more accurate distinctions relating to quality, style and substance without which we would surely devolve into the useless mediocrity of misdirected fads and unbridled modernity bringing change for it’s own sake. Progress is making things better not just different and tradition is the set of guiding principles by which we begin to know ourselves. J.Press without question established American traditions! Thank you for being a keeper for some of those who still care. JHA
So glad stores have re-opened! I hope I can get back to NYC soon ( from L.A. – I need a J. Press fix!
Thanks again for your stories- especially this one about Harris Tweed-
Love the history from the source. Keep it flowing.
My Uncle , Isadore, THE TAILOR to Robert Lazarus at F. & R. Lazarus Columbus for over 30 years introduced me to J. Press my Freshman Year 60/61. Wanting a Harris Tweed with a Smokey aroma.
What is the origin of the ticket pocket? Does it make the jacket more sporty, or is it an elegant detail that has largely been forgotten?
Monster raconteur. Always look forward to a great story. Press on. Hey that’s kinda catchy.
Really look forward to reading your blog each week,I.E. Tearing the Brooks Bros label off boys sport coat and sewing in Press label outstanding
There are two plaid jackets on the Press cover page, one with bow tie, the other with long tie. Winter? Spring/summer?
Available? Thx. vs
Wonderful! Keep these coming, please. There’s nothing like nostalgia to cheer us in these difficult days.
I grew up in New Haven and my father, Ray Jacobs, worked for J Press as a sales representative for many years from the late 30’s until he retired at the end of the 60’s, most of which time was spent as a traveling representative in many mid-eastern and southern cities such as Philadelphia, Washington,DC (before the store there), Charlottesville and others. I remember well the 262 York street store, which I visited frequently, with the sales floor on the street level with a little balcony over-looking and Mr Paul Press’s office upstairs. My dad was utterly committed to the “J Press Ivy League” look and I can remember several conflicts with him, which I always lost, as various style fads came and went during the 50"s and 60’s and I always had to have the “Ivy League” look. My dad had several health issues during his years at J Press and I will always be grateful for the many kindnesses and understanding that Paul showed to him. I am a few years younger than Richard and greatly enjoyed reading this history