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Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023

CLOTHING—Head to Toe

A woodland hills clothier came up with a way to target men looking for a look that is as good as money can buy Some business executives work boardrooms. Some travel the world. Arturo Carlos Lewin rummages through closets. His job is to custom tailor clothing, mostly for business executives, and the first step is often weeding through a client’s existing wardrobe. The service is just one of several Art Lewin & Co. provides to clients, who typically plunk down about $3,000 on their first visit to the Woodland Hills shop. At those prices, customers expect not only a new suit, but the kind of head-to-toe service that may mean salvaging a favorite coat that’s seen brighter or lighter days. “If one of my clients calls and says one of my buttons fell off, I’ll go over there and pick it up and sew the button on,” said Lewin. “If they have weight gain or weight loss, I’ll go alter it. That’s what separates me (from traditional stores), that and I know who they are.” The company’s client list runs to 1,200 active accounts customers who make purchases anywhere from once a week to once a quarter accounting for about $1.5 million in sales in 2000, its fourth year in business. Lewin himself attends to about 700 clients personally, about 50 a week. Since its launch, Art Lewin & Co. has grown from a one-man operation with two part-time tailors to an organization with five sales representatives and nine tailors located in the company’s factory in downtown L.A. Lewin and his sales reps see clients in their homes, offices and the store, using swatch books of fabric from some of the most exclusive textile companies in Italy and England cashmere, wool, silk and linen from E. Thomas, Loro Piana, Ermenegildo Zegna, Gladson Ltd. and Roger Laviale among them. The average price for a custom suit ranges from $900 to $4,000. A custom shirt will typically run from $125 to $265. The company also provides made-to-measure clothing and coordinates the ensembles with ready-made ties. “We want to make an impact on their wardrobe and, in order to do that, one suit doesn’t cut it,” Lewin said. “We like to do at least a couple suits with six shirts and three ties for each suit. That way, you don’t have a uniform. You can pick and choose what you want to wear.” A Chilean native who came to the U.S. when he was 8 years old, Lewin started working for a custom clothier while he was still in college. After striking up a partnership at that company and disbanding it three years later, he went to work for The Custom Shop, a men’s chain specializing in made-to-measure clothing. In 1997, Lewin went out on his own, tapping all his credit cards to the tune of about $70,000. “I went from making a pretty good income to zero, but I didn’t think about that,” said the 33-year-old entrepreneur. Working out of a spare bedroom in the home he shares with his wife and then 8-month-old daughter, Lewin began telemarketing for clients using business directories for his prospect lists. He screened potential clients to determine their shopping and spending habits, a technique the company still follows. “I wanted to hear that they shop at Macy’s and up,” Lewin said. “If they’re shopping at Nordstrom, that was an ideal candidate. If they tell me they’re shopping at Neiman Marcus, I already know they’re paying $800 or $1,000 for a suit. I can offer them something competitive that’s custom-made for them.” Lewin picked up an astounding 400 clients in the first nine months of operation, enough to move the business out of his house into a small office and hire an additional tailor and four sales reps. For a time the business looked as if it would become heavily reliant on the entertainment industry, but Lewin prefers to work with law firms, real estate companies and investment firms. “Entertainment is too demanding,” he said. “I can’t get up at 4 in the morning and go see them or be there at midnight. I have a family.” Lewin has seen the inside of enough boardrooms to be able to offer advice on the colors and styles that are most appropriate to each profession, a benefit that also helps distinguish him from department stores and specialty shops. “When you go to Nordstrom, they don’t know who you are. They don’t know how you should dress. They just want to sell you whatever you like,” said Lewin. “I know you’re an attorney and you need to wear navy, gray and a couple of earth tones. I work with their skin tones.” Clients say Lewin’s expertise is a key element of the service, allowing them to make selections they would not make if left to their own devices. “I feel very comfortable with him,” said Barry Wolfe, president of Centrelink Insurance and Financial Services in Woodland Hills. “I’ll say, ‘Is this really OK?’ and he would tell me if it doesn’t look good. I like the suggestions he makes. He understands colors a lot better than I do. I’m wearing colors I never did before, and people say, ‘You look great.'” Then there are the house calls. “I have clients whose closets are as big as the whole store,” Lewin said. Sometimes he will alter or update the styling of a favorite jacket or suit. But mostly he tries to get his clients to discard clothing they no longer wear. “Clothing is one of the hardest things to throw away,” said Lewin. “The other day I was at a doctor’s house, and he had things from 15 years ago. I ask, ‘What haven’t you worn in the last year?’ and that cuts off a lot of things.” And those ties? According to Lewin, there are no ugly ties, just bad combinations. “What makes an ugly tie is when you combine it with the wrong colors or the wrong look,” he said. “You can put that same tie with something it should go with, and it will look good.”

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