By Lorraine Mirabella, The Baltimore Sun
9:41 AM EST, January 4, 2014
John Ciambruschini began learning to handcraft garments as a teenage apprentice to his father in Rome, tailoring made-to-order suits, slacks, dresses and skirts.
After immigrating to the United States in 1958 at age 20, Ciambruschini worked at the now-closed Botany 500 suit factory in Philadelphia and Haas Tailoring Co. in Baltimore, where he created custom patterns. After a stint designing men's clothes in San Antonio he returned to Baltimore in the mid-1970s for a job at the Charles Village shop Custom Gentleman Ltd., which he later bought. He ran the shop for 16 years, making suits and women's tailored clothing to order.
Ciambruschini joined Jos. A Bank nearly two decades ago when it still operated Baltimore-based factories, helping to run the design and quality departments. When the company closed its plants in the late 1990s as many U.S. garment factories struggled to compete with cheaper labor overseas, he left and became a consultant.
But he returned just a couple of years later to the Hampstead-based retailer. Over the past dozen years, the company grew into the nation's second-largest men's apparel chain as Ciambruschini also moved up, from head designer in charge of quality to his current role as a vice president.
Ciambruschini, now 75, oversees apparel line production at factories spread over three continents, frequently traveling to China, Mexico, Bangladesh, Italy, Guatemala, India and Egypt.
The chain has been in the spotlight lately after it sought to merge with larger rival Men's Wearhouse. The Houston-based chain rejected Bank's $2.3 billion offer before turning the tables and making its own offer to acquire Bank, which Bank then turned down. Through it all, Ciambruschini said he has remained focused on his work.
"I have not thought about it in detail," he said. Nor is he considering retiring any time soon, he said, adding, "I like what I'm doing."
Before you came to the U.S. from Italy in 1958, you had apprenticed as a tailor with your father. What were some of the earliest lessons you learned from your father that have helped shape your career?
Working at the store with my father, I learned many things. Two of the most important were, he kept up with the technical aspect of the trade and tried new patterns and methods.
But the most important lessons were in witnessing how he interacted with people and how they respected him. My father was a well-read person and a musician, so it was this information and music that were always present. And all this had a part in what I have become.
What are some of the biggest changes in the design of men's tailored apparel since you've been in the business, in terms of style and production? What has stayed the same?
I have seen many changes and trends, both in the [United States] and around the world. The more formal garbs, as well as the custom tailors servicing those needs, are almost extinguished. Still, the growth in Rome left a lasting impression as to how tailoring should be. Brioni, Caraceni, Datti, and Cifonelli epitomized the best work in tailoring. Looking at their work, you could not help but be inspired.
Like many aspects of our lives, we are too homogeneous. Custom tailors provided that touch of individuality, a characteristic that is now missing. In mass production, many machines have been introduced with very good results. As a minimalist, I thrive to get the most and best with less. This is a primary goal at any factory. When someone is well-dressed, most people will notice.
What is something people might not realize about the process of designing apparel for a large men's retail chain?
Designing for a very large customer base offers many possibilities and limitations at the same time. I must incorporate a piece of myself in all that I do, otherwise, the interest will wane. At times I dislike, personally, the routine of large-scale manufacturing versus individual custom tailoring, but when I think about how many thousands of people have worn our labels, it helps to compensate for it.
A challenge is provided by the high mix of U.S. demographics, by far the highest in the world. Knowing that most of our customers are well-fitted gives me great satisfaction.
How often do you travel to the manufacturing plants, and what is your role at the plants?
My travels to the plants are not fixed on dates, but rather they are dictated by need. During the year I try to visit all the plants. The quality and collections produced tells me how long and how often my visits are needed. At Jos. A. Bank, consistent high quality is extremely important.
My role is to assess the quality of our collections, but it is equally important to assess the companies and their staff. This is something that cannot be done as well by way of email or any similar means. While you evaluate them, you are equally evaluated. If the reading is good, the relationship can benefit on both sides. In most cases, this has happened. While the production markets are now global, at Jos. A. Bank, we still strive to produce the best for all the collections.
Where do you find inspiration for apparel design? How challenging is that part of the work? How much influence do fashion trends have on the work?
Inspiration is found in many places and ways. I love unusual detailing and surprises. The challenge in design and production is to create something that has a common "thread" that will appeal to many. Fashion trends, while not taken in their totality, must be part of the process. I have not been active in custom clothing for many years, yet some of the customers still think fondly of me and the same can be said for previous co-workers. Part of my work has my hobby built into it. My dedication is serious, but fun must play a part in it also. Michelangelo was doing some of his greatest work at age 72, could there be any better inspiration?
Title: Vice president of design and quality for Jos. A. Bank
Previous Job: Owned a store for 16 years called Custom Gentleman for women's and men's custom clothing.
Birthplace: Pitigliano, Tuscany, Italy
Education: First year Lyceum
Family: Wife, Olivia; children, Laura and Gregory
Hobbies: Reading, visiting historical sites, traveling, music, gardening and plants
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun