Panos Aristakessian grew up in Lebanon where he went to one of the finest tailoring houses to learn his skill. Now he shares his path in life and what is essential to become a master tailor.
Alan: Welcome back I'm here today with the founder of Peter Panos and actually his name is Panos Aristakessian but for the interview we'll just refer to you as Peter.
Peter: Okay that's fine.
Alan: Welcome to today's show.
Peter: Thank you for having me Alan
Alan: So Peter you founded a very successful tailoring practice located in downtown San Francisco on Geary Street. And for the listeners can you can you give some background, how did you get into tailoring and get your store started.
Peter: Well I came from Lebanon- Beirut, Lebanon. I was trained there at 14 years old in one of the highest tailoring houses. And it was difficult, let me tell you that. You can't just learn tailoring- you have to put all your effort, all your focus. And at that time my passion was music, the rock and roll band, but my father insisted that I learned a skill and trade. And then move on because it was hard times then. And I came from a background of not much. So we all have to pitch in to help the family. So the family was the main focus to help one each other and then also from there I learned the trade. And in 1976 I came to San Francisco. And I had $2.25 in my pocket. And I start knocking doors. For the tailoring. And I found a few jobs. And then start pushing my life forward. And was hard it was hard- the language barrier plus the culture shock was always in front of me.
Alan: So $2 in your pocket roughly.
Peter: Yes that $2 and I ate a hamburger with that one.
Alan: It's amazing how you were able to transform- basically coming from off the streets into your own business, did you find a big break or did you just say, 'okay I got a couple customers, I'm just going to hang out a shingle and make the investment-
Peter: It wasn't easy, so what I did is, I start being humble. I would not indoors and ask them whatever I could get a work job. I'm not asking for money, not asking for pay. I just want to show them what I could do- because I's spent so many years doing that custom tailoring. And I was just really the master of it but people don't realize unless you show them. So I had the opportunity to do that and they started appreciating. And then one day I said enough is enough, I have to go on my own. Because working for them it's mostly was alteration- not enough of making suits, my passion was to make the suit. So I had my own shop. Started doing suits. And years came by and I was really good at it. That was really my dream.
Alan: Culturally you were in a country where the people mostly go to the retail stores and pick suits off the shelf and so it must have been an experience to try to get out there and market and find the customers that were willing to take the tailored goods.
Peter: Yes that was a very hard and part of that and the way to face those difficulties is just to be there and do the best work you can and tell everybody about yourself. That's why it took a lot of years to come to this, it took almost 40 years.
Alan: Now Peter, you mentioned before that you had a passion for rock and roll, not often to you see-
Peter: I still have that passion.
Alan: And how did you decide which way to go tailor vs rock and roll
Peter: That's amazing- two different levels. When I came to the state I was doing the tailoring but the same time I had my band and I was playing at weddings and parties. And that's why it took my 40 years to get me to this point today. When I went to market street and I saw this guy playing, so beautiful guitar I said, 'I quit'. When I see some talent out there and I know what I could do and they could do, I said I'm want to stick with my tailoring. After that I quit the band- not completely of course. I focused on my business. You can always be successful when you focus on something- no matter how good you are. If you're not focusing you will not really succeed. Focus is the main thing in business. And I did focus on business completely. At 14 years old I made a 4-piece band and the guy who played with me didn't know anything about the notes. I was just telling them how to play, when to play and I had that ability to lead the band. I said if I could do that, why don't I do that to my business and be successful- now here I am right now, talking to you.
Alan: It's been quite the journey and you have a great reputation, in fact full disclosure, I use your services and I love the suits that you do. So Peter I want to jump into the process of custom made suits and how you walk your clients through but I'm running up against the break right now. After we get back we'll pick up on the custom suit process, we'll be right back after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back I'm visiting here today with Peter Panos, and, Peter we talked in first segment about how you got into the suit making business but why a custom suit? Why do people come to you when they can go to the store shelves and get something off the rack?
Peter: There are many reasons why the come to me. They can't find the fabric they like; they can't find a the fit they like. Also there are many styles and they don't know which style to buy. When you go to the store, yes you could find many different one and it gets confusing, but you don't know when you're buying the right style. If the style is going away, or if new fashion is coming you- have no idea. What I do is I follow the trend, but I don't go too far with the trend ,I keep it classic, So you could wear it for the next 10-15-20 years. They really do wear my suits for 20 years. And sometimes I call my customers and ask, 'where are you?' and they say, 'well Peter you made me a suit and I'm still wearing it'. Well that's great to hear that because it's classic. It's not trendy. You can always do that but you can't wear it- especially now that you have a pleated pants you can't wear it, you have a 5 inch lapel like in the seventies. You know it just changes. If you stay classic, you could always enjoy your suit and also you have all these choices when it comes to custom tailoring. Plus, you get educated, how the suit should fit you so you look your best.
Alan: So from an expectation, the customer comes to you and says Peter I'd like to a suit, what should they expect in terms of timing and how long does it take from start to finish?
Peter: Usually it takes 6 to 8 weeks, sometime more. It depends on the monthly business cycle. Some months you could get it much faster and some months it takes up to 3 months.
Alan: There's a lot of work in these suits then.
Peter: It is it is because I'm involving everything. You get overwhelmed and you want to take your time before you deliver it. It's not on the fast delivery system. It's, how's the product at the end.
Alan: Now do you do men and women suits?
Peter: Just men. I used to do women- I had lot of woman customers. But my focus is so wide now that I only want to focus on mans. That's what I started on my business on- learning to make men's jackets and pants. And from there I spread out. There are more demands in men's suits than women's suits. Because women- they just wear the suits for business purposes. And the men wear their suits for 30 years, but the woman- once or twice and it's not the same.
Alan: That's impressive, and it speaks of the quality of the garment that you're producing to have a 30-year life on that. So when you look fabrics, walk me through what the different types of fabrics are that people are using. You see this thing of wool 130 are wool 120, what is a good grade fabric for suits?
Peter: For good grades fabric suits it's a super 120 to super 160. That is the great average nice wool. The grade comes from the strength of the fiber- how long they can stretch before they break. The quality of. Not the thinness of thickness in her. So those are the ones that you will find very good fabric. You know sometimes you don't even have to press it- just hang it and it comes back pressed. And one of the fabrics that is more recommended is cashmere. Cashmere I’m wearing right now; it's fiber is unbelievable. If there's a fire you could put this jacket on, cover your head and go through the fire and this saves you.
Alan: And what is it? Is it the tightness of the weave with cashmere?
Peter: It's the fiber that doesn't burn. Wool burns fast, much faster than cashmere- it's amazing how nature gives this to us. Sometimes we take it as luxury, but it's not just luxury, its the quality of the fiber, we don't recognize that. You know we wear polyesters and rayon, if you have that- within seconds it burns and you know what happens.
Alan: Peter I'm up against the break, and we need to take quick break and we'll be right back after these messages and when we get back I want to talk more about the popular types of suits that you typically work with custom made. We'll be right back after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back and getting here today with that Peter Panos and he's a custom tailor up in the San Francisco financial district on Geary street, he's been there since 1978. And Peter we've been talking about the that the world of custom tailoring. Now- question for you. Does fashion in men's suits ever really change?
Peter: Not really, it goes in cycles, start with small lapels, bigger lapels and then it comes back and then almost the same, a little tweak, there's always something there it's not completely the same. But mostly it's classical they start with classical and then stop exaggerating and then it comes back. We put pleats and then take out the pleats. But basically it's the same.
Alan: So it's interesting- a mindset for a client coming in you get something out the shelf and those suits may last a couple years, but what you're building is a 20 to 30-year piece that are often used by your your clients.
Peter: We use the best quality fabrics, the inside training, the real canvas, the hand workmanship. And also I can't say that I'm buying off the rack it's all bad either, they have very good quality suits out there. Every time I see one of them I go inside to see how it's made. Why it's made. What's good about this designer's suit. Why they focus that. I go completely inch by inch trying to find out why this product is as good or not as good as mine. I'm always in competition with them. I want to beat everybody so I'm in there. I really appreciate those people that really put good work inside those garments that it makes me feel proud. But some of those suits are built much differently. And also at the end I ask why are these people are doing this? Just because the average customer doesn't understand. You don't do that. Just try to make your best and let people wear nice suits. I walk on market street of downtown San Francisco, Union Square and I see all these people wearing all these suits and say, Oh wow, they couldn't get much better suits.
Alan: So Peter we talked about the traditional suit never really goes out of style but as a custom tailor. From time to time do you get clients coming in and saying, 'Peter I want something really special in the way that the suit is going to be made,' and if so, what are some of the requests that you've got.
Peter: Many many, that's why they come to custom because they have some kind of design of their own for a suit and I get a lot of requests, someone came and said, I don't want a lapel on my jacket, can you make me a jacket without the lapel? It's a challenge for me, I love these challenges, I wanted to see how it turned out- the jacket without a lapel. This is one of the examples I'm saying. And there is a lot of other areas that on the back, the jacket needs to be different, like a Jon Lesage tuxedo jacket. You want a ladybug pictured in the back of the jacket so it was really hand sewn all in the back, it was challenging, it was many different styles and fabrics because that's my part of my job to do those things.
Alan: That's probably the fun part-
Peter: That's the fun part-
Peter: -creativity yeah.
Alan: So I'm so what's the secret to success. Can you coin what a successful tailor needs to have?
Peter: The success of a tailor is to focus on a customer, focus on the business. And just because you're the tailor doesn't make you separate from the business part. Because tailoring is a stressful job. and if you put that stress in front of the customer you can't really have a successful business. You have to separate them- become a successful business person to take care the customer and to but your stress behind everything. Otherwise because of your stress you won't be able to deliver what your customer is waiting for.
Alan: Now some times, do people come in an order more than one suit at a time from you?
Peter: Well yes they come in with very excited and they want to have 10-15 suits made at the same stop.
Alan: My goodness- 15?
Peter: Yes, well let's start with one, I want to see who you are, what you like- especially when it's a new customer of course. And with the first suit I make, I need to know what the customer is using the suit for- whether they're performing or just sitting at their desk all the time, all of those things take part in the ordering.
Alan: Now Peter after you've done one suit, the second becomes a lot easier.
Peter: Oh yes. It is a lot easier but is still involved still because it's different fabric, a different way, different style, but it is easier than the first suit, the first suit is the build challenge.
Alan: And expectations is the 6 to 8 week window for that first suit, yes. How about that second one, because once you have the fittings-
Peter: -it get's shorter, like another 2 weeks less.
Peter: At a time when I'm very busy still takes a lot of time to finish it up. But the process is when they come in for a fitting, if the first fitting is perfect then it's very easy to finish it up afterwards. But some customers have a very difficult body shape, they have very high shoulders forward pitching, back, sideways- the worst kind is the side ways. So I really have to put a lot of hours in thinking. I have a small laboratory in my tailor shop- within the tailor shop. Just for those reasons, to take care at the problem of people's body shape.
Alan: Now Peter how does a person find your tailor shop or do they go on the web? Do you have a website?
Peter: Yes I do have a website. Peterpanos.com or my email: Peter@Peterpanos.com or you could call me direct, one other thing I find out that when I call someone, there's so many machines you go through until you find a person. With me, just call me and personally I'll talk to you and we'll start get going.
Alan: Peter it's been a pleasure having you on the show today, we've been visiting with Peter Panos, he's a custom tailor up in San Francisco and for more information you can visit his website at www.Peterpanos.com Thanks for being on today's show.
Peter: Thank you Alan.