Services for custom tailor Domenico Spano will be held on Nov. 11 at noon at the Crestwood Funeral Home in New York City.
Spano, known as Mimmo, died on Oct. 23 at NYU Medical Center in New York of pulmonary fibrosis. He was 79.
Spano was born and educated in the Calabria region of southern Italy, and graduated from the Istituto Tecnico per Geometri in 1963 as a land surveyor, as well as the Suola Ufficiali Carabinieri military school in Florence in 1970. His family had a long history in the military and he had expected to make that his career until he met Rina Gangemi, an American who was studying in Florence. His life immediately took a turn.
“Three days after we met I told her I was going to marry her, leave everything and follow her to this country,” Spano said in a 2013 profile in Keikari, an online site about men’s style. “I know this seems a little unusual, but this is my personality. By nature, I am an incurable romantic, and always follow my instincts and dreams without worrying about the future or consequences. This type of personality is reflected in the style and design of my product.”
He moved to the States in 1971, and although he had no formal training in fashion, Spano said he had always been fascinated by ’30s American movies and dreamed of dressing like his heroes Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, Douglas Fairbanks and others of that era.
When he arrived here, he did not speak English and didn’t have a job, but his future father-in-law, Joseph Gangemi, was among the premier custom tailors in New York, counting Nelson Rockefeller and Joe DiMaggio among his customers, so Spano joined the business as a bookkeeper making $75 a week.
“My father-in-law, Joseph Gangemi, with my uncle Nino, were my mentors and inspiration; the one for uncompromising quality and sense of proportions, the other for style and panache. While I was there I learned a lot, and when my father-in-law died, the shop closed, and I had to look for a job,” he wrote in Keikari.
That led him to Roy Rogers — “I dressed like a cowboy for two years and learned to say, ‘Happy Trails,’ ” he said in a 2009 WWD interview — but after he saw an ad in the New York Times from Dunhill seeking a bilingual tailor, he joined that company. After Dunhill, Spano managed the Alan Flusser custom business for five years before joining Bergdorf Goodman to supervise that store’s tailoring shop. He eventually created his own label for Bergdorf’s until moving on to Saks Fifth Avenue in 2002, where he where he was honored with the store’s inaugural Men’s Wear Icon award in 2009.
“The customers liked me, my style, my presentations and my sense of colors and how to coordinate them,” he said at the time.
But while he became known as a tailor, it was actually not one of the skills he possessed. “As a matter of fact, I don’t know how to sew a button, I have several talented tailors that work under my direction,” he said in 2009. “My way of dress, I believe, is classic but has its own personality. The style is as much as possible 1930s Hollywood, with emphasis on the cloth itself and its texture and colors. Most of the fashion people talk about style, cut, number of stitches per square inch, etc., but very few speak about the cloth, and what it adds to the style.”
In 2001, he opened his own atelier on 57th Street, which relocated down the block in 2017 and remained in business until last year when he became ill and closed the shop.
Aside from fashion, Spano’s other interests included reading of classic authors such as Victor Hugo, Dumas and Dickens; cooking, gardening, listening to classical music, long walks and long bicycle rides “without a helmet.” He was also a regular in the New York Times’ style section thanks to street photographer Bill Cunningham who often shot him walking down Fifth Avenue in one of his signature suits.
He provided some advice to others who might want to follow in his footsteps, writing in his Keikari interview: “Educate yourself about fashion, read books related to it, watch old movies, follow blogs, etc., but always be an individual, follow your own instinct and your individual style. If you really are interested in fashion, you can develop your own style and don’t have to necessarily take for gospel what you read. Fashion is not an exact science, but rather a vehicle to develop your own style. In other words, be an individual, don’t follow anybody. If you have style, it will show.”
Tom Ott, who had served as head of menswear at Saks during Spano’s tenure, said: “Mimmo was a great stylist. He didn’t want to be known as a tailor but rather his story was about style. He worked hard at creating a ‘look’ for his clients. The finest fabric from Scotland, Huddersfield and Biella. Cool looks reinterpreted for a new generation.
“Mimmo was the first on the sixth floor tirelessly contacting top clients about wardrobe for the next season. A pencil and black book were his tools. He was a mentor to me and I will miss him dearly.”
Jeffrey Banks called Spano “the ultimate gentleman, and not unlike Bill Cunningham, was a New York institution, which New York magazine once pointed out.”
And photographer William Karam, who had worked with Spano at Bergdorf’s, said: “Mimmo was not only a professional in his industry, but he lived it. Together, we made our working relationship a great success. And in addition, he always kept us laughing at the end of the day. I’m sure that is the reason he was a good friend of Bill Cunningham as well.”
Spano is predeceased by his wife and brother Francesco, and is survived by his daughters Elisabeth Spano and her husband Greg Falkowski; Cristina Spano and her husband Grant Gardner, a granddaughter, Maeve Spano-Gardner, and a sister, Tina Spano.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation to fund ongoing research into the disease.