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Tailor who survived Auschwitz and dressed presidents and stars dies at 95

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Martin Greenfield has died. He made clothes for generations of famous men. Take out your measuring tape, because here are some numbers that measure Martin Greenfield's life.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

He lived to the age of 95. He had a 70-year career and six American presidents wore his suits, including Biden, Obama and Trump.

INSKEEP: Wow. He also dressed celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson and Denzel Washington.

JACOB GALLAGHER: Anyone that was first getting into men's clothing, anyone that really started caring about it on a deep level, you'd hear about him. He was kind of mythic.

MARTIN: That's Jacob Gallagher, a fashion columnist at The Wall Street Journal.

GALLAGHER: He was really one of the last of his kind.

INSKEEP: Greenfield was born in a village in the former Czechoslovakia, an area that is now part of Ukraine. His parents and siblings were killed in the Holocaust. He himself had to wash the clothes of officers at Auschwitz. Greenfield talked about this in an interview for the University of Southern California's Shoah Foundation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARTIN GREENFIELD: I never know how to wash with the brush they gave me and soap, and I ripped his collar. First he whipped me and then he gave me the shirt.

MARTIN: Clothing was a prized possession in the concentration camp. Once he realized that the shirt gave him some measure of power, he ripped more.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREENFIELD: Then I had already a wardrobe, two, three shirts. Everybody thought that I was somebody.

MARTIN: Mending these shirts is how he learned to sew.

INSKEEP: Greenfield was liberated from the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945. A decade later, Greenfield would make a suit for the general whose troops liberated him, Dwight Eisenhower, and he was then President Eisenhower.

MARTIN: In the 1970s, Greenfield bought the suit factory he'd worked at for decades and renamed it Martin Greenfield Clothiers. Here's fashion columnist Jacob Gallagher again.

GALLAGHER: His business endured through a period where most American suit manufacturers just went away. And they faced bankruptcy, they exported their production, companies stopped making in America entirely. And Greenfield hung on.

INSKEEP: And his suits are still made by hand in Brooklyn, N.Y. Gallagher says this kind of craftsmanship is rare in the United States, which is why it appeals to so many presidents.

GALLAGHER: He really came to represent a time that was past, and a time that I think a lot of people in the fashion world wish could come back.

MARTIN: Greenfield's craftsmanship will now be carried on by his sons, who are taking over the family business. Thank goodness.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELIOS' "EMANCIPATION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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