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Interview with Mark E. Seitelman

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April 10, 2013 by Ville Raivio

‘I am 58 and a trial attorney representing people injured in accidents. It is popularly referred to ”plaintiffs’ personal injury”. I have my own private law firm which employs 13 including 5 other attorneys. My cases include accidents involving motor vehicles (private auto, taxi, bus, and truck), construction accidents involving the workers, defective public sidewalks and roadways, private buildings (dangerous stairways and landings, defective pavements, and collapsing ceilings), school accidents, nursing home neglect, medical malpractice, and dangerous drugs and consumer products. I also represent people seeking their insurance benefits which have been wrongfully denied by their insurance company, such as Hurricane Sandy property damage claims.

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I am a product of the New York City education system, both public and private. I have a Bachelors of Arts (B.A.) degree in English literature from Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. My law degree is a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from Brooklyn Law School. My wife, Minna, also loves clothes, especially Chanel and Hermes. However, the female enthusiasm is directed at design and style.  Everything that she has is ready to wear. Custom holds no magic for her. The same holds for her friends. The female of the species has different sartorial aims and interests. Ironically, although she buys more clothes than me, her costs are less since she buys at sales and at resale shops. Therefore, my wife is somewhat tolerant of my clothing interests. My children and grandchildren have no interest in clothes. They have other interests and pressures of daily life.

I guess that I have had the “solo business gene” in me. My father had his own accounting firm. I had a steak of independence, and I had to have my own firm. I have been blessed with success, and I have been acknowledged a leader in my field by my peers. For example, I am listed as a “Super Lawyer” (see www.superlawyers.com). I am a life member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum which limits its membership to lawyers with $1,000,000 plus settlements and verdicts (see www.milliondollaradvocates.com). I have the highest rating of “pre-eminent” from Martindale-Hubbell, the leading lawyer directory (see www.martindale.com). I am a member of the board of directors of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, and I have lectured and chaired continuing education programs for both that group and the State Bar (see www.nyslta.org).

My parents liked to dress well.  I would say that my mother placed an inordinate amount of importance on dress and outward appearance.  She would comment endlessly about how some professional or other prominent person was dressed poorly or inappropriately. My father liked to dress well and neatly. He is a certified public accountant. He is still around at the spry age of 95! I recall going with him in the 1960′s and 1970′s to his clothier on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. It was located in what is now Chinatown on East Broadway in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge. My father never shopped at the “fancy” stores uptown, such as Brooks Brothers. The uptown stores were perceived as too expensive (ironically, Barneys New York started as a reasonably priced “downtown store.”) Also, my father came from the Lower East Side which had an excellent clothing and tailoring culture from the “old country.” That tradition no longer exists as their sons and daughters have become doctors, investment bankers, lawyers, professors, etc.

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Mr Seitelman in his office, picture by Melanie Einzig

Although my parents liked clothing, as they aged their interest diminshed. I think that one factor was the increased cost of clothing. They were children of the depression, and they could not fathom the present  cost. Another factor is that as one ages one’s priorities gets shifted away from vanity. In the college years I turned to classic clothing. Ironically, I was helped by the then current mens fashion. When I graduated college in 1976 there was a revival of the three piece suit, and it continued to when I graduated law school and started working as a lawyer in 1979. Three piece suits were regularly carried in RTW. Since I entered a conservative profession, classic clothing was natural. I first worked for a judge, and then I spent about 6 years with an insurance defense law firm. Casual dress did not exist. It was suit and tie every day.

[For my knowledge] the most important resource was Alan Flusser’s books.  Eventually, I was fortunate to be one of his customers. I would say that Alan Flusser has been the seminal teacher of classic style to young Americans. Another training ground was my upbringing. A coat and tie was not foreign to me and my contemporaries. Another resource was old films of the 1930′s to 1950′s. My own style of dress is conservative businessman. I used to be a little more flamboyant, such as bolder striped suits during my Flusser years. But now, my style is more muted. In time I have adhered to Beau Brummell’s dictim that if you turn heads you are not well dressed.

I basically wear bespoke or custom since I find RTW difficult. I have bought from many stores and makers. I have even purchased some accessories from eBay. Incidentally, I must have one of the largest collection of Hermes pochettes (pocket squares) in existence. It numbers in the hundreds. One problem with New York is that there are too many great stores and makers, including the regular visitors from abroad. There are many terrific clothiers that I have not used because I am “full-up” on clothing.

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Mr Seitelman (far right, position not pertaining to societal activism) with Spencer Hays, Chuck Franke, and Andy Gilchrist at one of the Expositions of Sartorial Excellence sponsored by AskandyMy favorite tailors/clothiers:

1.  Oxxford Clothes. It is hands down the best factory made suit in the world. I buy at its New York store which is is its only retail store.  Therefore, the store has a direct “pipeline” to the factory in Chicago. There are fewer chances for mistakes or miscommunications. I have my clothes made to measure. My pattern has been adapted and changed many times so that it is virtually a bespoke product. I have had all types of garments made including all kinds of suits, sportscoats, slacks, and topcoats. I have had everything made from conservative business suits to more flashy sportscoats with casual detailing (e.g., belted backs, shiring, etc.). In sum, Oxxford is my preferred choice all around for fit, service, and finish.

Snapshot Impression: Its coat is soft and molds to the body. You forget that you are wearing a suit.

2. Davies & Son. Alan Bennett is my London bespoke tailor who visits New York City (four times a year). Davies’s work is impeccable. In Mr. Bennett’s own words, Davies is a conservative English tailor. They make clothes that are built to last. I have pieces that I have worn regularly which are 10 years old. They are still going strong. Alan Bennett was recommended to me by two great dressers who are in mens retail. Although they could have purchased their suits from their own stores at a substantial discount, they chose Davies. This was a great endorsement.  Also, both of these friends like to boast that some of their Davies suits are 15-20 years old. Davies has made for me suits, sportscoats, and trousers.

Snapshot Impression: Mr. Bennett has been titled “The Protector of Row”, i.e., he is the guardian of its traditions, craft, and excellence. If you want Savile Row, go to Mr. Bennett.

3. Martin Greenfield Clothiers. It is New York City’s major mens clothing factory. It makes Golden Fleece RTW and MTM for Brooks Brothers and J. Press MTM. Greenfield makes an excellent suit. I had tons of Greenfield from Brooks Brothers MTM and RTW. Martin Greenfield is not only one of the great clothing manufacturers, but he is also a great person. He is a Holocaust survivor. He has a cadre of loyal, celebrated customers who delight to be served by him. He is ably assisted by his two sons.

4. Alan Flusser Custom Shop. I thank Alan Flusser for introducing me to the world of custom and classic clothes. I was a customer at his prior boutique in Saks Fifth Avenue as well as its present, free-standing shop.  His signature look is the double breasted suit.

5. Turnbull & Asser. Still the masters of shirts and accessories. Rob Gillotte is in charge of its bespoke department in New York City. If money were no issue, I would buy all my shirts there. Shirt heaven.

6. Brooks Brothers. I used to be a more regular customer for its tailored clothing, but I still return for its MTM shirts with Tom Davis. Its MTM shirts are an excellent value, especially the oxford cloth shirts in Brooks’s exclusive oxford.

7. Bruce Cameron Clark. Bruce is a singular stylist and a great character. He used to be the shirt maker at Tommy Nutter. His signature look is tall and lean.

I discovered this online world [of style forums] through a New York Times article centered on Ask Andy About Clothes. It just grew from there. I have met some of the people from the fora, and they have become friends. The regular fashion press does not cover classic menswear to the same degree as the various fora.

My wife, Minna, and I collect posters from the Belle Epoque and World War I periods.  I also have some mens’ clothing posters, such as Edward Penfield for Hart Shaffner & Marx and a James Montgomery Flagg poster for Lee Hats. We are also active in the Jewish community and charities, such as the Hebrew Free Burial Association; The Museum of Jewish Heritage, A Living Memorial to the Holocaust; and the Sanz-Laniado Medical Center.

1. Find your own style. Don’t be a copycat of what is perceived as cool or “now” on the fora.  I find some of the internet personalities to be a bit too overdone especially in accessories department. Then, there are some people that seek to duplicate the look of Adolphe Menjou. Usually, less is more.
2. A man looks a little ridiculous if he displays himself on the internet seeking approval as to how he dresses.

3. Dress in conformity with your life style, occupation, and social surroundings.

4. The Flusser books are an excellent start to your education.  But your best education will come from either a trusted clothier or friends. I was fortunate to be helped by Alan Flusser, Robert Gillotte, Martin Greenfield, and the people of Oxxford Clothes.

 

5. Watch old movies to get an idea of what it is to be well dressed, but don’t copy outdated clothing, such as spats and homburg hats.  You want to see old movies to get an idea of proportion and how people moved in their clothes when wearing a suit was an everyday occurrence.  You will notice that contemporary actors are often stiff in suits.  You want to achieve the ease of movement that the greats had, such as Cooper, Gabel, and Astaire.

 

6. Style comes from within.  You have to be comfortable with yourself and your fellow man.  You also have to know that clothes and style can be pretty trivial in the scheme of things.  Have a sense of proportion, and do not forget the bigger things, such as family, community, and helping others.’

 

 

Pictures: © Mark E. Seitelman

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Only a beautiful life is worth living.


"If John Bull turns around to look at you, you are not well dressed; but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable".
~ Beau Brummell

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