Tailor for the stars sets up shop in St. Joseph

C. Winston Smith is known as the tailor to the stars and his latest enterprise is in St. Joseph. In fact, he invited one of his clients, Martha Reeves of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, to his grand opening Sept. 4. Unfortunately, she is currently in England as part of a world tour.

"She said, 'Why don't you come over to England with me,'" Smith says with a laugh. "I told her: 'I have a business to run."

Smith is the owner of Bespoke Tailoring, recently opened at 216 Court Street in St. Joseph. His shop offers custom suits, alterations, custom shirts, reweaving, and gift certificates.

He's come a long way since he charged $25 to make his first pair of trousers while living in Brooklyn. Smith was "fresh out of tailoring school" and friends started to ask him to make their clothes. He also was modeling at the time and wore his own clothes, which resulted in more requests for him to make his clothing for others.

He built on his reputation as a tailor in Huntsville, Alabama when he went to work for Sid’s Tailoring. His first work for the famous came when Little Richard visited Huntsville to perform. Little Richard left two of his shirts in California but needed them for a performance in Memphis. Smith was asked to create two new shirts for the singer. That was the beginning of a relationship that continues till this day and from that time Smith became known as a "tailor to the stars."

Showing the persistence that has helped make him the success he is today, Smith challenged himself to get a new client when Martha Reeves visited Huntsville. He got a meeting with the singer, taking with him the laptop on which he does all his designs. He showed her sketches and in one day he made her a dress. He has been making her dresses ever since. He has been not only her designer but the group’s designer---the one in charge of wardrobe, often travelling with her and making alterations as necessary on the road.

Television actors, recording artists, politicians, business professionals and individuals from all walks of life have been his clients.

"My philosophy is nothing ventured, nothing gained," Smith says. "They are going to tell me 'yes' or 'no.' I have a 50-50 chance they will say 'yes.' I'm good with those odds."

Another client who changed the direction of Smith's business was one who encouraged him to market his tailoring to the affluent. "I told him that they had everything they needed and they didn't need my work. He said that if everyone believed that there would be a huge niche that went unfulfilled. I started marketing to the affluent and my business took off."

Smith opened shop in St. Joseph when his wife accepted a position as chair of the Department of Communication at Andrews University.

Though he has relocated his business, Smith retains a number of clients from outside Michigan. "I have clients I have worked with for years," he says. "It's always good to get new clients, though."  

Not everyone is familiar with "bespoke tailoring" that is the name of his new shop. "I tell people it's English tailoring of the highest quality," Smith says. The suits, shirts, and dresses he creates are all custom made. He conducts a battery of measurements to assure the right fit. He also offers a consultation with clients to find out what they are looking for and to talk to them about the styles that will look best on them, and to prepare them if the style they envision in their head is not quite what will make them look their best.

Though a constant chuckle can be heard throughout a conversation with Smith it is obvious he takes great pride in his work.

"It’s important to me that when I create a piece of clothing that it not only represents the quality of my work." he says, "but that the fit is exact and comfortable to be worn for many years to come.”

Source: C. Winston Smith, Bespoke Tailoring 

Tailor photo copyright MIGUEL GARCIA SAAVEDRA.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.