Mr. Bartolacci, a consummate gentleman. Dressed in his Sunday best, he welcomes us to his tailor shop in downtown New Kensington. It is a studio of a true artist and artisan who needs little beyond what you find in his workspace in order to create some of the most beautiful suits around.
The materials and tools are as reliable and well worn as his hands that are so expertly trained for perfection. A colorful array of thread bobbins stand at attention around the workspace as tape measures, scissors, and other necessary tools are scattered in their usual places.
Guido turns on all of the lights and snaps on the heater for us, one that he usually doesn’t even use in the dead of winter. Although he has also made women’s clothing, his lifelong specialty has been making tailor-made suits for men of multiple generations, and he still reports to duty every day, devoting over seventy years of service to the trade.
At this point in his lifelong career, he no longer constructs the suits, but he does custom order suits to measure and then tailors them perfectly to your body. He is so warm and gracious as he patiently explains how he goes about ordering suits, showing us gorgeous fabric samples from companies such as Burberry, Hart Schaffner & Marx, and the like.
He uses the best quality fabric with classic patterns, fit for a true gentleman and made to last. In fact, he explains that the suit on his back is “30 years-old” and is still in perfect condition because it is made well; it’s timeless. This man has been well trained by the best in Italy, and we are lucky to have the opportunity to share a slice of his legacy.
Mr. Bartolacci was born in Colonnella, Abruzzo, in Italy. He was a part of a large family of eight brothers and sisters. At the age of 11, he was apprenticed to a tailor or “sarto” in Abruzzo. He was trained in the art of fine tailoring, sewing, and designing patterns.
At the beginning, his middle finger on the right hand was tied up for weeks in order to train his hand to accommodate a thimble in perfect position.
He and his friend would follow their boss into the countryside, slinging their iron sewing machines on their backs, and make clothes for the farmers and their families. The farmers would barter goods in exchange for their service, which the “padrone” or boss would retain.
As courtesy obliged, the farmer’s family would feed them. Guido explains that their "padrone" was a clever man. When he was asked if they wanted pasta or vegetables for their meal, he always requested vegetables because in Italian tradition, you can never eat a vegetable or “contorno” without the meat, “il secondo.”
As he grew in his trade, he followed his apprenticeship to Milan, a place where there was real opportunity to grow and provide a living if you were willing to work. Output and quality were of prime importance and a necessity at this level in a tailor’s career. He worked in high-end shops with designers in Milan along the famous fashion streets such as Via Montenapoleone.
He climbed up in the ranks to become a master cutter, making decisions on all of the clothing that they superbly constructed. He was not alone in the big city as his father sent his two sisters from Abruzzo to cook and clean for Guido as he carried out his work.
After a brief time working in Udine, he took a vacation to his hometown in Abbruzzo. It was here that he met a girl named Adriana who struck his fancy. She was a friend of his sister, and they immediately hit it off. She was very talented herself, trained by the nuns in the art of “tombolo” or embroidery. Before they knew it, they were married and had their first child in Milan.
Two of Mr. Bartolacci’s brothers, Manfrino and Gaspare, had already moved to New Kensington, Pennsylvania, and they had opened a tailoring shop; it was the family trade.
Guido came over from Italy with his wife and son in 1961, and in 1965 the brothers created a partnership with their shop in New Kensington. Together they brought clients from all over Pittsburgh and beyond--doctors, lawyers, priests, business men and the like--who were looking for quality that only the Bartolacci brothers could provide.
Guido took up his well-seasoned role of master cutter, designing and cutting out the fabric that would be used to craft the perfect tailored suit.
Nowadays, Mr. Bartolacci continues to work out of his shop. He maintains a few loyal customers, even though he explains that most of them are “all gone.” We must take the time to understand the extent of his talent and realize that this level of care and artistry may never again exist.
Despite his accomplishments and expertise, Mr. Bartolacci is a humble man. He continues to go to work every day not necessarily because it is his passion, but because it is the one thing that he knows best in the world. Working to him, like going to church, like supporting his family, are all “doveri” or things that a man does naturally out of duty and dignity.
Mr. Bartolacci is a pinnacle example of living your life to the fullest. He deeply loves and respects his past wife, Adriana, he takes his dog “BoBo” on frequent walks, and he is extremely proud of his beautiful family, as they are his most important accomplishment.
His most used color of thread? Of course, “black.”