Paul Cusimano, owner of JOSEPH+CO in Lancaster, shares his childhood memories of his late Father, his work as a tailor and how his inspiration has led him to where he is now.
1958, the year two brothers, Riccardo and Salvatore Cusimano, travelled from a small town on the outskirts of Palermo, Sicily, to Carlisle. They left behind their mother and younger brother; their father having died a number of years earlier. During the tough post war years in Sicily, and having lost her husband in his late 40’s, their mother kept the family together working as a dressmaker. Arriving in Carlisle, neither of the brothers could speak a word of English and each only had £10. Both were bespoke tailors and had come to England to work for Giuseppe (aka Joseph) Seminara, also Sicilian, who had established a successful tailoring business in Carlisle in 1949.
Salvatore had always longed to go to America and in the early 60’s, his application was finally accepted and off he went. He landed and settled in New York where he set up his own tailors shop, met and married Fina. Riccardo, however, remained in Carlisle where he met a local girl, Ann, and in 1960 they got married and started a family. In 1967 he and his family moved to Lancaster. Riccardo, or Ricky as he became better known, set up his tailors shop in Sun Street and that’s where he worked until he retired in 2004.
Oh, and me. Well, I’m the middle one of Ricky’s three sons. As a child I would spend hours watching him work. I would be fascinated looking through his fabric pattern books, imagining what each fabric sample would look like made up into a suit. The patterns he used as templates for the suits were made from brown paper. He had them all rolled up in a cupboard behind his work table. I loved watching him roll out the fabric on his large table, root through his numerous self made patterns, then chalk around the selected pattern. Pattern removed, there was the outline of a suit.
Next out of the cupboard would come out the biggest scissors that I had ever seen, his best scissors, only ever used for ‘cutting’. Over the coming days this roll of fabric morphed into a stunning suit. Fitting the client both perfectly and beautifully. In clothing terms, it was what I would imagine to be the equivalent of watching an ‘Old Master’ at work; with every brush stroke the paint evolves into an image, it takes on a depth and can even tell a story.
Through my early teens I would earn extra pocket money shortening trousers for him; a pound a pair and I could do four pairs an hour. I wanted to follow in his footsteps, but he advised against. After leaving school I tried a few jobs but my heart was in clothing. Joe Corris, owner of JOSEPH+CO, initially offered me a Saturday job which I did alongside my Monday to Friday office job. After several months, Joe offered me a full time position and I gratefully accepted.
The years have rolled on and five years ago Joe decided to hand the reigns over to me; both daunting and exciting, equally. Sewing something together is an easy enough task, but understanding the body form and how the fabric and garment should fit to compliment the person is somewhat more difficult. I never became a tailor but I had a bespoke tailor as a father and mentor.