Sunday, February 24, 2019

Weekend Review: Measure of a Man

The Measure of a Man / Martin Greenfield & Wynton Hall
Washington DC: Regnery Publishing, c2014.
234 p.

For my final read for a month of Menswear at the Sewcialists, I picked up this memoir from my library. It tells the story of Martin Greenfield (born Maximilian Grunfeld in Czechoslovakia), who survived Auschwitz and came to America, where he became a top-level tailor with a company providing suits to politicians, society people and tv & movies.

The first half of the book details his youth and his life pre & during WWII. It's powerful stuff, detailed, full of the horrors we know of the Holocaust but told in a straightforward manner. Martin alone out of his family survived, and part of the reason he continued on with his life was because his father had told him the last time they were together, that he had to live for the family if he survived.

His story is full of detail and casual descriptions of terrible things; he also is very open about his own feelings and longings to punish his captors. His personality comes through very strongly in both halves of the book, as someone who is a hustler and yet is always somehow innocently delighted at his luck.

Many reviews of this book mention the increasing name-dropping in the second part of the book, when Martin is talking about his tailoring company and all the celebrity clients he's made suits for. It is a bit noticeable after a while. However, I did feel that it was part of the overall arc of the book -- Martin is name-dropping in more of a child-like delight than a bragging sense, at least to my mind. Also, as someone reading this firstly because of the connections to tailoring and only secondly for the war story, perhaps my perspective was a bit different from some readers.

I felt that Martin was talking about his clients with pride for his success, for his growth from nothing to a success in the great land of America (and make no mistake, he thinks America is the tops, with no reservations. The only false note in the whole book for me was when he praises New York businessman Trump -- this was pre-2016 but still. He does come across as quite conservative in many ways.) 

I enjoyed the story of how he got into the tailoring trade in the first place, kind of accidentally when he first arrived to be with his family in America. He started as a floor runner but wanted to know everything about the business and the factory owner saw his initiative and taught him all he could. Martin took over the business many years later and is justifiably proud of the fact that their suits are all made in their New York factory with no shortcuts -- all hand sewn in the traditional manner. The description of the factory and the clients and the staff are all fascinating and I could only wish for more of it.

The book also includes a central portion of photos ranging from his childhood to current photos, which is a nice addition. He mentions at one point that the suit making he'd done for tv shows like Boardwalk Empire (they made all the suits for that one) or Blacklist gave him his first tv cameo as well: he and his factory appear in Episode 7 of Blacklist, which is conveniently on Netflix so I looked it up and you can really get a great view of a working space in a suit factory, complete with ancient tech, by watching the short clip!

Anyhow, this was a really interesting read and I'm glad I came across it while looking for dressmaking books in my library collection. I didn't even realize it had so much to do with wartime and the Nazi horror until I received it, but it was a well-composed and compelling story. His ghostwriter really seems to have captured a sense of his personality and shaped the story in a readable and fascinating way.


  1. When I first saw the title of this book I was sure I had read it before. But it was not the same book. Thank you for a great review. I don't think I could read it, I imagine it is quite sad in parts. Not a nice time in history. However, I love books about tailors. There are always some snippets of interesting tailoring information.

    1. It is sad, but told bracingly nonetheless. You're right, I know of at least two other memoirs by men with this title -- Sidney Poitier's memoir, and one of my favourite reads, a family memoir by JJ Lee.

  2. Ah ... JJ Lee! That was the book I read. Full of interesting facts, but a bit sad as well. Thank you for the link. I will go back and listen to the podcasts.


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