Meet the YouTube Tailoring Historian Behind Some of Harlem’s Greatest Fits

What made Orie so special?
Everything in life that I witnessed and I experienced and I did only became true because I went to work for him rather than to go back to Barneys.

I worked [at Orie’s] until ’72. Until the style of clothing changed in the ’70s. The suits that Orie put out, we were the first ones to ever make those suits. Pink, and yellow, purple. We were the only ones who could get those fabrics. Gladson of England was the company that we got all those from. We asked them to experiment with some colors and it became a phenomenon. Everyone wanted one.

You mentioned that you made a pink suit for Johnny Thunder [a the ’60s pop musician who hit the charts with a song called “Loop Di Loop”] which helped Orie’s get so popular.
Exactly. At that particular point, we were a three-man operation. After the word got out in Harlem about that suit, it was twenty people working for us. Couple more years, it was a forty-man operation. By that point, we were a proper manufacturer.

Orie taught me everything there was to know. The business elements, sure, but down to how he talked. He was a master.

Orie Walls in the early 1960s (courtesy Jim McFarland)

Tell me about who came through the shop.
Let me give you the athletes. We did a lot of clothes for the New York Jets in those days. I met [Hall of Fame legend] Joe Namath. Well, I didn’t do any clothes for Joe, but Joe used to hang out with the brothers who were coming in. [Laughs] ‘cause Joe wasn’t wearing no pink suits. He was wearing mink coats back then.

Now lets see, I already talked about Jackie Robinson. Do you know who A. Philip Randolph is?

The godfather of the civil rights movement, right? I know you’ve mentioned him and Bayard Rustin [Martin Luther King Jr.’s right-hand man and unsung gay icon]. I’ve spoken with his partner, who says he used to buy thrift-store suits and get them tailored.
That’s exactly what we’d do for him. [Orie’s] shared a building with Randolph and the Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters [the first Black labor union in the United States, which produced several of the Civil Rights leaders behind the March on Washington], actually, on 125th street.

Now let’s see. For musicians, you’re talking about the Isley Brothers… we made clothes for B.B. King, Reverend Ike, Cannonball Adderley, Sammy Davis Jr., Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie.

You’ve mentioned on your channel that some of the shop’s business came from the rougher elements in Harlem. Did it ever cause difficulties to have civil rights heroes in the building one day and drug dealers the next?
It was simple. You pay, we made clothes for you. That’s all it ever was. We had crooked cops, we had good cops. I tell people all the time—my photograph is in the FBI archives. With all those people coming in, I told people, ‘Don’t think that they didn’t have those same little camera trucks sitting in front of the place taking pictures.’ The way I knew that was because we had a couple of good cops, a couple of detectives that came in all the time. So I asked them one day, they said ‘Yeah, we checked you out, you good. We stay on top of you.’

Any one person who came by that you had a real connection with? Even if he wasn’t the most famous?
For sure, in the James Brown band. Do you know who Danny Ray is? Danny Ray is the little guy who always put the cape on James. [James Brown fans know that after nailing a note during “Please Please Please”, he would collapse to the floor, prompting entourage-member Danny Ray to toss a cape over Brown and help him back to his feet. Ray would say Brown was too weak to go on, Brown would get upright and sing harder, crowd goes nuts. Ray was crucial to the climax of a James Brown Band show, even if he wasn’t holding an instrument.]

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