WASHINGTON, DC – Presidents in the White House may come and go, but the Greek-born tailor who makes their suits, remains. Evangelos Abatzis, Master Tailor at Geoffrey Lewis, has been "cutting and sewing" the suits of American presidents, politicians, diplomats, and other VIPs for more than 40 years. He spoke to The National Herald about his life and work.
Born in Serres, Abatzis learned the art of tailoring from his grandfather in Thessaloniki when he was 14 years old. Later, the junta came, things got difficult, and in 1969 he decided to make the big trip to America.
Within a few years he was able to buy the Geoffrey Lewis store, just two blocks away from the White House.
"In 1969, I came to America alone. In 1972, I married my wife Eleni. There were difficult times in Greece at that time, there were no jobs. Fortunately, relatively soon I was able to buy the shop, in 1976. In 1992, we moved a little further, where we are now. I have no complaints – we have good customers. When politicians come, we close the whole store for them and there is security outside," he told TNH.
But apart from the White House, his clients include the Washington Opera and the Kennedy Center. "We've been doing their costumes for many years and we also did the costumes for The Pelican Brief,” Abatzis added.
When asked about the presidents he has made suits for: "Reagan, Bush, father and son, Clinton, Obama, and today," he said smiling.
"U.S. Presidents have custom-made suits, usually choosing gray and blue. They also have sport jackets made for weekends. They choose the most conservative styles, English and Italian. Throughout the city, the dark suit is worn most of all,” he added.
One of his favorite stories is when he went to the White House under President Barack Obama. Abatzis had prepared a series of questions on issues related to Greece and mainly Macedonia.
"I went through security and was taken to a room to wait. The security men made me sit in a large room and wait. There were photos of all the Presidents. Then I thought, 'What business do I have here? From Serres to being in the White House?' It was a great shock for me but also a great pleasure for a Greek to be there. I was well prepared for the questions I would ask him. Macedonia was a burning issue then and we Macedonians were in great pain. I would ask him to find out what I wanted to know. So they brought me some water, and I hear a 'hello sir.' I jumped up and forgot everything, all the questions I wanted to ask. I forgot them. I took the measurements, we were done and that was it. It's hard, when you lose your words in the moment.”
Abatzis's wife, Eleni, remembers another incident that again had to do with the Macedonian issue. “I remember in the' 90s, one day we were surprised when Greek-American journalist George Stephanopoulos came into the store. He was also surprised that we are Greeks and we started talking.
Vangelis began to ask him directly about the Macedonian issue. We scared the man; he didn't know what to say. Of course, he was glad to see that we were Greeks.”
The experiences from his meetings with the U.S. Presidents have been positive, Abatzis said. “All of them are always polite and with a smile. And Trump. He's gracious, kind, and in person completely different from what he shows to the public and what he wants to express sometimes.”
Now, the business has been taken over by the son of the family, Kostas, who for the past 10 years and after a career in Wall Street has taken over his father's job. The family also has two daughters. One daughter is a television producer and lives in New York and the other works at a large bank in Washington.
Vangelis and Eleni also have three grandchildren, and as they say, they go to Greece every summer.
“There is nowhere else like Greece. I spend at least two months there every summer. We are proud of our country. Many Greeks also come to the shop. However, we do not see many tourists from Greece, as in the previous years,” Abatzis added.
Geoffrey Lewis Custom Tailors is located at 1433 H Street NW in Washington, DC. More information is available online: https://geoffreylewisltd.com.