Armen Meliksetyan knows men’s suits inside and out.
By Brian Anderson
Photography by Melissa Kelly Photography
He sizes you up the minute you walk into his small shop.
His trained eye looks you up and down to size up your height and weight. He considers what style — Classic? Modern? Slim? — fits your body type best. He calculates the classic table of the proportions and thinks, “If it’s a 30’ waist, it’s a 34R chest, or maybe a 36”.
He tallies a list of suits at different price points. He might ask you a few pointed questions about your style. After he pulls a jacket off the rack and instructs you to try it on, he asks how it sits on the shoulder. His intention? To find you a suit that fits just right.
“I’m going to try to do my best to find something that fits you close to your body and fits you well,” said Armen Meliksetyan of Manayunk’s own Armen’s Custom Tailor Studio.
A tailor with 32 years of experience, Armen knows men’s suits inside and out. His small shop at 104 Levering Street is filled with jackets and pants from designers around the world. Armen has an intimate knowledge of the cuts and styles of the brands he carries such as Baroni, Mantoni, Galante, and Enzo.
But don’t discount his expertise. As a designer and top-notch tailor, he can work with most any garment you bring into his shop.
“My goal is to find something for you that fits your body with little tailoring,” he said.
The best tailors leave no trace. In other words, an expert tailor returns a garment looking like it just came from the designer. It’s impossible to tell from the seams and stitches that it was altered in any way.
So when Armen looks at you when you upon entering his shop, he focuses on the alternations your slacks and jacket need. After all, if a suit doesn’t fit or is altered incorrectly, you won’t wear it.
“And that’s why people look for good tailors,” Armen said.
So, where did it all begin? When he was 16 years old, Armen began working in an atelier. He never imagined becoming a tailor — it was his sister that convinced him to come work with her. A much younger Armen was hesitant to enter the world of fashion and design. “Big mistake,” she told him. Just think of some of the most famous fashion houses in the world — Versace, Gucci, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana — all founded by men.
“This is fashion. This is art,” Armen said. “She told me, ‘Even if you’re not going to do it full time, come and learn it. Maybe it’ll become a hobby.’ And when I tried it, I loved it.”
He worked under an Italian master for a year — a real professional, Armen said. Simultaneously, he attended school for fashion design. But it was the experience he got while doing alterations and modifications at the atelier where he learned the most.
Over that first year, he learned every hem and seam. He made hundreds and hundreds of pockets, he said. Then he made the inside of a suit — hundreds of them. And then the linings. Rinse and repeat for every part of a suit jacket and before long, it became second nature.
His studies and hard work culminated in designing a suit. Like any true masterpiece, a men’s jacket is simultaneously intricate yet commonplace. The untrained eye sees a jacket, but a knowledgeable one sees the ingenuity and the craftsmanship in the sleeves, the pockets, and the buttons.
“The best tailor comes from education and experience,” Armen said. “Once you learn how to do a men’s jacket, you can do anything.”
“If you know how to make a suit from scratch, you can make an alteration like this,” he added with a snap of his fingers.
But being a tailor is an invisible job. Red carpet watchers might muse, “Who are you wearing?” but they never ask, “And who was your tailor?”
For Armen, his customers range from young college graduates to politicians, athletes and civil servants from across the region. He won’t talk about many of his clients, but a slip of the tongue reveals he’s worked with former Phillies Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, and former boxer Bernard Hopkins.
Now, some advice. Armen preaches a few simple rules. First, find a suit that requires minimal tailoring. You might find it at a department store, but that means knowing your size and being fitted by an expert. Try on a few brands and embrace different fits.
Second, buy a few affordable suits. Don’t buy just one suit — you’ll over use it and spend a fortune on dry cleaning.
Third, it’s important to know what’s in style, but wear what you like. A young man out of college probably wears a slim fit, but his father probably wants a classic fit. And skinny ties may be in style, but portly men might prefer the classic 3”.
“The most important thing I tell to customers is, ‘It’s a look, so get a good fit,’ ” he said. “Most guys are looking for something very affordable.”
Last, don’t be fooled by online stores that promise a custom suit while offering a 25 percent discount. They’re selling you off-the-rack jackets with an hour’s worth of custom work. Having a suit created just for you is expensive and time consuming. It’s too high a price tag for most men who walk into Armen’s shop.
“Nobody is going to make you a custom made suit for $399,” he said.
Black, blue, or grey; patterned or pinstriped; single or double breasted; classic or slim fit — the look depends on you. And that’s the beauty of Armen’s shop: There’s a suit at every price point for every man in the neighborhood.
“If you see a suit and it fits you, buy it,” Armen said.