Decio Rapale
Brookline's First-Class Tailor

Decio and Joan
Decio Rapale and his wife Joan size up a jacket.
"Decio's Custom Tailoring and Formal Wear."
812 Brookline Boulevard.

Everyone - well, almost everyone - knows Rome wasn't built in a day.

And it's hardly a secret that when you are in Rome, you do as the Roman's do. That is, unless you are a daring rascal.

But how many are aware there exists a son of Rome who practices what he preaches? Better yet, he exists smack dab in the middle of Brookline.

Says Decio Rapale, a Brookline tailor renowned for the cut of his clothes: "I've learned when in Brookline you do as Brookliners do. And I like it."

In fact, Decio is so impressed with the truism that he wooed and won a Brookline lady.

"I owe so much to my Joan and my three beautiful children," Decio says with the passion of a true Roman. "Joan has been by my side ever since we married on Sept. 10, 1966. See, I remember the date."

"As you can see, she works the counter in our shop. Our courtship was something else though. Here was a girl who couldn't speak Italian and I couldn't speak English. I carried a vocabulary book everywhere, but it didn't help much."

"To her, the language was a barrier. We'd go to the movies, but I couldn't understand. Still, for love there is always time. I met her at a family reunion. Bill Pantoni, a cousin, asked me to come and meet this girl. Her Grampap Vennare spoke Italian and he was a tailor."

"I got attached to this family. The party was at Joan's aunt's in Beechview, Angeline Pelligrino."

"I danced with Joan and I was in love."

Joan interrupted at this point to admit:

"We had the language barrier, but he had a very up personality and he was very handsome. Still is. Look at those dancing eyes and winning smile. How could I keep saying no to him?"

It was a long road from Rome to Brookline. But Decio proved that all roads don't necessarily lead to Rome.

"When I was 10 years old, I made up my mind to be a tailor. That started a long education in such things as tying back the thimble finger, sewing buttons, threading a machine, making pockets. You know, all the small things."

"From the first grade through the fifth, I went to tailoring lessons after school. High school closed in June so I went full-time for tailoring lessons from June to September. Then I had one year to learn designing and drafting."

"Finally I took the government test, got my diploma, and was ready for my life's work."

Decio reached for a pair of wicked looking scissors, then explained:

"I've had these since I started in 1948. They were made in Italy and they are self-sharpening. Couldn't work without them."

Would you believe Decio was scouted by a New York firm, Broadway of Fifth Avenue?

"I was working for Brioni's, an exclusive store in Rome. Made suits by hand. When I was only 16, I made suits for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Bob Hope. Frank gave me tickets for a charity concert for orphan children."

"Dean Martin," Decio recalls, "Appeared at the 'Bear Den' (Tana D'ell'orso in Italian). The suits I made for Frank, Dean and Bob Hope were custom tailored. That's the business I trained for."

Decio, after Broadway scouted his work thoroughly, arrived in New York Oct. 23, 1963.

"It was a lonesome experience. Here I was in the world's most famous city and couldn't speak a work of English. It was too noisy, so I moved to Huntingdon Station, Long Island, where it was quiet. But I was like a babe in the woods and figured I'd go back home.

"My mother asked me first to visit her brother, Guy Pantoni, who lived in East Liberty. She hadn't seen him in 60 or more years. He suggested I visit Bill Pantoni, a cousin, for a week. Bill got me a job with the Trau and Trau in the Oliver Building. It was my line, custom tailoring."

"I moved over to Brooks Brothers 2 years later. They were on Smithfield Street. I stayed there 12 or 13 years."

"Then I realized my dream and opened my own store here at 812 Brookline Boulevard in 1981. An antique business had been in here, but you can bet there'll be nothing antique about Decio's Custom Tailoring and Formal Attire."

This brought a twinkle to Decio's eye. He switched to a new subject.

"We are moving into my season now, custom tailoring on any tuxedo which leaves my shop. I have a private franchise on formal work and really love that work. We service brides, bridesmaids, grooms, best men. And don't forget the prom season."

"I have steady customers from places like Washington, Fox Chapel, Moon. There are others which don't readily come to mind. Joe Sergi, a good friend and lovable man, sends me business. Think how many years he was here before me, but the years are rolling along."

Decio for the moment was lost in thought, then continued:

"I went to St. Peter's Church when I was in Rome. Went every Sunday. Once Pope Paul touched my hand and smiled. I went to see him when he died in the late 1950's and it was very sad. He was in an all-glass coffin. I must tell you a story about him."

"He didn't like to be surrounded by guards so one Sunday he sneaked out with only a few guards to see the poor people. He walked into a bar and sat down. He asked an old man for a cigar and in exchange he bought the old man a little wine."

"There are three other large churches in Rome. There's St. John, St. Mary and St. Paul. But St. Peter's is the Vatican City's church, in St. Peter's Square."

Decio speaks of Rome with a touch of nostalgia, but he makes a strong effort to describe his feelings about his adopted home:

"It really was love at first site when Joan took me to her home in Brookline. Whereas New Yorkers are cold people, Brookline is like a big-family town. The people are so friendly it's as though they've known you all your life. I felt at home as soon as I entered Brookline."

A veteran of the Italian Air Force (early 1950's), Decio recalls how his father helped "smuggle Americans out of his barns during World War II." He explains:

"They were trapped by the Germans. One spy brought them to my father and another spy told the Germans. Fortunately, when the Germans got there, the Americans were long gone."

"The United States gave my father a citation and medal after the war ended."

Decio and Joan Paladino are proud parents of two daughters and a son. Decio offered a breakdown on his kiddies:

"Natalie will graduate in May from Seton-LaSalle and enter Duquesne in September. Maria is a freshman at Seton-LaSalle. And Decio, Jr. played for Resurrections sixth grade basketball team this season."

You could almost hear this gentleman's mind clicking as he popped up with one more Italian recollection.

"They are cleaning Michaelangelo Buonorarroti's famous 'Last Supper' in the Sistine Chapel. The full name of the painting is the 'Fresco of Michaelangelo.' They are using a sponge and a distilled substance known as Formula 57 which has been tested and screened. They predict it will restore 75 percent of the paintings natural cover which has darkened with age."

As a visitor views Decio's twinkling eyes, smiling face and friendly responses, it recalls a childhood ditty about tailors. Decio, it is a sure shot, will delight in its charm:

"Six little mice sat down to spin, pussy walked by and he peeked in. 'What are you doing my little men?' 'Making fine clothes for gentlemen.'

"'May I come in and watch a while, all your fine clothes are just in style. If you would make me one of silk, I'd give you each a dish of milk.

"Six little mice said, 'No, no, no, though for your friends we like to sew. We have so many things to do, we cannot make a coat for you.'"

That's one Decio may have exposed at a reunion with two brothers on Jan. 5, 1980. One of 10 children, eight of whom are still living, Decio, Gelsomino, Emidio and his wife, Antonetta, who came from Argentina.

"We met at the airport. I hadn't seen Gelsomino for 14 years. I wouldn't have known my brother Emidio if Gelsomino hadn't introduced us. I hadn't seen him in 30 years. Oh what a joyous three weeks we had.

Decio Rapale, who retains only a trace of an Italian accent in his almost fluent English, is a contented man.

"Life's going my way, the way I've always wanted it. My family. My business. My many friends. Thank God.

Decio's road to success was a cinch. He learned from the start when you are in Brookline, you live like a Brookliner.

Article reprinted from "One Dan's Opinion", Brookline Journal - April 11, 1985.

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