Decio Rapale and his wife
Joan size up a jacket.
"Decio's Custom Tailoring and Formal
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
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
"I danced with Joan and I was in
Joan interrupted at this point to
"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
It was a long road from Rome to
Brookline. But Decio proved that all roads don't necessarily lead to
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Life's going my way, the way I've
always wanted it. My family. My business. My many friends. Thank
Decio's road to success was a
cinch. He learned from the start when you are in Brookline, you live like
Article reprinted from "One Dan's Opinion", Brookline
Journal - April 11, 1985.