When I worked in downtown San Francisco, about once a week I would sneak away for a long lunch and walk from the Embarcadero Center through the maze of weird and strangely peaceful condominiums near Walton Square over to Jackson street and walk up through the old Barbary Coast. There was a cramped little store on Grant Street called "Al's Attire" which (back then) seemed like something lost in time: a tiny custom tailor shop crammed with ready-to-wear pieces made from vintage one-of-a-kind fabrics and based on vintage patterns. Before we left the city, I had Al make my wife an incredible long winter coat that she still wears and gets crazy compliments on all the time. I'm not a big shopper or a big spender, but when I do spend money (especially when traveling) I like to spend it on unique items that I can't get anywhere else. It only costs a little more to buy a coat from a place like Al's than from, say, Macy's, but when you do you know you're getting something designed and made right there in San Francisco by skilled workers being paid fairly, tailored to the highest quality. You're not buying a coat that you'll throw away after a season or two.
On our recent trip to the city, I stopped by Al's and was amazed to see he'd moved a few storefronts down into a fantastic new space. It seems he has started to focus more on menswear in recent years, especially vintage-style workwear (my favorite). I went in hoping to buy a hickory-stripe jacket he makes for the Japanese market, but decided to buy it in a gray herringbone instead. Al let me wander around and take some pictures while the saleswoman readied my purchase:
Since we last visited, Al has started making some really beautiful hats and footwear as well. I loved the look of these boots:
Every piece of clothing Al sells has a custom label with the customer's name sewn into it. On the wall, he's got a huge display of many of the custom labels he's made over the years:
This is the jacket I purchased, but in gray:
I'm still not sure I shouldn't have bought it in hickory stripe. I almost bought a pair of overalls too, but I had to restrain myself. They were based on a 1930s pattern and I didn't get a shot of them, but they were incredible (if impractical for my soft-hands lifestyle).
Al remembered the coat he made my wife, and said he made several others from the same fabric for a store in Paris where he said they sold out quickly. When the store owner wanted more, he couldn't make any because he'd run out of the vintage fabric and Al said he knew he must be doing something right if he was getting sworn at in French over the phone.
The new space is beautifully designed and definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in North Beach/Chinatown.