Henry A. Mignini Jr., tailor for Cardinal Shehan

May 25, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Henry A. Mignini Jr., a custom tailor who made a riding coat for Jacqueline Kennedy and suits for Cardinal Lawrence Shehan, died Saturday of cancer at his home in Perry Hall.

He was 68.

Although semi-retired, he had maintained a shop at Calvert and Preston streets. Earlier, he had operated shops on St. Paul Place and North Charles Street.

"He was one of a dying breed," recalled his wife, the former Helene Herbert, whom he married in 1947. "He took the orders, purchased the material, made the pattern, cut it out, made adjustments and had it sewn."

Most of his customers tended to dress conservatively, preferring two- or three-button suits, but one customer spent $75 a yard for a topcoat made from the manes of Himalayan mountain goats.

His clientele included prominent doctors, businessmen, judges, lawyers, professors, entertainers and sports figures. One of his customers was Baltimore Colts defensive lineman Bubba Smith, who ordered suits in pinks and greens by the dozen and a grommet-studded suede outfit that weighed 25 pounds.

"A very good customer was the late Lawrence Cardinal Shehan [who was archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore]. He did all of his tailoring," Mrs. Mignini said of her husband.

"The Cardinal wants plain black suits; Mr. Mignini wants to line them in red," said a 1974 article in The Sunday Sun Magazine about the cardinal's conservative tastes.

Custom-tailored suits that cost $30 when Mr. Mignini started his career can cost $1,000 or more today. He was critical of mass-produced clothing.

"Today, everything's production," he said in the 1974 article. "Forget quality, grind it out. The funny thing is, I can make a custom-tailored suit for the same price you'd pay for a halfway decent suit off the rack, and mine'll fit because it's made for you.

"Custom tailoring is a lost art, it's dying. Kids don't want to do it, they don't want to take the time to

learn it."

After returning to Baltimore after World War II, Mr. Mignini began his career as an apprentice cutter to Dominic C. Capezio, who operated Capezio's Custom Tailoring at Baltimore and Carey streets and later moved to Fayette Street.

Capezio's Washington shop had a client list that included Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Mrs. Kennedy. After Mr. Capezio's death in 1967, Mr. Mignini purchased the business and moved it to 322 N. Charles St.

Harold DuBois, a lawyer and friend for 15 years, said, "He made a lot of suits for me. He was a perfectionist, an old-fashioned tailor. He was meticulous and would not let a garment go out of the shop unless it was perfect.

"He had clients from all walks of life, and it was a pleasure to sit in his store just to see the people come in."

In an interview, Mr. Mignini said one of his favorite customers was a security guard who came in every couple of years to have a uniform made.

"I take as much time and care to make him a uniform as I take to make a $500 suit for the president of a big corporation," he said. "See, I know that uniform is just as important to him as the $500 suit is to the president of that big corporation."

Mr. Mignini was the son of an immigrant tailor who came to Baltimore from Terano Nuova, Italy, in 1908. He was born and reared in Gardenville and attended St. Anthony's School. He joined the Navy in 1944, served with naval amphibious forces on Okinawa and was discharged in 1946 as a ship's cook.

He was active in the Appian Society, an organization of Italian-American businessmen.

"He didn't take much time off; he loved his work," said Paula Clark, a daughter who lives in Perry Hall. "He enjoyed taking care of his house and gardening. That really was his big thing."

A Mass of Christian burial was to be offered at 9 a.m. today at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, 8420 Belair Road, Fullerton, with interment in Gardens of Faith Cemetery.

Other survivors include a son, Eugene H. Mignini of Essex; a brother, Anthony R. Mignini of Gardenville; three sisters, Norma Jewer of Cockeysville, Clara Paris of Essex and Dolores Butler of Bethany Beach, Del.; and two grandchildren.

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