William Tabilio, 84, tailor, designer of men's clothing

February 22, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

William Tabilio, a tailor who as president of the English-American Tailoring Co. introduced laser cutting to the industry, died Feb. 14 of cancer at his Timonium residence. He was 84.

Mr. Tabilio's nearly 50-year career in the garment industry spanned the era from handmade clothing cut from chalk and scissor patterns to the era of computerized laser cutting.

He was born in Picciano, Italy, and immigrated in 1919 with his family to Philadelphia.

Growing up in heavily Italian South Philadelphia, he quit school at 16 and apprenticed himself to a local tailor.

Talented and hard working, he was by the early 1930s a foreman for a Philadelphia garment manufacturer.

In the mid-1930s he went to work for L. Grief and Brothers and was 24 when he was promoted to foreman of the company's Baltimore plant.

At the outbreak of World War II, when Grief was engaged in manufacturing military uniforms, he declined a military deferment and enlisted in the Army.

"He wasn't even a citizen when he enlisted, but he felt a deep sense of obligation to his adopted country and turned down the deferment," said his daughter, Michele Oltman of Cincinnati.

Mr. Tabilio, who became a citizen while serving in the Army, spent the war years as a dental assistant aboard the USS Hope hospital ship in the Pacific Theater. He was discharged in 1945.

He returned to Grief, and in 1955 was named the company's head designer.

In 1959, Grief and its English American Tailoring division was purchased by Genesco.

In 1961, he was named head designer and vice president of English American Tailoring Co., one of the nation's largest custom made to measure suit manufacturers.

In 1974, Genesco was acquired by Tom James of America and Mr. Tabilio was named president of the English American Division and retained that position until retiring in 1981.

"As Michelangelo is to painting and Beethoven is to music, Bill was to men's clothing. He strived for perfection and was the finest example of what a leader should be," said Spencer Hayes, chief executive officer of Tom James of America.

Known as "Mr. T," Mr. Tabilio was also known for being an impeccable, conservative dresser.

He disdained casual clothes and instead was known for his beautifully cut pants and jackets, crisp white shirts, elegant ties and gray felt hat.

"He was the kind of guy who would cut his grass wearing a shirt and tie," said Sergio Casalena, chief executive officer of English American, with a laugh.

A seemingly ubiquitous presence in the company, he was seldom in his office and preferred to be on the floor with the workers.

"He was a master tailor and designer, and today that is a rare combination. He knew how to design, cut and make a suit from the ground up, and that is a talent that is fast fading today," Mr. Casalena said.

Mr. Tabilio's reputation led him to design and make suits for such customers as President Lyndon B. Johnson, pianist Peter Nero and Vice President Spiro T. Agnew.

One of his innovations that had a profound influence on how clothing was made was the introduction of the laser-beam cutting machine that was developed in the 1970s by Hughes Aircraft Co.

The computer was programmed with every style of garment made by the company.

A customer's measurements or alterations were then fed into the machine, which would design and cut the pattern.

Not only was less labor needed in cutting a garment, but the work was reduced from more than an hour to seven minutes.

Services were held Tuesday.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife of 40 years, the former Audrey Kelly; a son, William Tabilio Jr. of Westminster; and three grandchildren.

Pub Date: 2/22/97

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