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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

We Are Known For Being Capable Of Taking Your Dreams And Turning Them Into A Reality – Jack Sepetjian Of Anto's Shirts In Beverly Hills

Final Scene – Pretty Woman

Welcome to Hollywood! What's your dream? Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don't; but keep on dreamin' - this is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin'.

There is something about Los Angeles that is breathtaking – as though the entire city was built in a reflexive manner between art and life that mirrors itself across time so that quite often you have to pinch yourself and check your own reality. I’d find living in Los Angeles to be a heady experience and I’d expect to get lost in it pretty quickly. I have the kind of bullshit that is a strong currency in the City Of Angels – countless stories on me to tell of tailors and tid bits on cloth production and weaving mills, of costume designers and production houses I’ve visited. I imagine that with my ten years of blogging behind me I could dine out on textiles like Dominick Dunne dined out on crime.
As you stand on the corner of Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Boulevard you just feel that Pretty Woman feeling – that this is America and anything might happen today. Back one street away and the façade, just like a movie set, is gone. It only takes one street to be away from the over-the-top and decadent building designs of Gucci or the modernist and clean whites of Tom Ford, flanked by perfect palm trees. And its there that you can find the lesser known backbone businesses. Ones that have been there for quite some time and it is there, on North Beverly Drive, that you will find one of the most interesting stores in Los Angeles, Anto Shirt.

An ouevre of work for film and television, for the real and the fictitious - the work of Anto's of Beverly Hills is plain to see in their showroom

Left Anthony, grandson, and right, Jack, son of Anto, the master shirt maker. 

The story of Anto begins in Lebanon in 1955 when an Armenian named Anto Sepetjian began a career in making shirts. In those days, perhaps the art form of shirt making was less complex but it was a breeding ground for some of the best shirt makers in the world today. It was back then the Paris of the East. Civil war tore much of that apart and though he had a strong list of existing customers from Saudi’s to Lebanese parliamentarians, he gave it up and moved his family to Los Angeles in 1976.

At first, he occupied a space on the second floor of a building on the corner of Brighton Way and North Beverly Drive. The building was occupied by Beverly Hills Silks And Woolens – a business which is said to be one of those famous institutions that everybody in Hollywood used to use when making garments for movies. It was owned by a man called Herschensohn, and according to Jack Sepetjian, Anto’s son, this was how Anto got his break. Herschensohn, who had great contacts in Hollywood, began sending Anto customers to make shirts and soon his reputation became one of distinction.

The late Don Rickles has shirts made with Anto

Late in the seventies when Bo Derek was in hot demand post her raunchy movie ‘10’, it was said she came in to get measured for shirts and this was the turning point at which Anto and his shirts became synonymous with celebrity.

Today the business has an oeuvre of work behind them that includes heads of state, royalty, US Presidents and so on but it’s the work in both films and on film stars that have brought me here. It was an interview with Hollywood costume designer Ellen Mirojnick, a woman who is so accomplished in film costume design that I hung on her every word. When I questioned her where she went for a scalloped lilac shirt she put on Michael Douglas’ ‘Liberace’ in Behind The Candelabra, she said “I only trust Anto’s in Beverly Hills. “

A lovely evening shirt which I had really coveted whilst visiting though I was surprised that the store had more or less only pre-tied bow ties.... 

For a small store on North Beverly Drive, it is a very unassuming place to find a shirt maker of distinction and of potentially more importance than a Parisian institution like Charvet. Mostly because if we were to watch a film with a character who wore shirts from Charvet, chances are it would be made at Anto’s workroom in Sherman Oaks, California and not at Charvet.
Coming back to my original remark about the reflexivity about Los Angeles, here too is an example of that working and breathing reflexivity. Michael Douglas’ patterns are on file in Anto’s factory which used to be a bank and contains a large vault. Inside that vault are over 12000 patterns of some of the world’s most revered actors and all the characters that they will most likely play in films, from Presidents to poets. So, when Michael Douglas plays Liberace, his shirt pattern is in the vault at Anto’s. They tweak it, find the fabrics required and voila, he’s ready to play his role. But when Michael Douglas is ready to get married to Catherine Zeta Jones – he’s once again calling up Anto’s – this time to make his pattern as a dinner shirt.

Cuff details and collars which were both exciting and innovative in construction. I would have loved to have had them make me a shirt if I had more time.

And Anto’s responds. In the case of Douglas’ dinner shirt, Ellen Mirojnick, who got Douglas ready, called Anto’s a day out from the wedding. Douglas’ wedding shirt wasn’t right, could they make him another one that same day and send it Fedex to New York over night? And Anto’s will oblige, because managing customers, especially Hollywood types, is what keeps them in business.

All patterns are still made in cardboard despite the team owning plotters and printers and CAD drawings systems. Jack says the company still runs better with cardboard patterns and they have over 12000 stored in a bank vault in their factory (which used to be a bank)

When you walk into the long oblong shape showroom you are struck by a few things. Firstly, there is little fanfare – it really is predominantly about shirts. There are a sprinkle of pre-tied bow ties (I hope to change that one day soon) and some nice but not exactly show stopping neck ties. But then you see a wall of whites and then columns of colours and sprinkled between them all are Hollywood styled signed portraits all thanking Anto’s for turning their dreams into realities. There’s Don Rickles (may his memory be eternal) smiling back at you from the wall in a tuxedo and over-sized bow tie, Will Ferrell has a funny sort of crazed look on his face, Russell Crowe looks like he’s ready to fight around the world, Brad Pitt is covering his mouth, Matt Damon is in mid conversation with George Clooney, Jeremy Irons looks stunned, the Rat Pack are all laughing, Kirk Douglas, Steve Martin, Robert Deniro, Ronald Reagan and Frank Sinatra all smiling and signed thanking Anto for his service.

Cuff details

These days much of that one -to-one relationship between the shirt maker and customer is becoming eroded by the rise of the ‘stylist’ who becomes the go between celebrity and maker but to this day Anto’s enjoys consistent business from a loyal celebrity database and the reason is simple – they can make a shirt from start to finish on a pattern they develop in a factory that is located in the same city. Brands like Gucci and Tom Ford cannot offer such a service and since celebrities like things just the way they want them, Anto’s still thrives.

Not two weeks earlier they had completed 50 shirts for Tom Cruise for the premiere of his new movie as he travelled around the globe to release it. Of Tom Cruise they said that the bulk of his shirts were the same cut all in subtle shades of navy.

For films they draw upon shirt collars and cuffs that date back to the 1800’s and more recently they recreated a bespoke Hawaiian styled shirt for Ryan Gosling in La La Land as well as Deniro's shirt as he played Bernie Madoff. Every time they make a shirt it is still made from a cardboard pattern, the cloth cut by hand, sewed by a single needle plain sewer via seamstresses at their Sherman Oaks factory.

When we had finished our meeting, I was ready to be measured for a shirt but an old friend from Sydney had arrived to pick me up. At $375 as a starting price for a bespoke shirt I thought it quite reasonable and I was quite enamoured with one of the more beautiful dinner shirts in the window. Pressed for time I had to let it go, we were due to take lunch around the corner. I took a photo outside the Beverly Wilshire with a chap that was dressed in green and whose job it was to be friendly and give directions. I was wearing my Oz t-shirt, it was gold and green, shiny and new, designed after the staff who take care of Dorothy when she gets to the Emerald City. It could not have been a more appropriate shirt to wear.
We sat down to lunch and watched men and women struntz the promenade with fatted lips, coiffed hair, three piece suits, dangling jewels. It was all here, on show, a movie in the making. Ruby pointed out a woman in the distance “she was on Melrose place, do you remember the one with the drinking problem” .

Some words sounded in my mind “Keep on dreamin' - this is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin'.”

Cuff details

Find out more or shop Anto shirts ready to wear range here

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