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New York’s Top Repairers: Footwear, Leather, and Fabric

Masterful craftsmen who can widen boots, recover shoes, fix torn leather, repair handbags, remove lipstick and ink stains, and reweave sweaters.

File 3959Every woman has damaged or unwearable clothing hidden in a bag in the back of the closet: a cherished Bruno Cucinelli cardigan with moth holes; a leather jacket with a gash on the elbow; a beloved pair of shoes with a torn strap; a treasured handbag with a tattered lining.

The good news is that New York City is home to gifted master-magicians who can not only remedy these problems; they can also flawlessly widen the calves on boot shanks; make a stunning kidskin handbag for that antique, Deco purse frame you bought at a flea market; remove bright scarlet lipstick from a white Patricia Underwood straw hat; repair a nasty cigarette-burn hole. Listed below are some of Gotham’s top repairers who will amaze you with their skills. (Note: Prices quoted are generally starting rates; a repairer can’t give a firm fee until he sees the damaged item; digital pix are welcome. Some firms, like B. Nelson, even provide a pre-paid label on their Web site for your convenience.) 

Shoe Repair

T.O. Dey, 151 West 46th Street; 212-683-6300 

When it comes to footwear, I completely trust the skillful talent of Gino Bifulco, the hands-on president of T.O. Dey and his crew of masterful cobblers; this is primarily a shop for “tricky” and difficult repairs. Forty percent of his clients are commercial entities—Broadway shows and department stores, for example; the remaining clients are private customers. The firm creates shoes for hundreds of regulars (starting at $850 for women, $950 for men), but most people come here for Bifulco’s ingenious repairs: converting a narrow stiletto heel to a wider heel and matching the most unusual leathers/colors ($40); redoing the vamps on boots, if the upper has dried out from snow and salt ($90); putting a new zipper in a pair of boots ($45); widening/narrowing the calf on a pair of boots ($90). He can also recover your favorite shoes in a different fabric/leather ($200); dye fabric ($30); dye leather ($40). There is little Bifulco considers “undoable”: change a closed- toe shoe to open-toe, or vice-versa; cut down a platform, add a platform; and of course, make new straps, match buckles, fix stretched-out leather, replace lifeless elastic among others. 

B. Nelson Shoe Corp. at V.I.P. Shoe Restorers, 140 East 55th Street; 212-750-0818

In contrast, this 100-year-old shop managed by third-generation shoeman Nick Valenti, can expertly and easily handle your mundane shoe repairs and also dye shoes, match straps/buckles, and make similar renovations. Unlike the second-floor T.O. Dey, this is a street-level shop, with four consistently busy, shoe-shine chairs, and with many items for sale, ranging from stylish women's rubber boots to all varieties of insoles, arch supports, lavender- or cedar-scented, handmade boot trees, and polishes. (Valenti swears by Saphir French shoe polish.) He proudly shows me sheaves of letters from Seventh Avenue bold-faced names and magazine editors, all thanking him for his expertise. While nearly 70% of his clients are men, he also does wonderful work on women’s footwear: heels and lifts ($10); soleguards ($25); repairs on buckles, elastic, straps ($18), half-soles ($35); new insoles (socklinings) ($15). They also clean Ugg boots, put new zippers in boots, and cut down platform shoes.

Leather and Suede Repairs—Clothing, Handbags, Suitcases

Superior Leather Restorers, 141 Lexington Avenue; 212-889-7211

When it comes to leather and suede, I trust Superior 1000% and so do major clients Barneys and Michael Kors. The company was established in the 1930s; proprietor Marvin Rosen has owned it for over 50 years. When I first met him, he was repairing suitcases and handbags and some leather clothing. Today, a majority of his repairs involve leather/suede clothing that most other restorers won’t touch. (During the winter, clothing makes up about 65% of his business; handbags and luggage, the balance.) He and his genius mechanics can reline a pocketbook; refinish and make new straps for granny’s alligator purse that you inherited; emboss leather. Challenge him with more complex disasters: He can repair a gash in a leather coat to make it look like a natural vein in the hide ($75); put in a new zipper ($45); reline a leather coat ($325); and remove ink stains ($85). If you happen to have a cherished, vintage handbag frame, he can create a purse in satin, kid, or alligator ($1,500).

Modern Leather Goods, 2 West 32 Street; 212-279-3263

Paul Regensburg, co-owner of this handbag-specialist repair service, notes realistically, “For the most part, in our labor-intensive profession, you're paying for that labor... and we always hope that we get the labor estimate right.” He and president Tony Pecorella say that 40% of their clients are private individuals; 60% is contract work for national accounts like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. One look at their back room and you see piles of designer-name, luxury handbags. (They also repair luggage.) With ten fulltime repairers, and a dedicated soldering man, they can do just about anything: Refinish delicate or worn leathers; custom-make handles/straps, $125; replace handles with ready-made ones, $25; reline a purse, $150, and they can do it with your own fabric, in case you want to match an ensemble. Pecorella says that a very common alteration today is installing cell phone pockets in older bags. They can reline a Judith Leiber minaudière; replace or install new findings, rivets, snaps, closures, zippers; solder metal parts; in short, anything. 

Reweaving 

French American Reweaving Company, 119 West 57th Street; 212-765-4670 [no Web site]

Ronnie Moore of French American Reweaving Company has been plying his trade for over 45 years and there isn't a moth hole or a cigarette burn that defies him. He warns that repairs on smooth, thin, delicate fabrics are always the trickiest to camouflage; repairs on heavier weaves and knits, especially those with a pattern, usually result in an optimal job. His staff of four can inweave a piece of material; fill a hole by completely reweaving by hand; and reknit sweaters. If you want to repair the skirt or pants of a suit, always bring the other half so that Moore can “steal” fabric from it to repair burns and holes on the other half. Repairing cigarette burns starts at $110, moth holes, $55; snags on a microfiber garment, $55. If you’ve got a sweater with one worn elbow, they cut the sleeve in half, discard the worn elbow part, reknit the two good halves together, and block the sleeve to its proper length ($150).

Ruth J. Katz is currently the Style Editor of Promenade magazine and has covered service, shopping, and design for more than 20 years as an editor at Redbook, Colonial Homes, Classic Home, The Modern Estate, and New York Home magazines; she wrote for many years for The New York Times and New York magazine and appeared weekly on Fox TV as the Home Services Editor. She is the author of five books.