Al Ribaya: Well-suited to North Beach neighborhood

There is something of the old-world blended with San Francisco’s funkiness in Al Ribaya’s custom-tailored designs.

Each buttonhole is sewn by hand with needle and thread, the seams are French for a cleaner finish and he uses some of the finest cloth he can find, bringing it in from Europe.

From handcrafted shoes and women’s dresses to men’s suits and hats, Al’s Attire, on Grant Avenue in North Beach, specializes in individualized wardrobes. A good deal of his business is in formalwear and bridal.

He’s been known to work from photos taken out of magazines and hand-drawn sketches, adding detailed pocket work and embroidery, Ribaya said.

“We’re a very high-end tailor using techniques from a bygone era, but for a very reasonable price,” Ribaya said.

In a time when most consumers have grown accustomed to the instant gratification of walking out of a department store with a bag in hand, Ribaya’s customers cultivate patience, waiting three to six weeks for delivery.

What sets his shop apart from other tailors and clothiers is the “hipper, funkier” style of many of his designs. It’s something he has cultivated for his clientele, many of whom are artists or work in creative industries, Ribaya said. Among the better-known names he has created designs for are the late newspaper columnist Herb Caen, musician Tom Waits and actress Reese Witherspoon, Ribaya said.

A longtime resident of the Bay Area, Ribaya moved with his parents from the Philippines when he was in fourth grade. The ever-changing nature of the fashion industry attracted him at an early age. He opened a custom shoe and repair shop, Taming of the Shoe on Mission Street, straight out of high school.

Since then, he hasn’t looked back, expanding into clothes for the performance industry including shows such as Beach Blanket Babylon and others. It was just about three years ago that he decided to take the leap into public retail, Ribaya said.

While it can be tough to make money on a product that is created one stitch at a time, he has seen an increase in the number of clients craving more individuality. “What’s more individual than custom-made?” Ribaya said, reassured by the work that often keeps him at the shop late into the night.

To keep alert, he often ducks into Café Trieste around the corner from his shop for a coffee. It’s just one of the benefits of North Beach, a neighborhood that has a long tradition of hosting craftsmen, Ribaya said.

Just like the rest of us, he enjoys an outing with friends, heading out to sail around Alcatraz or picking up a game of basketball, Ribaya said. “Not bad” for someone 5 feet 8 inches tall, he laughs.

To see some of Ribaya’s designs on the Internet, visit http://homepage.mac.com/alsattire/PhotoAlbum9.html.

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