Around the corner from the Fendi store and Mr. Chow in Beverly Hills, in two modest, sunlit rooms four floors above Brighton Way, Mario Gonzales spends his days quietly saving Hollywood butts — as well as waists, shoulders and bosoms.
Working in stretchy charmeuse, silk georgette and cashmere, Gonzales, 56, is among Los Angeles' preeminent tailors, esteemed by performers and their agents and stylists for his precision and calm, particularly during the panic vortex of awards season.
At the Golden Globes in January, it was Gonzales' workmanship that kept Sofia Vergara's curves where she liked them in a plunging Zac Posen dress. At last year's Oscars, he ensured that Channing Tatum's Gucci tailcoat wouldn't rip when the broad-shouldered actor lifted Charlize Theron on stage while they danced. When a zipper broke on the tulle Giambattista Valli gown Anne Hathaway planned to wear to the Screen Actors Guild Awards last year, the tailor raced to replace it hours before the ceremony.
"Mario is our lifeline," said Jill Lincoln, style director for stylist Rachel Zoe, whose clients include Vergara, Hathaway, Jennifer Garner, Cameron Diaz and Kate Hudson. "We're entrusted with these women in very high-pressure moments when they're under the scrutiny of the world. Mario puts them at ease, they know they'll be taken care of."
As awards season has mushroomed to include evermore events and as stylists have arisen to dress people for them, Gonzales, who started as a tailor for Armani before striking out on his own, has seen his fortunes rise.
This spring, after more than 20 years of handling Hollywood's hems, he plans to launch his own line, called Mario BH.
On a January morning after the crush of the Golden Globes and SAG Awards, Gonzales, a bearish, bespectacled figure in a black sweater and jeans, took a break between fitting Elizabeth Banks in a beaded jumpsuit for "The Lego Movie" premiere and measuring a Beverly Hills bride for her wedding dress.
With a rack of suits for Creative Artist Agency managing partner Bryan Lourd hanging behind him and a bag of alterations to be done for Babyface by his side, Gonzales projected an ease. With his assistant of 23 years, Sylvia Reyes, he works 70-hour weeks during awards season, shuttling between stars' homes, fabric stores and his studio.
"Working a lot with the entertainment business, I understand their stress," he said. "Everybody's on such a tight schedule. It's critical to be on time, be respectful, don't ask questions … whatever I see, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, that sort of thing. You want to stay in business, you know?"
One topic that does rile Gonzales, however, is ill-fitting garments, which he seems to consider a personal insult.
"If a woman is pulling and yanking on her dress on the red carpet, that's the worst," he said. "I always make sure everything's secure so that dress is not going anywhere. I tell them, sit down ... if you're doing Letterman and there's a slit in your dress and you have Spanx on, we've got to see how you're going to cross your leg. All those little things you have to think about."
Started sewing at 16
Gonzales grew up in Saginaw, Mich., the son of an autoworker and a homemaker. When he was 16, his mother bought a sewing machine and signed up for classes but didn't have time to take them, so Gonzales did instead.
Within a year he was working at a high-end menswear store, beside tailors from Central Europe who taught him to hand sew buttonholes and stretch and shrink a garment using the steamer. From community college in Michigan he transferred to the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in downtown L.A., before landing as a tailor at the Armani store in Beverly Hills.
That's where he was in the late 1980s when he tailored a suit for Mandalay Entertainment President Cathy Schulman, then a young production executive in Hollywood
"It was that era when we were all wearing Armani suits," Schulman said. "He turned this beautiful but off-the-rack suit into a bespoke suit. It went from not fitting to looking like it was made for me."
Gonzales struck out on his own in 1989, working from the back of a friend's boutique. In 1994, he got his first celebrity client off a referral from his Armani days, tailoring Cameron Diaz on her first press junket for "The Mask."