What size was Hitler’s jacket?
DO YOU know any 14-16year-olds who have after-school jobs these days? When I was a teenager in the 1960s everybody had one. Health and Safety must have put a stop to them — the risks are just too great. They could be radicalised by your local deli or menswear shop owner and sent to work in a Sodastream factory on the West Bank with Scarlett Johansson or kidnapped, drugged and forced to be Jeremy Corbyn’s stylist.
My job at Smart Weston’s menswear shop on Shepherds Bush Green changed my life: I was destined from birth to be a dentist (my mother wanted to say “My son’s a dentist of Jewish extraction”). I would never have discovered I was born to be a salesman if I hadn’t witnessed the performances of Phillip and Martin, two young menswear salesmen from Stamford Hill. Listening to Martin sell Sunday Suits to Irishmen was an unforgettable experience.
“Just in today from the House of Shmutter Sir… from their new Milan Autumn collection… their brand new Pesach range with the Lokshen stripes and Italian boxed jacket. It’s YOU Sir… and yours for only six pounds 17 and sixpence.
Last weekend, I dropped in to see my friend Mo in his West End menswear shop. “What happened to your trousers,” Mo asked. “You’ve got bleach marks all over them.”
‘‘Unfortunately, my cleaner didn’t understand the ‘no chlorine bleach’ warning on the label before she put them in the washing machine.” I said. “Did you say anything to her?”. “I texted her.” ”What did she say?” “‘I’m pregnant and have gone back to the Philippines.’”
“Mo, can I work in your shop today? I’d like to sell some clothes… it’s been a long time. I’m a very good salesman. I’ll sell a lot of clothes for you.” “Are you serious?” “Absolutely.” “OK, get started.” After two hours not a single person had come into the shop. “It’s very quiet here, I don’t like it. Where are all the customers? Isn’t this meant to be your busiest day?”
“You know something, I think you’re right.” he said.
“Mo, try standing in the doorway and smiling. Men like to buy boxer shorts from salesmen who smile.” “How do you know that?” “I read it in the paper. There was a boxer shorts poll.” Half-an-hour later Mo smiled at me and started to try and sell me a coat.
“Try this coat on — it’s a £7,000 Ralph Lauren leather coat. I got it at a charity shop: Go on touch it.”
It was the softest thing I’d ever touched since Donald Trump sent me a souvenir lock of his hair after I once stayed in at Trump Tower in New York.
I tried it on and looked in the mirror. “What do you think,” Mo asked.
“I think I look like a short, overweight, middle-aged Jewish man in a coat made for a cross between a member of the Harlem Globetrotters and Mike Tyson.” “It looks good on you.” “Mo — my hands stop six inches short of the cuffs and the bottom is dragging along the floor.” “You’ll grow into it.” “How much is it?’’ “£250.” “I thought you said it was a £7,000 coat.”
“That’s when it was brand new at Ralph Lauren.”
“He’s gone you know. Retired. Do you know what his real name is? Lifschitz!
“Who?” “Ralph Lauren,” I said. “He changed it.”
Still on the subject of Ralph Lauren (pictured), Mo said: “You can’t blame him. And then: “A month ago, a man walked into the shop and sold me a black vintage leather coat — I liked it, so I kept it for myself. That night, I found something sewed into the lining, a very faded identity card in German; I could just make out it had a swastika on it. My jacket’s ‘one previous owner’ was a Nazi!”
A swastika!? ‘‘You didn’t happen to find a well thumbed copy of Mein Kampf? How about a very tightly rolled up parachute? It wasn’t Rudolf Hess’s flying jacket by any chance?” “How would I know?” “Were there any initials… an A or an H, on the label? “What size jacket did Hitler wear — a 38 or a 40 chest?”
“How would I know what size jacket Hitler wore? He died 70 years ago!”
“What did you do with the jacket?” “I called him.” “What did he say?” “He said: ‘What’s the problem?’”
“’What did you say?” “Oh nothing — “except that ‘I’m Jewish and you sold me a jacket that belonged to a Nazi. Apart from that it’s a really nice jacket.’ He took it back.”
I never got to make a sale but Mo did: If any 7ft tall very heavily built readers want a black leather coat then please contact me as soon as possible.