Ottavio Parenti, 93, tailor to the stars

Posted: June 27, 2013

Ottavio Parenti, 93, a South Philadelphia tailor of custom suits for the likes of NBA star Wilt Chamberlain, died Monday, June 24, at the Longport, N.J., home of his daughter Mary.

Fred A. Shabel, vice chairman of Comcast-Spectacor, owner of the Flyers, said Tuesday that Mr. Parenti not only knew how to handle needle and thread, but had a remarkable life story.

Besides Chamberlain, Shabel said, Mr. Parenti made suits for, among other celebrities, the broadcaster Howard Cosell and the actor Telly Savalas.

The highlight of the 90th birthday party for Mr. Parenti - a longtime Flyers fan - was the presence of Bernie Parent, the goalie on the NHL championship teams of the 1970s, Shabel said.

"It was the first time that he met" the Flyers star, Shabel said. "He was thrilled," and even more so when Parent presented him with a framed jersey.

Shabel, athletic director at the University of Pennsylvania from 1967 to 1975, said he personally never got to share the distinction of owning a Parenti-crafted suit because he became friendly with the tailor only after he had retired.

Mr. Parenti attained his reputation after 1960, when he arrived in the United States from Italy at age 40.

But his skill as a tailor had served him well during World War II, daughter Mary said.

"He told cute stories about when he was a prisoner of war," she said.

As an Italian soldier held by the British army in Egypt, she said, "he was treated well because they knew he was a tailor."

British officers would come to him, she said, and though he was only in his 20s, his expertise was enough known that they would ask him to repair their uniforms.

Born in Vacri in the Abruzzi province of Chieti, he was named a master tailor by an Italian guild whose name is lost to memory.

Amid the postwar hardships of Italy, Mr. Parenti went to Argentina in search of tailoring opportunities, sent remittances to his wife, Norma, but soon returned.

The couple opened a shoe store in the Abruzzi, but in 1959 it was destroyed by a flood, his daughter said.

In a memorial tribute, son-in-law Peter Ancone wrote that Mr. Parenti's "quiet demeanor belied the spirit of a fierce survivor, determined to overcome the obstacles of war, collapsed economies, and the trial of immigration."

Within a year of settling in South Philadelphia - the family home for 40 years was on Ninth Street near Oregon Avenue - Mr. Parenti became a tailor for D'Alonzo-Lancaster, a producer of custom men's clothing at Broad Street and Washington Avenue, his daughter said.

After retiring as a manager and supervisor at the firm in his early 60s, Mr. Parenti and a D'Alonzo colleague opened a custom-tailoring firm. He retired when he was 72.

Besides his daughter, Mr. Parenti is survived by sons Anthony, Alex, Bert, and Ottavio Jr., daughters Vera Parenti-Ancone and Lola Kenyon, 14 grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren. His wife died in 1998.

A viewing was set from 9 a.m. Thursday, June 27, at St. Rita of Cascia Church, 1166 S. Broad St., before a 10 a.m. Funeral Mass there, with burial at SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Marple Township.

Donations may be made to the American Cancer Society, 1626 Locust St., Philadelphia 19103.

Condolences may be offered to the family at

Contact Walter F. Naedele at 610-313-8134, or follow on Twitter @WNaedele.

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