Property peep show: A tailor’s loft in South Williamsburg

Take a tour inside Arthur Arbit’s bright Brooklyn studio and workshop, filled with sewing machines, unconventional suits and floor-to-ceiling art

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  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    Arthur Arbit’s loft, one of the first legal conversions in Williamsburg, was once split down the middle into two skinny rectangular spaces—an unfortunate footprint cobbled together to accommodate roommates who hated one another. A tailor, artist and fashion designer, Arbit demolished the interior walls to create a seamless blend of living and studio space when he moved in 2.5 years ago. He also took advantage of the 16-foot ceilings, adding a second-floor bedroom and storage space. “I’m 6’4” and I can stand up in my bedroom,” he says. “This building is amazing.”

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    Arbit, 46, operates his 25-year-old by-appointment tailoring shop (“the highest-rated tailoring business in Brooklyn on Yelp”) out of the loft. He learned the trade growing up—one of the many facets of his family’s dry-cleaning business. “Making people look good, it’s an empowerment thing. It’s really rewarding,” he says. “Now, I’m trying to make this business into something where my friends who are designers, they can work here instead of working at bars.” He felt settled enough in this apartment to finally get two canine sidekicks, Bonnie and Clyde.

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    The high-ceilinged portion of the loft allows for sewing and painting and serves as Arbit’s office. “I’ve always liked having my studio where I live. It’s a challenge, because you can fuck off. It’s not like you go into work, where you punch a clock and you actually have to work. You’re home, so you can be cruising around the Internet in your underwear instead of sewing,” he says. “But one of my mentors always said that part of being a painter is being a good listener, listening to your head. And whenever an idea comes, you’ve got to quit what you’re doing and just go.”

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    A wall of sewing machines flanks the entire eastern wall of the loft. “I like to challenge people with clothes—challenge their ideas of what’s normal or acceptable or stylish or cool,” says Arbit, who favors vintage suits from the late '60s and early '70s. He founded Williamsburg Fashion Weekend in 2006 as a way of showing his own work, but also to promote local up-and-coming designers. The hallmark of the biannual event is its half-hour shows, which feel more like performance pieces than a walk down the runway. “It’s a spectacle,” he explains, “and that’s the point. It expands the designers’ vision beyond just the clothes, and it makes each line more memorable.”

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    In 1979, Arbit’s family moved to Brooklyn from Ukraine and opened a dry-cleaning shop in Bensonhurst. The bicycle suspended from the ceiling is a gift from the Italian man who worked in that first shop. “I used to race bicycles. He had raced, too, and when he was dying, he knew I would appreciate it,” says Arbit. “It’s a Cinelli from the '30s. I love that thing. It has the sexiest handlebars you’ll ever see on a bicycle.”

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    The loft’s floor-to-ceiling windows look south onto Broadway and the aboveground J train. Corner shelving functions as a sort of altar, hosting plants, religious icons, and toys from Arbit’s childhood. The blue painting of the crucifixion is from a series he painted in 2005. “My paintings used to be like babies, where it was hard to let them go,” he says. “I got over that, but when I was painting this series, I definitely knew I was keeping that one. Things like this—I got it out of my system. I’m not going to have to go there again.”

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    “I just found that wardrobe on the street, and believe it or not, it tied everything together,” say Arbit. “That mirror used to be on the floor, and the fact that when you put it up there, it’s an inch away from the ceiling—it was meant to be.” The paintings that line the loft’s western wall are part of Arbit’s most recent series, portraits of people who have inspired him.

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    Arbit eschews predictability in his work, and his new series of paintings will be no exception. “I’m going to do bugs next,” he says of the canvas hanging over his worktable, which can fold up to create more floor space. “I try to do something diametrically opposed to the previous series, and then I just keep doing it until I get bored.” And after bugs? “Cars. I like cars.”

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    Before founding Williamsburg Fashion Weekend, Arbit had already cofounded an art gallery and produced rock concerts. He is also a DJ with an extensive record collection, part of which lives under the stairs. “I have a knack for feeling the room. I’m not one of those DJs that plays the same genre the entire night, or who’s like, ‘I have to educate the crowd.’ I’ll play Olivia Newton-John next to Gang of Four—I like to challenge people a little bit, surprise them. But still, my job is to keep people drinking and keep people dancing, so you can’t go super ballistic.”

  • Photograph: Rayon Richards

    Arbit’s previous apartment was an illegally converted loft in Bushwick, which meant that he didn’t have a kitchen or a bathtub, which made life complicated for the avid cook and devout bath-taker. His current space, which boasts both, feels like a luxury—but he’s still adjusting to the $2,200-per-month price tag. “Apparently that’s undermarket. To me, it’s the most absurd thing. It’s the most I’ve ever paid in rent.”

Photograph: Rayon Richards

Arthur Arbit’s loft, one of the first legal conversions in Williamsburg, was once split down the middle into two skinny rectangular spaces—an unfortunate footprint cobbled together to accommodate roommates who hated one another. A tailor, artist and fashion designer, Arbit demolished the interior walls to create a seamless blend of living and studio space when he moved in 2.5 years ago. He also took advantage of the 16-foot ceilings, adding a second-floor bedroom and storage space. “I’m 6’4” and I can stand up in my bedroom,” he says. “This building is amazing.”


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