Carl Goldberg

Carl Goldberg

Samantha Isom
CEGO Shirtmakers

CEGO shirtmakers 

Samantha Isom
Zach Cherry in Severence

Zach Cherry in Severence

Courtesy of Apple TV+
Alex Borstein in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Alex Borstein in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Courtesy of Prime Video
Paul Giamatti in Billions

Paul Giamatti in Billions

Courtesy of Showtime
Fill 1
Fill 1
March 30, 2023

Carl Goldberg Is First in Shirts

The shirtmaker of choice for costume designers across television — and for the actors lucky to get his shirts in multiples. Mandy Patinkin, who discovered Goldberg on Homeland, says simply: "Call Carl."

When Carl Goldberg started his custom shirt-making business in 1983, he wasn't thinking about the entertainment industry. But ever since 2001 — when he made his first shirt for Michael J. Fox to wear on Spin City — show business has become key to his business, comprising 50 percent of his work.

His New York–based company, CEGO, still makes plenty of shirts for attorneys and corporate types. But the decline in office occupancy seen since the start of Covid triggered a similar decline in high-end menswear, and Peak TV surged in to fill the gap. Fittingly, CEGO has worked on boardroom dramas (Succession, Billions) but also procedurals (Blue Bloods, Law & Order), period pieces (Dickinson, Halston, The Get Down) and even Saturday Night Live.

The firm's Flatiron District factory-showroom is pure New York: a 2,500 square-foot second-story loft with exposed brick, wood floors, high ceilings and tall windows that overlook the leafy hubbub of Madison Square Park. About ten workers assemble shirts at sewing machines and presses, surrounded by more than 2,000 bolts of fabric, hundreds of sample pieces, spools of thread and bags of buttons, plus photos, playbills, magazines and, in the corner of the fitting area, a well-stocked liquor cart. In the early 1970s, legend has it, KISS rehearsed in the space.

Goldberg grew up in the rag trade in Philadelphia, where three generations of his family ran a dry goods store that became an Army & Navy store. After college, he moved to New York and worked at Barneys, among other places, before founding CEGO.

For almost forty years, his focus has been custom-fitted shirts (though he'll also make pajamas, robes and even boxers). Most private clients come to him, but entertainment work has its own M.O.

"Occasionally the actors come here," Goldberg says, "and occasionally I go out to a studio. I went out recently for Law & Order to measure a bunch of people."

Why does a TV detective need a bespoke shirt? "White is too harsh [onscreen], so they often use light gray, off-white, ecru fabrics," he explains. "Sometimes they'll dip a white shirt, like in tea."

The camera isn't just finicky about color. Costume designers want "TV-friendly patterns," he adds. "They don't want it to look too flat. If you look closely, you'll see somebody is wearing a small-patterned shirt, a patterned tie and there might even be a pattern on the suit. They want stuff happening."

Most of the firm's entertainment work is in New York, but CEGO does West Coast jobs too, often at an actor's request. Mandy Patinkin wore CEGO for Showtime's long-running spy thriller, Homeland, and now he "loves my shirts," Goldberg says. If the actor isn't happy with the shirts on other shows, "He just tells the costume designer, 'I don't like these. Call Carl.'" In fact, one of CEGO's five-star reviews on Google is by a Patinkin-sized fan who found eight of those Homeland shirts at an L.A. consignment store.

Similarly, CEGO recently worked with Clive Owen on Retreat, a limited series coming to FX. "We made a couple shirts for a scene; he loved them and ordered eight of the exact same band-collar shirt. Which he paid for."

Owen probably considered them a bargain. Tom Ford dress shirts run from $595 to $1,495, while CEGO charges $275. For private clients, an initial run of five shirts is required, but that's not the case for entertainment work. Nor is it often an issue.

For Elementary, the CBS series that starred Jonny Lee Miller as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, "We made hundreds and hundreds of nearly identical shirts," Goldberg recalls. "We'd make twenty different fabric patterns, two each. They'd show them to Jonny and sometimes he'd say, 'No, I don't like that one,' and they'd never use it. "That was a very specific look we copied from a downtown brand — buttoned-up with a tiny little collar. They'd established that shirt on the show, but then the brand didn't have it the next season, so we made them. When I [first] watched the show and saw my shirts, I told my cutter the next day that we had to fix the pattern. It broke funny here," he says, touching his clavicle, "because of [Miller's] posture."

Hundreds of shirts sounds like a lot, but for Apple TV+'s upcoming City on Fire, CEGO made fifteen of the same shirt — just for one scene of a guy being thrown into a river. There were twelve for actor Nico Tortorella, plus two for a stunt performer and one for a dummy. "That was a very specific look," Goldberg says. "It wasn't the kind of thing you could just go into Macy's and buy."

The firm makes shirts up and down the call sheet. "Usually we just do the main actors," Goldberg says. "but we did a lot for White House Plumbers. [The HBO limited series starring Woody Harrelson and Justin Theroux debuts May 1.] We made shirts for everyone who showed up — the bad guys, every peripheral character. That was a lot of shirts."

Similarly, Prime Video's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a regular customer, but only for secondary characters and physically larger background players. For Hulu's Only Murders in the Building, CEGO made some of the flamboyantly patterned shirts that Martin Short's character wears in the second season.

Do costume designers see Goldberg as a guru or as a vendor? "A little of both," he says. "On Godfather of Harlem [the MGM+ series set in the 1960s], I'm making shirt collars that are not period-correct and the costume designer knows that. She doesn't want to make it look too too period."

He's talking about Sarah Laux, who also hired CEGO for Hulu's High Fidelity. "One of my favorite things about Carl is how he keeps me honest," she says. "He watches all my projects and is an amazing critic. After High Fidelity, when everyone was blowing smoke up my ass about the clothes, Carl made me defend many of my decisions and had a lot of great constructive criticism."

Costume designer Jeriana San Juan, who hired CEGO for Netflix's Halston, has a long history with Goldberg. "Over the years we've worked together on various shirts," she says, "from the clean pressed cottons of the '40s to the slinky exaggerated collars of the '70s to the silky '90s and beyond. He always comes through with perfect fit and stunning detail." San Juan also bought CEGO shirts for FX's Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (for star Denis Leary), as well as HBO's The Plot Against America and Netflix's The Get Down.

Goldberg welcomes challenges. "Certain costume designers push me harder," he says, referring to Anna Terrazas and Apple TV+'s Hello Tomorrow!, starring Billy Crudup as a salesman of time-shares on the Moon. "With futuristic work you don't know which way to go, so they did really skewed-looking 1950s things. They'd find me these shirts from the 1950s that didn't make any sense, and we'd copy and remake them."

The midcentury look is big lately at Apple TV+ — CEGO also made 1950s-style men's and women's shirts for its upcoming Lessons in Chemistry, starring Brie Larson.

Calling Goldberg "an encyclopedia of shirting," Chemistry costume designer Mirren Gordon-Crozier notes, "I also collaborated with him this year on an Amazon feature film, The Burial, set in 1994, where we custom-made a rainbow of contrast-collared striped shirts for Jamie Foxx."

Goldberg recalls, "It was kind of an oversized look, and he played a flashy lawyer. I pulled out fabric from the 1990s. I'm older than a lot of the costume designers, so I've been there."

One issue about sourcing clothes for period shows, he says, is that "you can always find something you love in a rental house but there's only one. What happens if you need two shirts? So that's why they come to me." In fact, CEGO supplies new vintage-style shirts to North Hollywood's Western Costume in a range of sizes and period styles.

What about period-less shows? For Apple TV+'s Severance, says costume designer Sarah Edwards, "We were trying to create something nonspecific in time and place, almost an alternate-reality feeling, so it was very hard to purchase things off the rack. We made almost everything, and Carl was a very big part of that. We were chasing midcentury colors that shirtmakers don't carry anymore. Carl became an invaluable resource — and he was willing to work during Covid. He was a lifesaver.

"For season two," she adds, "we're back again, sourcing colors that don't exist."

Also part of the process: keeping the cast happy. A lead actor on Severance didn't care for the collar on his white Brioni shirts (list price: $775). "So we were constantly cutting up Brioni shirts to change the collar," Goldberg says. "They'd grab an extra shirt, an extra-large, and we'd just cut it up for the fabric."

Speaking of designer shirts, a lead on another high-profile show "wouldn't even try my shirts on because they didn't have the correct label in them," Goldberg recalls. Labels aside, he says he's copied "plenty of Tom Ford collars. There was a show where the actor had put on a little Covid weight and Tom Ford didn't have that shirt in his size anymore, so we copied those."

On a personal level, he enjoyed working with Tom Selleck. "My mother would have been so happy. We watched [CBS's] Blue Bloods together, but she passed away before I started doing the show. When I measured Tom, we had the best time talking. He used to work in men's clothing stores when he was young in L.A., and we talked about clothes."

Goldberg could talk about clothes all day, and he clearly enjoys what he does, for a variety of reasons. "We love a fight," he says, "because you always have to make something for the stunt."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #2, 2023, under the title, "First In Shirts."

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