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2013 August 2

From The Daily Summer: Off The Deep End

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Joseph Cecela Joseph Cecela
Giorgio Niro
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(NEW YORK) The owner of the world’s largest collection of Vilebrequin swimsuits isn’t some spendthrift Saudi sheik or decadent English wastrel, he’s Joseph Cecala, a 66-year-old former fashion exec who manages a Holiday Inn on 57th Street in Manhattan. He spent $9,170 last year on his favorite brand of status swimwear, and meticulously tracks his trunks on color-coded spreadsheets. Let’s dive in, shall we?

OK, how many pairs of Vilebrequin swim trunks do you actually own?
In the primary collection not including alternates? Two hundred and fifty six.

What? That’s crazy. Do you wear them all?
I try to. There are some I’ve never worn, but most I’ve worn at least once. I keep track of when I wear each pair, and I usually only wear ones from the current season.

Do you buy the entire collection?
Nope—only the ones I like. This season I’ve purchased 20 pairs, but I’ll be wearing 24 because I’m carrying over four from a prior season.

What do you mean by “carrying over”?
I typically retire them at the end of the summer. 

What does that entail?
I rewrap them in their original packaging and store them in my apartment with their original tags.

How much do you typically spend a year on Vilebrequin?
I spent $9,170 in the store. It’s all there on the spreadsheet.

What’s your favorite pair?
My favorite? Wow, that’s like, prior to meeting my wife, if someone asked me who was the greatest person of all time. I can’t answer that!

Aw, that’s sweet! What about your favorite from this season then?
My favorite pair in 2012/2013 was the polar bears with the gingham check pattern. I was really impressed by those. I love the ones that come out during the holidays. 

Will you be wearing them this summer?
I’ll put them on during the summer, sure. I don’t give a shit.

Are there any designs you avoid?
I won’t buy anything with two colors—you know, one leg blue, the other leg green? They absolutely have to have a pattern. 

When did you first discover Vilebrequin?
About 14 or 15 years ago there was a guy up at the pool club here at the hotel that had on a pair. I saw them and thought, “Hey, I remember those!” I had bought a pair in 1974 a few years after the company launched in ‘71.

Why do you think you like them so much?
First of all, there’s the quality of the product. That’s just a given, and it should be for the price you’re paying. But, really, it’s the patterns. The team who comes up with them is just exceptional.

What’s the rest of your wardrobe like? Are you a clotheshorse?
I have 36 sport jackets and 25 suits in my closet right now, and that’s just summer. They’re all custom-made by my tailor, Tom Fitzpatrick. Nothing in my closet will ever be found on a shelf in a store.

What does your family think about your Vilebrequin habit?
They think I’m crazy, but you can’t write a check from the grave! They’re well taken care of, so it’s not a concern.

Were you always a natty dresser?
I was always in a suit with a pocket square as an adult, but we were dead broke growing up. I slept in the same bed with my brother until I was 16 years old! It was a railroad apartment on 13th and Avenue B, and our bathtub was in the kitchen. In the summers it was so hot I slept on the fire escape. I’m surprised I’m still alive!

Can we talk about the moustache?
Sure! It just celebrated it’s 40th anniversary.

Mazel tov. It’s quite a signature. Do people ever mistake you for a celebrity?
It’s funny you should ask that. My secretary actually has a list of 67 names that people over the years have said that I look like. Mark Twain, General Custer, the Monopoly guy, the Wizard of Oz, Captain Crunch, Captain Kangaroo, Wilfred Brimley, Teddy Roosevelt, the guy on the W.B. Mason truck, the Pringles guy, Leroy Neiman, Colonel Sanders, on a bad day ...

OK, so how did you end up managing a Holiday Inn?
I retired young and I was doing some Christopher Durang comedies—just having some fun. These guys had heard about me from what I’d done over my career, and so I came here. I was not a hotel person, but I took over anyway. I’ve been running it for 17 years.

What did you do before you retired?
I was in the garment business for years. I was with the “Just Say No” foundation with Nancy Reagan, and was an executive at Izod/Lacoste for a time. I was also with the New England Patriots and worked for a bit with Michael Jackson.

Wait, what?
I did. He was just the sweetest kid. He had that chimpanzee, Bubbles, who wore a diaper. I remember he served us popcorn and had a bunch of animals in the back yard, like llamas and everything. The best was that he had a spitting llama. You had to stand back because it would spray you.

How do you have so much energy?
Well, I don’t drink coffee and I don’t do drugs. I just get excited about everything in life!

As you might have guessed, Vilebrequin trunks aren’t the only thing Cecala collects: “I smoked 50 non-filtered Camels a day for 43 years, so I have dozens of Zippo lighters,” he says.  “And I must have 1,000 cigars, which I restore as a hobby.” Then there’s the hundreds of canes and walking sticks, over 300 pocket squares, and 160 pairs of suspenders. “I track all of it!” he says, proudly, “though I don’t collect much anymore. We moved from an 11,000-square-foot house to a 3,500-square foot apartment at the hotel, so I had to give stuff away.” He’s also big on stamps from, like the set he ordered to commemorate himself (inset). He gives them to friends at parties.

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