Today he is the last glove maker in Gloversville, a small town in New York that was once the glove-making capital of America. But the journey that led Daniel Storto here is a winding one. Like the Cayadutta River running through the town, his journey was filled with twists and turns, and he never knew what was beyond the bend.


My Grandfather’s Son

Growing up in a conservative Italian family in Canada, a young Daniel found solace by his grandfather’s side and, later, in the bohemian milieu of Toronto

My grandfather, Antonio Storto, was a shoemaker in a small Italian town on the Adriatic coast, Francavilla al Mare. He was both an artist and an artisan. He made the fancy shoes for the wealthy vacationers in the nearby resort towns. But he himself was poor and so was his family.

Daniel as a child, and his grandfather.

He had seven sons and one daughter. My father, Pasquale, was his eldest. Especially after the war, which devastated the region, my grandfather often couldn’t provide enough food for his family. But he never deviated from his craft. To him, he was a shoemaker. Why would he make anything else, even if it was more lucrative?

Naturally this caused a lot of tension within the home. My own father never forgave his father for not finding a way to provide for his family. “What do you mean you’re an artist?” he used to say. “We’re hungry!” But I suppose some things skip a generation. I loved my grandfather deeply. The man I knew — who smelled like leather, shoe polish and cigarettes, who held my hand on long walks, who lived and loved his craft — was kind and gentle and he accepted me.

By the time I was born in 1954, my family had moved to Toronto. They settled in St. Clair, a traditional Italian neighborhood. My father found work as a bricklayer but I would visit my grandfather in Italy every summer to sit with him in the old garage he had transformed into a chic studio. I remember he always wore a white shirt and a black tie. He was a hipster before there was a word for it. When he came to visit us, he always brought his shoemaking tools and I would sit with him for days watching him work. Every child needs one place where they feel safe and loved. Next to Antonio was mine.

Perhaps because his father had been so bohemian, my own father was very stern, very serious and buttoned up. Toronto in the 1960’s was just as freewheeling as San Francisco but in my house, it was still the 1950’s. I felt it was a very provincial world: Sofas covered in plastic, heavy chandeliers in the living room. I remember sitting at dinner with my two brothers and thinking, “Who are you people? Why am I here?”

Happy memories in Toronto.

My mother, however, knew I was different from my brothers. From the time I was a baby, she would always take me shopping with her. She’d say, “if you come with me, you can get a doll.” Every Christmas and every birthday, my aunts would give me dolls which I kept in a trunk in the basement. I loved those dolls. They were my playthings, of course, but they also meant that at least someone in my house knew I was different.

One night, when I was twelve, I discovered the trunk was empty. I’ll never forget that night. My mother, who worked in a chandelier factory, was working the late shift so I was alone with my father.. I was sure my father had done this on his own. On nights when my mother worked late, she’d always call at 7pm on the dot. I waited for that phone call that night to tell her what my father had done. But when I did, she replied, “I know. Your father and I decided enough was enough. A boy shouldn’t have dolls.” That broke my heart.

I moved out while still quite young. I just stopped coming home and my parents never came looking for me and I didn’t see them again until I was 46. I did, however, fall in love. His name was Ken. He was a dancer at the National Ballet of Canada and I soon moved in with him. Finally, I was surrounded by artists, dancers and actors who saw me for what I was: a fellow artist. My new life was as different from my home as could be. Ken and I would go record shopping, to experimental theatre, to dance performances. We’d listen to Joni Mitchell and sit on the window sill, discussing her albums for hours.

The artist as a young man.

Because Ken was involved in theatre, I started designing costumes for the experimental companies that blossomed around Toronto in the 1960’s. No one had any money to produce anything but that didn’t hinder us at all. I learned to make exquisite costumes on next to nothing. For the first time, I was happy. After being told for my entire childhood, not in words but in actions, that I was wrong, I was finally accepted. It was if a great burden lifted from my shoulders.

Three years later, when I went out to buy a pack of cigarettes, I came back and Ken was dead on the kitchen floor. He had had a fatal heart attack at age 30. I was broken, as if I were a porcelain vase knocked to the ground. Shattered. To have something like that happen so young — to meet someone, to be treated as an artist, to be welcomed into that community, to lose that person so quickly — had a profound affect on me. How could it not?

After Ken died, his friends — the artists, the designers, the dancers — welcomed me into their homes. I couldn’t go back to mine and I didn’t want to. I didn’t know where I was going or where I would live. The future was blank to me. But there was one thing I did know. I was an artist and artists make art and that’s exactly what I would do.

Archival images courtesy Daniel Storto. Original photography by Bryan Derballa


The Hollywood Years

From tragedy to a burgeoning career in fashion, Daniel’s trajectory takes him from Toronto to New York and finally to Los Angeles

I threw myself into my work. I dreamt of becoming a costume designer. In fact I already was. I had begun using all the skills I learned from my grandfather to create fabulous costumes with no budget for experimental theater companies in Toronto. It was a crazy world where the crazier you were, the better. And I was crazy...and driven. I used to sign up for auditions for plays and when the casting director called my name, I’d go in and say, “My name is Daniel Storto. I’m not an actor. I’m a costume designer. Hire me.” It was an audacious but surprisingly effective tactic. Soon I was making costumes for movies with heroes from my childhood like the Canadian actress Jackie Burroughs.

In Hollywood in 1985.

I used my work and those friendships both as a way to move on from Ken and to keep his spirit alive. But I was lonely. Three years after he died, I met a gentle writer from Cleveland named Walter. This was in 1977 and Walter had fled the United States draft. He was a generous and introverted man who wore sweaters and looked very straight. He had a head for business. It was Walter who changed my name from Danny to Daniel and it was Walter who said to me, “Daniel, this theater stuff isn’t going to last. Especially not in Toronto. You need to get into fashion.”

Soon I was adapting my theatre costumes for the woman on the street. I already knew all the vendors down on Spadina Avenue who sat in front of vast mountains of fabric. Since I had been sewing since I was 7, I only needed one class on pattern making, which I quickly took. Other than that, my only limitation was my imagination. I sewed these far out clothes and took them from boutique to boutique in a suitcase. Toronto, at that time, had a certain segment of high society but artsy women who appreciated avant-garde design. One of my signature pieces was a bright pink full-length double-lined stretched terrycloth robe. It was my version of a winter coat.

When I was barely 20, Walter and I found a perfect space to open my first shop. It was a little house out on Avenue Road. There was space in the front for a boutique and a two bedroom apartment for us to live. People lost their minds when we opened Daniel S. No one else was making clothing as experimental as I was so I got a lot of press. I was having a blast. Even my brother stopped by. He said my mother was following everything being written about me.

As women were coming in, they were asking for swimwear. I got tired of saying I didn’t have any so I started making that too. Of course, it was as audacious as everything else I did. Soon the swimwear started getting attention, both in Toronto and New York, where I would take the Greyhound to cold call fashion editors. My tic-tac-toe suit, on which you could actually play a game, ended up on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. That lead to accounts at what I call the three B’s, the three most prestigious department stores of the day: Henri Bendel, Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman. My work was regularly featured in Harper’s Bazaar, where fashion editor Nonnie Moore was a big fan. I always said my swimwear wasn’t to swim in. It’s swimwear to be seen in.

Daniel with model in Toronto.

I loved the glamour of evening swimwear and that’s what led me to gloves. What goes better with an evening swimsuit than a pair of evening length fingerless satin gloves? As I ferried between Toronto to New York selling my work, I began making more and more gloves. The first pair were evening length fingerless gloves to accompany my bathing suit designs. More and more store owners were asking to carry just the gloves. “We don’t carry swimwear,” they told me. “But we love your gloves!”

At that time, I began to feel the magnetic draw of Southern California. Selling swimwear in Toronto and New York was one thing but I needed to be somewhere warm. When I had began my swimwear line I had started spending a few months of every year in Los Angeles, making important connections in the movie industry. Now was the time to move. Walter was proud of me but it broke his heart that I was drifting away. But I was focused on my swimwear. By this time, I was churning out wholesale orders. Three years after we opened Daniel S, I closed the store and in 1980, I moved to the United States.

After stints with a few larger corporate swimwear companies, in 1982 I finally landed in Los Angeles. By this time I was on my own and fully committed to hand making haute couture gloves. At Hollywood at that time, there were hardly any glove makers left but I quickly allied myself with one of the most famous costume designers of all time: Bob Mackie.

Tools of the trade.

Before I had moved to LA, I had sent a letter to Mr. Mackie, asking for just five minutes of his time. This was in the days before the internet so I sent the letter and waited. A few days later I got a letter in the mail. It read, “Sure. Come by.” I showed up to Bob’s office with a violin case full of gloves. That’s how I carried them back then. It was very dramatic. His secretary said, “I don’t think Bob is seeing a musician today.” I said, “No, no. I’m a glove maker!” I walked into his office, placed the case on his drafting table and clicked it open with a showman’s flair. He just loved it. Bob was just getting into the fashion world at the time from his main business in movies. He was showing his collections in New York so his office was full of garment racks. He walked me past them and said, “Tell me where I need gloves.” So I told him and he wrote me a big check. That was the very first meeting.

For the next fifteen years, I was the glove maker to the Hollywood stars. Anyone Bob was working with, I was working with too. So I made gloves for Meryl Streep. She was wonderful. When I fit her for Death Becomes Her, she stood on a platform in the middle of a large room. The entire wardrobe department was there. She said, “I’m now going to show you something you will never experience again. This is something that used to happen in Hollywood in the 30’s and 40’s.” She stretched her arms out and called me over and I measured her for her gloves. It was a very nice homage to Hollywood’s golden years.

I made the iconic fingerless gloves for Sylvester Stallone in Rocky. He was a very genuine, compassionate person. I loved it. I was surrounded by photographers and actors, designers and directors. My days were spent either researching glove in the great costume houses of Hollywood or making them in my small workshop in Pasadena, where I worked on the top floor of an old building that once was Albert Einstein’s offices when he was a professor at CalTech. There was even a tunnel in the basement that led straight to campus so he could avoid his hordes of fans. By the time I got there, the tunnels were locked up but the mystique remained.

I had a look, for sure. I drove around in a 1969 Karmann Ghia and always wore zoot suits and fedoras. Everyone on the studio lots knew who I was. In fact, Diane Keaton used to love taking photographs of me. These were my golden years but nothing lasts forever. By 1997, the industry was changing. Budgets were being slashed. And I had come to a point in my life where I wanted to, needed to, reconnect with my parents.

Once again, I packed my gloves in their violin case, my few belongings in some trunks and moved back to Toronto.

Archival images courtesy Daniel Storto. Original photography by Bryan Derballa


A Son is Born

A newborn son, a change in continent and the responsibilities of fatherhood lead Daniel to some hard decisions

Needless to say, the rapprochement with my family was short-lived. My mother took one look at me and said she didn’t know who I was. My father remained as aloof as always. But I don’t blame them. It had been 33 years since we last saw each other. I was hurt but I still dragged myself to weekly dinners in my childhood home for a year. The love for which I was searching never materialized but the experience did liberate me in a way. I knew, even then, that I would never be able to disown my own child like my parents had me. For so long, I thought I had done something wrong, that I was to blame. I finally saw then that it wasn’t my fault.

Father and son.

As far as work goes, it was booming. I’ve never had a problem in that regard. I was making gloves for designers like Geoffrey Beene and Thom Browne. It was work I could do alone from anywhere and that suited me just fine. I wasn’t in a place to associate with other people anyway. I found a beautiful studio on the top of a bank in Downtown Toronto to sew my gloves. I’d shut myself up in there, turn my music on really loud and just work.

One day, I heard a knock on the door. I, of course, ignored it. But it just didn’t stop. For forty five minutes, there was this knock. Finally I opened the door and saw a beautiful Vietnamese woman standing there. “What?” I said, annoyed. “You’re a glove maker, right?” she asked. “Yes,” I said. “Could you make me some gloves?” That was the beginning of my relationship with Samantha. At first we were just friends. She was just as aesthetically attuned as I was. Eventually, our friendship became romantic.

Around that time, I got a call from Dries Van Noten, the noted Belgian designer. He wanted me to make gloves for his collection. I told him I was a method actor. If he wanted gloves, I had to go to Antwerp. He agreed so Sam and I toggled between Antwerp and Toronto, Antwerp and Toronto, figuring out what to do with our lives.

Papa and newborn.

When I was with a man like Walter or the others, I always wanted to adopt. Now that I was in a relationship with a woman, I knew I wanted to start a family. My mindset was that I am on this planet to have a family. But the men that I was with were never ready for something like that. When Samantha came into my life, we talked about having a child and we both wanted one.

Glove maker at work.

Andre was born in 2001 in Antwerp. It was one of the happiest days in my life. I guess all fathers say that but that’s because it’s true. Sam and I had to decide what we wanted to do and quickly. As soon as we had Andre, it became clear Sam wasn’t ready to have a child. She just couldn’t handle it. I could see her really struggling so I took control. I had to decide whether we were we going to raise him in Europe, as a European, or should we go back to North America. For so long I had just followed my own passions and my own interest, now I was thinking about this beautiful little baby for whom I was responsible. I thought America was best.

So we packed Andre up and we took the next plane to New York City.

Archival images courtesy Daniel Storto. Original photography by Bryan Derballa


The Last Glove Maker

Daniel begins a new life, safeguarding the heritage of a once-booming town called Gloversville, New York

As soon as we arrived in New York City, it was clear Sam had other priorities. She wanted to establish herself in the fashion world but we couldn’t afford to raise our child there. So Sam rented an apartment in the city and I rented a car to drive upstate, searching for a new home. All of a sudden, Andre and I were a family of two.

From my years researching gloves, I was aware of this almost mythic town in upstate New York called Gloversville. The area used to be covered in hemlock forests, whose bark provided the necessary dyes for leather tanneries. From the tanneries came glove making factories. The town was full of European immigrants who brought with them the skills and skilled trades of the old world.

In the workshop at the tannery.

In the early to mid 1900’s, it was the center of glove-making in America. At its height, there were over 750 glove factories like Max Mayer & Co., Fownes Brothers Co. and Zimmer’s. They used to say the Cayadutta River would run with the colors of the season. But, like many manufacturing towns in America, Gloversville was decimated as trade moved abroad. Gloves became cheaper and cheaper and the factories dwindled.

When Andre and I arrived in 2001, I didn’t know what to expect. In my mind I pictured The Little House on the Prairie with dirt roads and a house on the hill. But when I got here, I immediately noticed the sophisticated architecture that lines the Main Street. It looked like a mini-city. There was even a stunning library designed by Andrew Carnegie, one of the few in North America. I thought, I could do this. I could raise a son here.

Main street, downtown Gloversville.

Though the buildings were beautiful, most of the storefronts were empty. I stopped into one of the few stores in Main Street that was open, a second-hand store. I said, “I’m a glove maker. I’m just visiting but could you direct me to any other glove maker I could talk to?” The woman, Viola, said, “Get back in your car and get out of here. Go make your life somewhere better. This isn’t the place for you.” But I persisted. Finally she told me about a guy named Frank Vertucci, one of the last glove makers around.

Frank was a businessman who owned a glove factory in town. The factory had long stopped producing gloves but everyday Frank went into his office and sat behind his desk with a big cigar in his mouth. Through Frank I met Joe Pagano and Humbert Salluzzo. Those were the last three glove makers alive.

Guardian of the gloves.

I knew this was the place for me. Immediately, I began collecting some of the old pieces of glove making equipment: the heavy dies I use to stamp out patterns, the glove molds that are nearly impossible to find. I set up my shop, in the shadow of the Glove Theater on Main Street, where rent is $100 a month. I bought an old children’s glove factory for back taxes from a guy who couldn’t pay them. The entire building cost $6,000. And I started my new life.

Today, Andre is 15 and becoming his own man. We’ve built a life for ourselves in Gloversville. He’s involved in theatre and I’m the local historian. I run Gloversville’s official Facebook page and, of course, I make gloves. My days are spent in my small shop, surrounded by exquisite leathers, threads and the tools of my trade. Many days, Andre visits me after school to sit with me and listen to opera as I work.

I’m 64 years old and I think about my grandfather everyday. Every time I get dressed. I wear a white shirt and black tie just like him. Every time I place my shears on a piece of leather or take in my hand a needle and thread, I think about his commitment to craft and how he built his life around it. I think about my grandfather every time I look at my son and every time I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I’ve come a long way since I was a boy, walking beside him in Francavilla al Mare. But in many ways, Gloversville isn’t just a stop on my journey. It’s a homecoming.

Archival images courtesy Daniel Storto. Original photography by Bryan Derballa