Photo by Jay Paul
Behind the checkout counter at his South Richmond alterations shop, Robert Surratt displays photographs of himself posing with celebrities including John Travolta, Colin Farrell and Wanda Sykes.
"I'm a tailor for the stars," Surratt, 56, says of the photographs at Robert's Dream.
When Lincoln filmed in Richmond, he sewed two pairs of pants for Daniel Day-Lewis. He made leather loincloths and moccasins for the cast of The New World when the movie filmed in Jamestown. During the filming of Head of State , Surratt fitted Chris Rock for a pink suit.
"Any movie that's come around Richmond, I've worked on it," he says.
Most recently, Surratt made pants, vests, ties and oilcloth jackets worn by actors in Turn , an AMC TV series set during the Revolutionary War that will debut on April 6.
A New York native, Surratt started sewing in 1973 as a high school sophomore in home economics class.
"I just wanted to sew," he says. "I really like the creative part of it."
Surratt's formal education in sewing ended after high school, when he joined the Marine Corps, but he continued to do what he loved, hemming friends' pants and repairing torn uniforms.
When he left the service in 1990, Surratt started working at a tailor shop on Broad Street for $3.30 an hour.
"Wherever I worked was never enough money to take care of my bills," he says. "I would have to go out and do other things."
In the mid-'90s, Surratt taught himself how to make silk ties. He would sell them on the street for $15. "I was walking Broad Street, going to 7-Eleven, to furniture stores, I was on the used car lot finding people on the street and going, ‘Hey, would you like to buy a tie?'"
These days, the North Chesterfield grandfather balances work between film sets and the 330-square-foot alterations shop that he owns on Forest Hill Avenue. He'll sometimes get to the shop at 4 a.m. to work on alterations for clients and then go to a movie set at 7 a.m.
"That's just what you do when a movie comes around," he says.