“I hear you’re an Oxxford guy,” I said to Rod Blagojevich in 2003, shortly after he became governor. His beady, closely-set eyes popped in excitement, and he launched into a detailed timeline of his suit and “accessories” purchases. Blago’s enthusiasm was palpable, but I didn’t know its $200,000 pricetag until the IRS weighted in this week at his corruption trial.
Blagojevich told me he was in Congress in the 1990s when he started to buy his suits from Chicago-based Oxxford Clothes—and his accessories from Saks Fifth Avenue. He even spelled out the name of the Saks salesman who helped him choose his ties.
At Oxxford, he boasted, he shared a “chief” tailor, Rocko, with then-President George W. Bush. Blago told me Rocko had been summoned to Bush’s office in Austin and his ranch in Crawford to measure the President-elect for suits, a bullet-proof overcoat, and an inaugural ball tuxedo.
I dared not interrupt the new governor—I found his interest in clothes fascinating—and he went on to tell me that when he was in the state legislature, he bought his suits at Bigsby & Kruthers in the Warehouse on Clark Street. “Usually Armani,” he said, again providing the name of the man who helped him select his suits and ties there.
He mentioned that Rahm Emanuel, Bill Daley, and Senator Jay Rockefeller also bought their suits from Oxxford—and he marveled that “Rockefeller picks so many in one sitting that Rocko actually drives out [to the senator’s home in West Virginia] and does like a hundred at a time. Maybe if you’re a Rockefeller you can do it.”
Blago didn’t buy a hundred at a time, although one of his aides testified earlier that he bought as many as nine at a time. According to Shari Schindler, the feds’ IRS agent/analyst and expert witness in the ex-gov’s corruption trial now taking place in federal district court in Chicago, Blago bought $207,000 worth of Oxxford clothes between his election in November 2002 and his arrest in December 2008. He and Patti spent $400,000 in those six years on clothes, mostly for themselves, Schindler testified.
His remark about Rockefeller seems to indicate that Blago understood back then that, on his $160,000 salary, he was no Rockefeller. Perhaps he even understood that Bush and Daley—while not wealthy in the Rockefeller sense—were born into privilege, and that Emanuel, who now had a fortune, having pocketed $16 million in three years as a dealmaker for Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein after leaving the Clinton administration.
Oxxford boasts on its website that its “client roster reads like a who’s who of America’s titans of industry.”
Blago seemed to want that look, and, according to Schindler’s testimony, was willing to max out his eight or nine credit cards. That explains why he obsessed in calls with aides about how to trade Obama’s Senate seat for positions that would boost the family’s income—demanding, for instance, that they find Patti paid seats on corporate boards, or find him a top spot at a nonprofit funded by billionaire Warren Buffett.
Blago’s attempt to come off to the jury as just a regular son of the working-class has taken a huge hit. Until yesterday, Blago might have figured that he could cement that image by re-wearing a tie or two. Both Rod and the well-coiffed, nicely dressed and accessorized Patti will have to concoct a change of tactics—and certainly a change of clothes.
Photograph: Oxxford Clothes Website