French-American tailor Georges de Paris, known for his long career fashioning suits for a string of U.S. presidents over the past half century, died Sunday at a hospice in Virginia at 81. De Paris had been battling a long illness, his friends told Agence France-Presse. Alain Trampoglieri, one of the tailor's friends, said he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2013.

De Paris, who was born in Marseilles in southern France, originally came to the U.S. at 27 in 1960 in pursuit of a romance with his American girlfriend. But after that relationship fell apart, he found himself penniless. He spent nine months homeless, panhandling on the streets of Washington and sleeping in a park outside the White House before finding work with a French-Canadian tailor.

De Paris built up his career from there and eventually opened up his own shop in Washington. As his reputation grew, a client in the U.S. Congress recommended his services to then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson, the tailor told NPR in 2003. De Paris continued to make suits for Johnson after he became president in 1963 and subsequently every U.S. president since then. 

He also tailored suits for international figures like former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

De Paris spoke highly of President Ronald Reagan’s and President George W. Bush’s taste in fashion. “Reagan spoke a lot,” he told AFP in 2001. “He, like George W., knew how to appreciate the quality of fabrics. He gave me jellybeans and was always afraid that I would prick him with my needles during the fitting.”

Of all the presidents he served, “the least pleasant of all was Bill Clinton,” de Paris said. “Clinton was very demanding, cold and always occupied.”

In a 2010 interview with the Washington Post, de Paris dismissed the idea that he was famous, despite his high-profile clientele. “I’m a very simple guy,” he said. “I live alone. If I go out and people recognize me, do I say, ‘Oh, I’m George de Paris, move away’? Hell, no. Hell, no. Not me. If you sleep in the street, you don’t thank yourself; you thank the Lord, and you thank other people. And I do.”