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Aupperles honored at dinner

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Ann Arbor 200

A Tailored Fit: The Life Of Max Aupperle



Max Aupperle

On May 12, 1926, a seventeen year old German boarded the SS Stuttgart, a passenger ship in the port city of Bremen, Germany. His name was Max Karl Aupperle and he had journeyed to Bremen from his hometown of Schorndorf, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, leaving behind his friends and family. He and his fellow travelers spent 10 days on the SS Stuttgart, as it made its way from Europe to New York City’s Harbor. On May 22, 1926, he disembarked at Ellis Island and started his new life as a German-American.

Germany, 1908-1926

Max Karl Aupperle was born June 21, 1908 in Schorndorf, Germany near Stuttgart, the first child of Karl & Pauline (Weik) Aupperle. His father was a tailor. In his later years, Max had childhood memories of playing with buttons in Karl’s shop, and being interested in the sewing machine. As the eldest son, Max followed in his father's tailoring footsteps and learned much of the trade from Karl. He completed 10th grade, an apprenticeship with another tailor, and trade school, before leaving Germany in 1926. On his passenger manifest from Bremen to New York City, Max’s occupation was listed as “dressmaker”. 

Schorndorf, Germany
Schorndorf, Germany
Karl & Pauline's 50th Anniversary
Max's Parents, Karl & Pauline Aupperle, Celebrate Their 50th Wedding Anniversary, Ann Arbor News, April 1957

New York, 1926-1936

Max had an aunt (Pauline's sister) living in Philadelphia when he arrived in the US, but decided on Syracuse, New York as his new home. He had a German friend living in Syracuse and was able to quickly find work in dry cleaning and tailoring. He also began to learn English. In 1929 he joined the Custom Tailors and Designers Association (CTDA), which he credited for much of his lifelong success. The CTDA, founded for sharing ideas and techniques for design, pattern making, fitting, cutting, and tailoring, still exists today as the oldest continuously operating trade organization in the United States. His parents and siblings (Frieda, Maria, Walter, & Samuel) soon joined him in Syracuse. By 1930, the Aupperles were all living in the same home on South Avenue, with Karl and Max working as tailors. Frieda & Maria were both listed in the Syracuse city directory as "tailoress", so clearly Max wasn't the only child that inherited Karl's skills.

Hedwig Haas Aupperle
Hedwig Haas Aupperle On Her Wedding Day, Syracuse Herald, November 19, 1933

In 1930 Max attended the American Mitchell Designing School of New York City and completed a course in men’s garment design. In 1931 he moved west of Syracuse to Batavia, where he took a job in the tailoring shop of John G. Poultridge. On November 11, 1933 Max married Hedwig Haas, a fellow German immigrant who had also lived in Schorndorf. Hedwig had been working domestic jobs around Syracuse, including a stint as a live-in maid for Howard Chester Will, the wealthy vice president of the Will and Baumer Candle Company. By 1934, Max had opened his own tailoring business in Batavia. Their first child, Eric Max Aupperle, was born April 14, 1935.

Ann Arbor, 1936-2003

According to Max, it was a salesman who told him about a job opening at Wild Mens Shop in Ann Arbor. In 1936 he took a boat from Buffalo to Detroit, secured the position in Ann Arbor, and began supervising five people in a busy tailoring department. The Wild family were also Germans from near Stuttgart. Their store was located at 311 South State Street, between North University and Liberty. By the time Max joined them, the Wild family had been running their Ann Arbor clothing business for nearly 50 years.

By 1938, Max's parents and his brother Walter had also made the move to Ann Arbor. His father, Karl, joined him working as a tailor at Wild & Co. Walter found work at Metzger's German restaurant as a cook. His sister Frieda returned to Germany, while Samuel and Maria remained in New York.

Wild & Company
Wild & Company Ad featuring Max Aupperle, Michigan Daily, February 25, 1938

In his free time, Max joined the Ann Arbor Civic Orchestra, known to us today as the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra. A skilled violinist, he quickly became a popular member. In both 1939 and 1940, Max won a merit award for being the most valuable player in the orchestra. As many musicians went off to World War II, he worked to keep the remaining group together. In 1941, Max served as president of the Ann Arbor Civic Orchestra. In addition to his orchestra work, Max also assisted with the war efforts by sewing army tents at Fox Tent and Awning in Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor Civic Orchestra Rehearsal
Elizabeth Green's conductor baton points out Max Aupperle playing the violin in an Ann Arbor Civic Orchestra rehearsal of the strings section, Ann Arbor News, November 1943

On June 2, 1941, Max & Hedwig welcomed their daughter Charlotte into the world. Their third daughter Gertrude, "Trudy", would arrive on November 12, 1945. 1945 was also the year the Aupperle family purchased a cottage on Base Lake outside of Ann Arbor, which would become a destination for their growing family to rest and relax.

1946 was a life-changing year for Max Aupperle. As men returned home from World War II in droves, the supply of clothing at Wild Men's Shop was quickly being depleted. Max was friends with the director of the adult education program in the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and asked him if sewing pupils from his classes could work at Wild's. At the time, however, there was no one teaching sewing and tailoring classes, and Max was offered the job on the spot. Taking the position in education meant he would have to quit his role in the Ann Arbor Civic Orchestra, which made it a difficult decision. In the end, he accepted the role of sewing and tailoring instructor and taught his first class in February 1946.

Tailoring Class, 1955
Max Aupperle & Students In His Tailoring Class, Ann Arbor News, February 1955

In July of 1949, the Aupperle family was featured in the Ann Arbor News. Frieda (Aupperle) Haerer, Max's sister, moved from Germany back to the United States with her three children. A photo of them arriving at Willow Run Airport, and reuniting with their extended family, was published in the paper. Frieda and her children moved in with her parents, Karl and Pauline. Her husband, Hugo, had died in World War II.

Aupperle Family Reunion
Aupperle Family Reunion, Ann Arbor News, July 1949 (Max at far left)

Max kept a busy schedule, working full time at Wild's store, and teaching his adult education courses multiple nights a week. In 1954, he was elected to a three year term on the board of directors of the Custom Tailors and Designers Association (CTDA). His children attended the Ann Arbor Public Schools and Hedwig, his wife, was busy in many community organizations. In 1957 his father Karl died at the age of 73. Pauline, his mother, died in 1963 at the age of 81. They were buried together in Ann Arbor's Forest Hill Cemetery.

Max & Hedwig
Hedwig Models An Outfit Designed By Max, Ann Arbor News, February 1959

1964 brought more change to Max's life when Wild & Company updated their business model and discontinued their tailoring department. Mass-produced clothing was cheap and readily available, and the tailoring industry was in decline. In response, Max brought much of the equipment from Wild's store into his basement at 716 Oakland Avenue and started his own private tailoring business. In the beginning, he had a staff of four. He retained clients from Wild & Company, and named his new venture Ann Arbor Apparel Studio. Over the years Max outfitted many well known men and women in Ann Arbor, including the University of Michigan's William D. Revelli, Alexander Ruthven, and Bo Schembechler.

Max Teaches Tailoring, 1978
Max Teaches His Tailoring Class, Ann Arbor News, May 1978
Max Tailors At Home
Max Runs His Tailoring Business Out Of His Home, Ann Arbor News, May 1970

In May 1970, Max was named an outstanding teacher of adults by the Adult Education Association of Michigan. He was presented with a citation declaring he "gained the admiration and respect of thousands of adults who have taken his courses. It is a common experience to find his classes large and enrollments closed early in the registration periods. Always deeply interested in each student, he has demonstrated unusually successful teaching techniques in imparting clothing knowledge and skills to adults of varying backgrounds and abilities...". Since his first class in February 1946, Max had continuously taught three or four evening classes during each term. The final continuing education class he instructed was in May 1978. He had been a teacher for 32 years, educating over 2,000 students.

Max & His Lifetime Achievement Award, 1997
Max with his CTDA lifetime achievement award, Ann Arbor News, March 1997

In November 1983, Max and Hedwig celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by taking a trip to Alaska. They also had a dinner party at Barton Hills Country Club, hosted by their children and grandchildren. In 1997, Max was installed in the Custom Tailors and Designers Association (CTDA) Hall of Fame, and accepted a lifetime achievement award for his contribution to the trade. Hedwig died in 1998, followed by Max in 2003. He was 94 years old. They now rest together in Ann Arbor's Washtenong Memorial Park Mausoleum. Many pieces of Max's work may still be viewed in museums, including The Aupperle Collection at the Gregg Museum of Art & Design in North Carolina.

Morning Suit by Max Aupperle

Morning Suit, ca. 1920s, Max Aupperle (1908–2003), German-American, Hand and machine sewn wool, 39" center back jacket length, The Aupperle Collection, 2015.030.001a-c, Gregg Museum of Art & Design

Group Honors Local Teacher Of Adults

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Max Aupperle Explains Collar Construction To Students In His Tailoring Class, December 1948 Photographer: Maiteland Robert La Motte

Max Aupperle Explains Collar Construction To Students In His Tailoring Class, December 1948 image
Published In:
Ann Arbor News, December 4, 1948
TAILORING CLASSES TO EXHIBIT WORK: Max K. Aupperle, instructor for Ann Arbor Evening School classes in tailoring, points out details of collar construction to three of his pupils, Miss Glorianne B. Buday of Manchester (left), Mrs. E. R. Dale of 2150 Independence Blvd., and Mrs. James George (right) of 502 Miller Ave. The women are wearing suits they made in class. Their work will be on exhibit Monday night at the Evening School's open house from 7:30 to 10 o'clock in Ann Arbor High School.

Max Aupperle, Tailor, Admires His Wife Modeling An Outfit He Designed, February 1959 Photographer: Eck Stanger

Max Aupperle, Tailor, Admires His Wife Modeling An Outfit He Designed, February 1959 image
Published In:
Ann Arbor News, February 27, 1959
GOES CONTINENTAL: Although Max Aupperle has designed women's clothing before, Mrs. Aupperle's outfit is the first one that was inspired by a current men's clothing trend - in this case the continental look. (Incidentally, Aupperle is wearing a modified version of the new men's fashion.)