A Stitch IN TIME

By Prokosh, Kevin | Winnipeg Free Press, August 25, 2012 | Go to article overview

A Stitch IN TIME


Prokosh, Kevin, Winnipeg Free Press


Custom tailor among the last of a dying breed of master craftsmen

It seems like a fitting refuge for an aging practitioner of a lost art.

Giovanni Lagioia's custom tailoring shop is located at 726 Osborne St., kind of. To find Gio, locate a narrow gap between buildings that leads to the rear, and cross the parking lot to a small, converted garage, the modest home for the last 20 years of one of Riverview's hidden treasures.

The ranks of the master tailors who can cut and hand-stitch a made-to-measure suit are thinning fast. And there are few apprentices willing to take up the needle in their place.

The grim joke in the industry is that if you want a real tailor, you have to go to the cemetery, where there are lots.

"Tailoring is dying, 100 per cent," says the 62-year-old St. Vital resident, surrounded by his many sewing machines, thread spools, zippers and bolts of cloth in his makeshift four-by-four-metre office.

"Kids don't want to learn (apprentice) anymore because they don't get paid.

"All that will be left will be people who do alterations. There will be no people to make custom-made suits. I predict 20 years from now, there will be no tailors making a suit."

Lagioia guesses there are only a handful of tailors now in Winnipeg who could make a suit from scratch. There are men's clothing stores that offer custom suits, but the actual work is done out of town.

"Alterations pay the bills, but I love making a suit," says Lagioia, who turns out 20 suits each year. They can cost, depending on the material, between $800 and $1,200.

"I like it best when I take a piece of material, mark the measurements and start cutting.

"I want my customers to feel like a million bucks. You shouldn't feel like you have a suit on."

Lagioia would never describe himself as a master tailor; he doesn't have the diploma that many of his colleagues earned. His status comes from other top tailors who say they would commission him to stitch them a custom suit.

Eleven years of apprenticing, starting at the age of nine, is how Lagioia honed his tailoring skills in the small southern Italian town of Triggino, near Bari. The oldest son of a produce farmer, he sewed his first pair of pants for his father, Pasquale, at 11.

Three years later, Lagioia put his rudimentary talents to work when he was asked to pick almonds off the ground. Instead of lugging a container around, the 14-year-old fashioned himself a pair of pants that filled through the zipper with almonds or olives. His dad immediately wanted a pair.

"They were like balloon pants, tied at the bottom of the legs," recalls the diminutive father of two.

"He would fill his pants with 20 to 30 pounds of almonds. I would laugh at the way he walked when he had too much in his legs. He looked like a pear."

Young Italian men serve in the military for two years when they are 18, and Lagioia didn't want to waste two years of his life. …

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