STITCHIN’ IT OLD SCHOOL
Longtime Guelph tailor Giovanni Giardino driven by passion for his craft
Longtime Guelph tailor Giovanni Giardino discovered passion for his craft as a boy in Italy
After more than six decades behind sewing machines, Giovanni Giardino’s love for the job hasn’t waned. The 79-year-old tailor, who left Italy for Canada in 1967, has been a fixture in downtown Guelph for half a century, his career spanning countless clothing trends and sweeping changes to the garment industry, including a marked decline in
demand for made-to-measure clothing and the arrival of cheap, ready-made “fast fashion.”
“E la mia passione,” he says, describing his work. Translated: “It’s my passion.”
Speaking about his life’s work in Italian, he doesn’t use the word “passione” in a gimmicky or self-promotional way, however. Rather, it’s as if tailoring chose him and he just couldn’t shake it.
“Only someone crazy like me can do it,” Giovanni says of the lifetime spent measuring, cutting and stitching.
Stepping into Giovanni’s store today, at 40 Quebec St., one feels transported back to another time. As he works, the staticky radio near the front window, tuned to an Italianlanguage station, plays Italian oldies – Massimo Ranieri, Adriano Celentano – and commercials for Italian grocers. On the walls are photos of Giovanni’s hometown of Rocca San Giovanni, in Italy’s Abruzzo region, maps of Italy, a faded poster of the 1982 Italian World Cup soccer team and newspaper clippings from decades past that profiled the small business.
It is clear this is a place for work – there are jumbles of zippers, boxes of fabric
scraps, large rolls of Velcro, shelves lined with spools of thread and racks of clothes both in progress and ready for pickup.
On this day at the tail end of summer, Giovanni has plenty to do. He switches rapidly between garments – as soon as he finishes basting a custom suit jacket to send to Toronto for finishing, he picks up a dark grey suit jacket and opens the lining to take in the sides.
When a customer comes in with a pair of slacks for hemming, Giovanni sets the suit jacket aside, quickly measures the customer’s inseam and agrees to have the job done in 30 minutes.
He presses the slacks, chalks the new length, cuts, swaps a spool of thread, and with a few whirrs of his old Juki machine and a few puffs of his steam iron, they are done. Then it is back to the suit jacket. More customers come in – sleeves that need shortening, back-to-school pants that need hemming, coats that need updating. Giovanni greets them with a “How are you?” and, looking through his bifocals, quickly assesses and measures where needed, agrees on the timeline, makes a note and returns to the suit jacket. With quick flicks of his right wrist, careful to keep the thread from catching, he sews the lining back in with long invisible stitches. Barely an hour has passed.
Giovanni says he knew early on he wanted to be a tailor. “I started when I was eight years old,” he says. As a boy, he would pass the time after school with his uncle – also named Giovanni – in his shop in Rocca San Giovanni, watching him cut and sew garments.
For two years, all he did was watch. “Even just by watching, you learn,” he says. By age 12, Giovanni was starting to sew.
When he was 14, he moved west to
the nearest big city, Lanciano, to study tailoring. He says he will never forget his teacher there, Umberto Lamorgia, and he is thankful to him after all these years. “This teacher of mine … perfected me 100 per cent,” Giovanni says.
From Lanciano, Giovanni moved to Rome for more training and to take his professional exams.
These were the years he also learned to work on leather – a skill he is especially proud of and one that came in handy after he moved to Canada and leather jackets grew popular.
At age 20 and officially a certified tagliatore – a “cutter” – Giovanni returned to Rocca San Giovanni and opened his own shop where he sewed made-to-measure clothing for men and women. He still has the heavy coal-fired iron and the massive metal shears more than a foot long he used to cut clothing from yards of fabric.
In those years he also met Ada. They married and started their family.
Ada was his right hand in the shop, Giovanni says. After they moved to Canada, and the work days got busier and longer, she worked altering garments.
Giovanni arrived in Guelph on Thursday, Aug. 14, 1967 – he remembers the date exactly – with Ada and their two children. A third child would be born in Canada.
Giovanni was 29 years old and had $100 in cash on him. The departure from Italy was quick, he says – they had just one month to pack up their lives and prepare to cross the ocean by ship on the Queen Anna Maria.
“Friends told me things in Canada were good,” he says simply, explaining why the family opted to leave Italy. As for Guelph, well, that’s where he had family already.
Giovanni remembers arriving in town at seven in the morning. One of his cousins took him around to a few businesses to inquire about work. By 1 p.m. that day, Giovanni says, he had a full-time job as a tailor at Brown’s clothing store.
He earned 75 cents an hour, Giovanni
Tailor Giovanni Giardino with the massive metal shears he has used since he was 20.
After 50 years there is still a demand for Giovanni Giardino’s skills as a tailor in downtown Guelph.
Giovanni Giardino’s craft has been a lifelong passion. This framed photo of him hangs on a wall in his shop.