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

Gio­vanni Giardino’s craft has been a life­long pas­sion. This framed photo of him hangs on a wall in his shop.

Af­ter 50 years there is still a de­mand for Gio­vanni Giardino’s skills as a tai­lor in down­town Guelph.

Tai­lor Gio­vanni Giardino with the mas­sive metal shears he has used since he was 20.

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