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GIOVANNI, a Tailor's Tale

 

PORTRAIT - Tina Costakos-Richman

Basting and buttonholing his way to success, Giovanni Vacca has found fame where others feared to thread.


The year is 1965. St. Lawrence Boulevard is awash with more dialects than the Tower of Babel. Fishmongers, green grocers and Old World tailors co-exist alternately exchanging wisdom and wares. Giovanni Vacca and his staff of three are toiling on their first order of two suits.


Vacca, who emigrated to Canada in 1948, had a dream. Having left the employ of an established clothier based on a challenge: "If you're so intelligent, then go out and do it yourself." he vowed to bring a European tailored look to the Canadian man. "Everyone thought we were crazy because we were fashion-forward," admits Vacca. Armed with half-paid-for sewing machines, a rented space and a handful of industrious employees, within a Vacca's operation employed twenty.
Nehru-collared jackets, leisure suits and brocade vests were energetically churned out Giovanni's workroom. The whir of machinery was only eclipsed by the sound of convivial labour. Tirelessly directing the sewing and designing personally, it was Vacca's Venturi suit which "put the business on the map". A departure from the looser silhouettes of the early sixties, the more fitted Venturi epitomized Italian design applied to North American tastes. With a reputation for producing a top quality European suit firmly established, it was not long before word-of-mouth translated into a vastly improved bottom line. "In 1974, we were so busy, we had to hold customers back to get them inside in an orderly fashion," remembers Vacca.
Giovani's myriad devotees expanded to include the Who's Who of the sports world. "We fitted everyone from Rusty Staub to Wayne Gretzky to Gary Carter," asserts Vacca. Tokens of sartorial satisfaction from grateful athletes began to line the walls creating a makeshift Hall of Fame. Autographed baseball bats, photographs and magazine covers shared quarters with impeccably-garbed mannequins. During this boom period, a pant manufacturing operation, aptly named Da Vinci, was added to the growing Giovanni Empire.

In spite of the detrimental popularity of imported tailored clothing in the late seventies through the mid-eighties, Giovanni Vacca weathered the storm with characteristic aplomb and inventiveness. Aided by his diligent staff, most of whom boast double-digit tenures, Vacca forged a strategy which relied heavily on service and style. "It's a hard bushiness and you have to apply yourself, but if you give the customer what they want you'll have their loyalty forever," says Vacca. Integral to Giovanni philosophy is the enduring devotion to the fashion-forward look which formed the foundation of the business in its early days.

The current appeal of the Giovanni "boutique look" is that of unstructured, soft lines. Flanked by son Domenic, the elder Vacca continues to perform design wizardry to exacting standards utilizing European fabrics from Zegna, Marzotto and Barberis. At once father and mentor, the master tailor's fervent is to pattern a legacy which includes his son as successor. "What you built the hard way, it breaks your heart to see it go," muses Vacca. Craftsmanship and care, fashion and family this is the enduring tradition of Giovanni Clothes.