Volume 91, Issue 95

Friday, March 27, 1998

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FOCUS
 

Suit yourself

By John Intini
Gazette Staff



In a quest for perfection, Stavros Theodoropoulos, master tailor, appears to have been left behind by the clothing industry's larger suit manufacturers, yet the Danny Devito look-a-like firmly stands behind a product which has made him the last custom suit tailor on Canadian soil.

Custom suits have been a way of life for Theodoropoulos, 68, for as long as he can remember. While living in Greece, Theodoropoulos went to tailoring school at the young age of 14 and was able to make an entire suit from scratch by the time he was 21.

In 1959 he moved to Canada, but after spending a few years working, he became homesick. "It was boring in Canada. I was young with dreams and Canada was not fun for me. I liked to party and drink and Toronto was dull at the time."

Theodoropoulos returned to his homeland and opened a shop in Athens, experiencing great success until a military coup forced him to close.

"The tanks weren't good for business," he says. "I had a family by 1969 and I thought Toronto would be a place for me to finally start my life."

Moving to Canada for a second time, Theodoropoulos settled in Toronto. Although he now has two shops, he still occupies 95 Cumberland Street, the location he's worked out of since 1973. His second shop is situated on Church Street.

Although all suits are made by one of his 10 tailors who range in age from 55 to 73, Theodoropoulos inspects every collar, cuff, fold and stitch of the approximately 300 suits his two shops create each year. Each suit takes about 30 hours to complete, all done on a few old sewing machines.

"All my tailors are architects. In order to create the perfect garment one must become one with both the mind and body of the customer," Theodoropoulos says. "Each man has a distinct shape, whether he be tall or stout, or maybe he has a stooped shoulder. An eighth of an inch can be the difference between a good looking suit and one of my great suits."

This attention to detail is what makes Theodoropoulos' suits different from most suits sold today. In a world controlled by computers, most companies have succumbed to the pressure of 'rack ready' garments which lack any custom design.

However, simple economics show that custom suits are not for everyone. The suits range in price from $1,000 to as much as $5,000 – which makes it clear that having a perfect suit might not be in everyone's budget.

This is probably why the majority of Theodoropoulos' suits are often sold to bank managers and other high rollers in the business world who have pockets deep enough to afford fine European material that can cost upwards of $500 a yard.

Advertising is one of the most interesting aspects of Theodoropoulos' business. The majority his of advertising comes from word of mouth and stories about his company in newspapers and magazines.

"Why advertise when the product speaks for itself?" he boastfully asks. When people wear my suits to parties or to work they're often asked about the garment. Even from a distance it looks like a fine piece of art."

Theodoropoulos admits he worries about the future of the business since no schools are teaching the tailoring trade. He feels as the industry continues to be influenced by computers, custom suits will slowly become a dinosaur.

"There are very few true tailors anymore," Theodoropoulos says, adding there are only around 10 master tailors left in North America. "It is great for me right now since I have little competition but the art is dying and will not be passed on for other generations to enjoy."

Both competitors, Tip Top, a popular retail chain, and Harry Rosen, who owns the famous menswear company, agree that computers have changed the industry.

However, Rosen concedes that the work of Theodoropoulos is impeccable and unique; he disagrees with his long-time friend on the notion that the industry is on its last breath.

"There is no way that custom tailoring is dying," Rosen says. "In fact it is enjoying a revival as there appears to be a greater demand for higher grade clothing."

Rosen says the revival can be attributed for the most part to the universality of tailoring which has moved from its European and British roots to China. He claims the Chinese have the manual dexterity and skill to truly revolutionize custom suit making, but currently lack the aesthetics needed to be great.

"I have a Chinese tailor whose work is incredible," Rosen says. "His only weakness is that he lacks the style and flare of the Italians. Other than that his work is remarkable."

Whether the business is dying or not, Theodoropoulos maintains that his work is not complete until he provides a perfect suit to each of his distinguished customers.

"As long as each man is different and wants perfection, I will give it to him."


To Contact The Focus Department: gazfocus@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998