Wanted: Custom tailors in training

By vonellaclothing on December 26, 2013 - Category: News & Media

Fearing the trade he has practiced for almost 60 years will be lost, Windsor master tailor Mike Vonella is seeking students to teach the art of making custom clothing.

“We could take on more business and hire more people but where can I find them?” he said, making a sweeping gesture across the empty work tables and silent sewing machines in his workshop.

The two tailors who currently work at Vonella Custom Clothing on Erie Street East are internationally trained. One is from Romania and the other from Thailand.

“I had to recruit them myself,” said Vonella, 70. “If they leave, where will I go next to to find replacements?”

Although he’s tried, Vonella has been unable to find a school or other institution offering courses in tailoring.

To say Vonella is old-school would be an understatement. He’s a passionate defender of his trade and believes fashion and clothing designers should first learn how to cut, sew and put a garment together.

“I started when I was seven or eight years old,” said Vonella, who was born in Calabria, Italy. “We weren’t well off financially and I knew I had to learn a trade. My uncle was a tailor so I started learning half-days.”

By the time he was 17, he’d learned how to cut and construct a custom-made suit. Further education followed in Switzerland, where he met his wife Silvana. They moved to Windsor in 1965 and opened a tailor shop a year later on Ottawa Street. A move to Ouellette Avenue would be followed by a jump to Erie Street in 1985.

“Not many people can construct a custom-made suit. Many can do made-to-measure, which is far different,” said Vonella. “Custom-made means starting with a bolt of cloth and crafting it to fit your client perfectly. Made-to-measure is taking an existing suit and altering it to fit.”

For many of his long-time clients, Vonella uses cloth from The Netherlands and England’s Sherry, a firm which has been supplying materials to bespoke tailors across the world  for generations. With prices ranging from $1,000 to $5,300 a yard for cloth such as wool, cashmere or Vicuna, prices can climb very quickly.

“They’re expensive but why do people buy Ferrari?” said Vonella. “It’s because they want distinction and quality.”

In addition to a roster of steady local clients, Vonella has been making custom-made suits for casino officials in Las Vegas for many years.

Now, he wants to impart some of the knowledge gained and honed over more than a half-century.

By the time, students graduate from his classes they will be able to handle all the basics of tailoring and making alternations including letting out waists and seams, shortening and lengthening pants, creating hemlines, tapering pants, shortening jacket sleeves and altering overcoats.

Lessons cost $25 an hour for the 50-hour course.

“If at the end, we have some who want to go further and learn more about the art of tailoring, we’ll take them on for that as well,” said Vonella.

Original Article Appeared in The Windsor Star on August 12, 2013.

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