Meet the Montreal tailor who makes NHL stars look sharp
|Montreal Gazette 26 Feb 2019 at 05:40|
We are sitting in the showroom of Giovanni Clothes, the company he owns, in a nondescript industrial building on St-Laurent Blvd. north of Fairmount Ave., and the 54-year-old Italian-Montrealer is doing his best to try to explain how he ended up making suits for everyone from Mario Lemieux to Sidney Crosby to Brent Burns.
His father, Giovanni Vacca, an Italian immigrant, founded the company in 1965 and in its first couple of decades of existence, they focused on the wholesale market, selling suits to stores like Ernest and Le Chateau, and they also had a lucrative sideline in uniforms, making them for the RCMP, the STCUM (now the STM), Corrections Canada and Canada Post.
The big time move into sports started with Major League Baseball when Vacca Jr. began heading down in the mid-’90s to Houston Astros training camps, where he began tailoring suits for players like Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio.
Another baseball connection brought Vacca into the liquor business in the U.S., which remains Giovanni’s biggest client base. A nephew of All-Star pitcher Mudcat Grant — who pitched the very first Expos game on April 8, 1969 — was working at Seagram at the time, and he asked Vacca to go down to Orlando to meet some American liquor biz execs. He stopped in Orlando for three hours “met 10 guys, sold suits and came back.”
That afternoon provided a major boost to Giovanni’s business, which now boasts some 800 clients in the liquor sector.
Domenico Vacca checks the progress on a suit being made to measure. He is the go-to tailor for more than 200 NHLers. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette
On the hockey side, Giovanni had been supplying suits to NHL players but it wasn’t a big part of the business initially. That changed thanks to Kevin Stevens.
Vacca had been working with a number of Calgary Flames players in the ’80s, including Al MacInnis, Mike Vernon and Dan Quinn. When Quinn was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1986, he took some of his Penguins team-mates to Vacca, including Mark Recchi, Rick Tocchet and Stevens.
When Stevens — who won two Stanley Cups with the Pens playing on a line with Lemieux — ended up with the New York Rangers in 1997, he told his old pal Vacca that he should come to their training camp.
“In the fall, he said, ‘Why don’t you come down to Burlington?’ — and that was my first hockey camp,” Vacca says. “The Rangers used to train there. I set up in the conference room in the hotel where they were all staying and he brought the whole team down.
“I think it was my biggest day ever of sales. I think I sold 60 suits that day. That was crazy. It’ll never happen again. Then there was a snowball effect. I went to the Kings. I went to the Bruins. I went to the Blues.”
It’s a punishing schedule that takes a toll on him — he says he is up at 3:30 every weekday morning — and on his wife, who has had to clock in the hard hours raising their four children, now aged between 18 and 26.
This month, he made a point of making it home from Nashville for Valentine’s Day, but it wasn’t easy: “I was on three separate flights. I booked three airline tickets! She was pretty happy I was home!”
When the Penguins won the Cup two years ago, Vacca had 31 clients in the Penguins organization. He has about the same number with the San Jose Sharks and he figures he works with about 25 people in the Washington Capitals organization.
Domenico Vacca says hockey players are more fashion-conscious these days, and their build has changed over the years, which presents some challenges. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette
He supplies suits to several prominent Canadiens players but was reluctant to name names because sometimes players prefer to not be mentioned. Sometimes that’s because they have sponsorship deals with other clothing companies. He makes suits for coaches Claude Julien and Kirk Muller, however.
And no, he does not dress ex-Hab P.K. Subban, one of the NHL’s flashiest guys. But Vacca doesn’t seem the least grumpy about that. Given that his NHL business is booming, why would he be?
As you’d expect, much has changed in terms of the style of suits during Vacca’s career and much has also changed in the physique of hockey players.
“They’re not the same build they used to be,” Vacca says. “Guys used to be really big. Guys used to be really thick. Guys were a lot heavier. The guys had a bigger upper body. Today they’re smaller on top because they’re just so toned but their legs and hips are really big. Today with the tight fits, you really need to work around the bigger thighs, the bigger butt.”
The tighter fit really came in in the last four or five years, he says; 25 years ago, it was all about the big suit.
The suits are made from start to finish at the shop on St-Laurent, with material ordered from Europe — usually Italy.
Vacca says hockey players are more fashion conscious these days, largely because there are more opportunities to see them flaunting their stylish suits — on social media or, for example, on those Hockey Night in Canada segments where Don Cherry is often seen marvelling at their fashion smarts.
“A lot of teams on their Instagram, they show the guys coming to the rink,” Vacca says. “Guys do like to dress now.”