STORY AND PHOTOS BY JORGE CUETO
Here in Sudbury there aren’t too many of us left in tailoring, just me and another guy in Sudbury. We are “The Last of the Mohicans.”
A couple of summers ago my mother presented me with my father’s old leather jacket. I had never seen it before. It was a cool jacket. Well made; it had a 1970s look to it. My mother told me my father bought it when I was born. She told me he wore it when we travelled to Spain shortly after my birth. I now imagine he may have even worn it when I was baptized in Nueva de Llanes, his hometown on the north coast of Spain. This jacket was my connection to my father. I immediately fell in love with it.
There was a problem with the jacket. The lining, made of nylon, ripped. I was saddened by this. A few days later, my mother told me she had taken the jacket to get fixed. She said she had gone to the tailors by my studio.
“Esquire Tailors?” I asked. It was a shop I had passed by countless times but never had the courage to walk into. I decided at that moment I would be the one to go and retrieve the mended jacket. This would be my opportunity to see inside the shop and to meet “Esquire.”
Damiano: My name is Damiano Perri, and I was born in Italy, the south of Italy. I went to learn to become a tailor when I was 15, 16. My sister was in Canada, in Sudbury. I decide to come here, just for a visit. Then I start to work here. I got married. The rest is history and I continue to do this.
Jorge: How long have you been a tailor in Sudbury?
Damiano: Forty-five years in Sudbury.
Jorge: How did you become a tailor?
Damiano: I learned to be a tailor because I couldn’t do any other job, because I had polio. Otherwise I would never have thought to become a tailor. It was not my first choice, not even to become a barber. If I was normal (laughs) I would have been working with my brother, a bricklayer.
Jorge: Why are there so few tailors?
Damiano: Nobody wants to learn anything anymore. They want to go to work and make big money, you know.
In Italy you used to learn because your neighbour was a tailor and you would go and learn from him. Now here, in Canada, you take a course and you think you are a tailor. Because even to do alterations it takes many years of practice, you live and learn, you learn tricks. Knowing how to do an alteration, it’s not easy, nothing is easy to do. Nobody wants to learn. At one time in Sudbury, there used to be lots of Italian women and men who had tailor shops. There used to be Andreata, Tony, Regina. Now there is just me and and another, Armando, that’s all.
Jorge: What do you like most about your job?
Damiano: To see people. I come here. I feel comfortable because it is my own. When you feel like its a job, it’s time to quit. I come here. I love it. I put the TV on. I watch sports, I watch the news, I play the music. People come in here, we talk about sport. Very rare’y do I get mad with the customers, because the customer is always right, first of all. They can say anything they want, to a limit.
Jorge: Why did you pick the name Esquire Tailor?
Damiano: Because there was an old man here. He retired and then I took over his business.
Jorge: Do you have a specialty as a tailor? Is there something you do exceptionally well? Or do you do everything well?
Damiano: I do everything well (laughter). SSometimes I do things without thinking. I put a piece of chalk one, two, three. It looks like I write in Chinese, but I know what I have to do without putting pins, I don’t use them. My wife uses pins, I use more the chalk. Like those pants here, I know what to do. It goes one, two, three and four, and it means I have to take in the waist, the seat and the crotch.
Jorge: If you weren’t a tailor, what would be your dream?
Damiano: My dream is to be a singer.
Jorge: But you are a singer!
Damiano: When I was in Italy I went to an “Italian Idol”(talent contest).
Jorge: How long ago was this?
Damiano: This was when I was 23 years old, before I left. Maybe 100 people, girls and boys, and I sang some song by an Italian :Dominico Modugno the guy who sings Volare. I sing one of his songs and I finish sixth. They sent me a letter to go to Naples at some place, but I had my papers to come to Canada and I was in so many ways shy. I didn’t know if I could do it. I had my 15 minutes of fame there. It could have gone differently, you know. So I come here and later on, I sang in Toronto at the Gianni Lombardi Festival of Song. All of the composers of Canada in Italian. I finish top ten, I sing at the concert. Some girl from Montreal won it. It was nice, I had the opportunity to sing at the CNE. It was again another 15 minutes of fame. There was a lot of thousands of people in the crowd. I love to do that and would love to do that.
Jorge: What do you call your Style of Music?
Damiano: Ballad, and more like Ballroom Style, more like Latin American, because tbeir songs are more with the rhythm, I like songs with the rhythm.
Jorge: Is that the type of music that you listen to today?
Damiano: Actually I like any type of music. I listen to any type of music. But my music is a little bit different. I am working on another CD . This is going to be a little different. It is my music but the words are from a poet from Italy, a friend of mine.
Jorge: Being a photographer has allowed me to express my curiousity. How does being a tailor allow you to express yourself?
Damiano: Maybe I become more aware about people, fashion, how people look. If I give you a compliment on your clothing, it’s because I felt it, because I see it. That’s the way I am. Maybe now, I look too much at people’s clothing, but that’s me. Even on television I see I guy who wears a suit, if its too long I think to myself that that guy should come to me so I can fix it for you! It is partly because you work with this stuff, with clothing, you know.
Jorge: So, as a tailor, how do feel you fit in the community?
Damiano: I think I fit pretty good. For the reason that if I am I’m not here they are going to miss me. For example when I put a sign that I am gone for a week, people call me and say what happened? If all of a sudden I win the 6/49 I feel not obligated….but I’ve been doing this for 25 years for them and all of sudden there is nobody.
Jorge: Are you saying your business relationships with your customers is your connection to Downtown,they miss you when you are gone?
Damiano: (laughter) Yes, but it is also that I become friends with my customers for so many years, when something happens to my customers, sometimes it hurts me too, I feel it because they are like my family. They are my friends.
Bell rings on the door Tony Monteleone, a customer walks in.
Damiano: Ah this guy is just like a brother. Yeah really! In Canada of the people who are not related to me; Tony is number one. (Looks to Tony) How many years I know you? 35 years?
Tony: 19 ah …..
Tony: No Damiano
Tony: That’s when you started working for me. When did you come here?
Tony: 1970? So there you go.
Damiano: See that’s the thing. He comes here, we talk about sports, we talk about movies, we talk about anything, and even we talk about what is happening on CNN. We try to save the world, but it’s a mess. (laughter)
Jorge: When you retire, I imagine you won’t give up your music.
Damiano: My music is a hobby, it’s a passion. Tony Bennett, do you think he does it because he needs the money? He does it because he loves it. I do it because I love it.