I dig old stuff.

Making Melbourne Sparkle: Bespoke Tailors

No doubt about it. Melbourne is a charming, multi-dimensional city. We have more galleries, festivals, street art, live music, fashion boutiques, fine restaurants and lively laneways than you can poke a stick at. Oh, and did I mention the coffee? We’ve got alot of that, too. Infact we tend to be quite snobby about it. Just ask us.

Mr Galati with a pile of my colourful dresses

Mr Galati with a pile of my colourful dresses

But there’s something else that adds charm to Melbourne. It’s something you might have overlooked as you pound the pavement in search of the perfect latte (incidentally, you know that means “milk” in Italian, right?). I’m talking about the tiny, ye oldie-worldie shops that are scattered around the CBD and in surrounding neighbourhoods.  In particular I’m talking about the bespoke European tailors who have been in business since the year dot. A fine example of this is Mr Gabrielle Galati’s tailor shop, located at 198 Elgin Street, Carlton.

Squeezed in between a trendy travel agent and a chic fashion boutique, Mr Galati’s store is like a delicious time-warp. The sign on the door is starting to peel, the posters on the wall are fading, every surface is covered with wood panelling and the only window display is a book of fabric samples on the floor. An old brass bell tinkles as you step inside the shop to alert Mr Galati of your arrival, and he promptly appears at the counter, ready to help you.

Fabric samples are the only window display in Gabrielle's shop

Fabric samples are the only window display in Gabrielle’s shop

Whether it’s making a suit from scratch using traditional Italian hand-made techniques to altering women’s garments, Gabrielle will create a piece of ART for you. If he can’t fix something to his incredibly high standards, he won’t do it at all. I know this from experience: he’s turned away a few of my dresses over the years. At the time I was devastated, but on reflection I really dig his honesty. Money is not the motivation here.

Inside Mr Galati's workshop

Inside Mr Galati’s workshop

He recently said to me that he loves coming to work. He prefers zipping away on his machine to being at home (even on the weekend!). For a man in his mid-70s, that’s impressive. What’s even more impressive is that he’s been sewing since he was 12 years old. It began as a way for his parents to ensure his safety after school in the small town of Aquaro in southern Italy. Little did they know it would go on to become his bread and butter.

In his late teens he moved to Rome to study under high-class tailor Mr Marconi and then onto Turin for a few more years before immigrating to Australia in 1960. When he first arrived in Melbourne, he worked at the Wilson factory in Johnston Street Carlton, pressing suits. This job, he says, was incredibly dull but it allowed him to save up enough money to buy into his first tailoring partnership in the early 1970s.  Today, business is still booming. The clothes awaiting collection line the wall, and often when I go in to see him the door bell tinkles away non-stop as customers come and go.

The charming shopfront of   198 Elgin Street, Carlton

The charming shopfront of 198 Elgin Street, Carlton

When you’ve got all of this going on, what possible need would you have to modernise your shop decor? None of course! It’s great as it is!

So, Melbourne, here’s a tip: Forget about taking your clothes to those sterile “Sewing Alteration” joints in shopping malls. I mean, why would you DO that? It’s equivalent to eating Kraft Singles when you could be eating a piece of Italian Pecorino Toscano!  Go and have a taste of the real deal: Mr Galati or one of his tailoring counterparts. You’ll notice the difference. These guys make Melbourne sparkle.


2 Responses to “Making Melbourne Sparkle: Bespoke Tailors”

  1. DownTown Don

    Hersh Tailors in Lennox St Richmond is another. Brothers Ray and Gus have been there since trams were running down Lennox St. Gus died quite a few years ago and Ray has recently hung up the shears and stopped making suits. He’s there most mornings and always interesting to talk to about Richmond history.

    I drop in at least once a year to change the batteries in his smoke alarm, it’s too high for him to reach and beeps away until I turn up.

    Get out there and visit these old business’s, and don’t forget all the original barbers who have even more stories.

  2. DJ Emma Peel

    Thanks for your thoughts, Don. Sad that Ray has stopped making suits now, but I guess these guys are all getting on in age. Even though I dont like to think about it, there will come a day when all of these little Melbourne gems will be gone. Mr Galati’s children have no interest in taking over the business, he said, so when he retires that’ll be it.


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