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'Tailor to the stars': Burnaby man still crafting fine suits after 66 years

Burnaby's Pat Cocco has made suits for Ben Affleck, Donald Sutherland and more.

As a young boy growing up in the small central Italian town of Morrone del Sannio, Burnaby master tailor Pat Cocco never dreamt that one day he would be designing suits for Hollywood stars like Ben Affleck and Robin Williams.

Cocco, owner of Seville Tailors, housed in a modest shop at 7229 Curragh Ave., credits his mother and his small size for his introduction to tailoring at the age of 10.  

"In those days, in Italy, we only had elementary school in small towns," Cocco told the NOW. "After that, I had to work the farm with mom and dad, or you would be sent to a barber, tailor, carpenter or shoemaker - I was a small boy and my mother figured other type of work would be too hard for me, so she sent me to apprentice at a tailor shop."

Ten-year-old Cocco was sent to work at one of the town's three tailor shops.

"The first thing they teach is very basic things like how to hold a needle," says Cocco. "They used to tie a tie around my neck and my finger to teach me how to hold a needle in the bent position.

"You would apprentice for a minimum of six years or maybe more to learn everything, step by step, and then you would

eventually open your own shop."

Cocco's life story changed when his parents came to Canada in 1958 when the young apprentice was 12. Cocco explains the family's move: "It was a dead end over there and all the rest of the family was here."

The family arrived in Vancouver on June 8, 1958, and the very next day, Cocco's grandmother took Pat to Carl Pepe's iconic Olympia Tailors on East Hastings to continue his training.

"Carl took one look at me and said 'I need a tailor - he's a boy; he needs special papers to work.'"   

Cocco's family didn't give up after Pepe's rejection. His cousin took him to Canada Immigration and explained that Pat had just arrived from Italy and wanted to tailor part-time while attending school. Immigration gave Pat the papers he needed and he was hired by Olympia Tailors when he returned, authorization in hand.

"I used go Friday night, Saturday and sometimes on Sunday," says Cocco. At Olympia Tailors, Cocco would tailor custom suits, measure customers and cut suit patterns. When he finished grade 12, Cocco started full-time at Olympia.

Cocco stayed at Olympia Tailors for 19 1/2 years before taking on a bigger challenge with Drapeshire Clothing at Clark Drive and Venables St.

"I wanted to do more tailoring on a bigger scale so I went to work at Drapeshire," says Pat. "They had about 175 people I had the title of 'manager of quality control and productivity.'" "It was a challenge," he says. "We used to make 700-800 suits a week."

Cocco reflects on the large demand for custom tailoring in the 1950s and ‘60s. "Everyone wore tailored suits and a lot of Europeans came after the war and they were used to getting custom suit."

Cocco recalls that the demand for custom tailoring was dying out by the ‘70s.

"The post-war generation was getting old and the new generation wasn't going the custom made route," he says.

Cocco worked at Drapeshire for three years until the 1982 recession and high interest rates killed the company. Out of Drapeshire's ashes, Cocco, along with Drapeshire's sales manager and a few other key people, launched their own tailoring business, dubbed Columbian Clothiers, housed in a warehouse at Pender and Cambie.    

The business boomed at first with the company landing a deal with Woodward's to do all the made-to-measure work for the retail chain.

"It went well,” says Cocco. “Woodward's was 80 per cent of our work, but when Woodward's stopped selling 'made-to-measure' suits in 1985, they took us down with it."

Columbia Clothiers folded in 1986.

Undaunted, the ever-resourceful Cocco "started right from scratch" by launching his own firm in his mother's basement on Royal Oak in South Burnaby, quickly expanding to take over the home's double-garage. He adopted the name "Seville Tailors" in 1987 after the Spanish town. "I wanted it to sound a little Latin."

Cocco's business quickly took off and he was soon looking for a larger space nearby.

"I outgrew my mother's basement and garage and I had four people working out of there."

He located warehouse space a few blocks away on Curragh Avenue and Seville Tailors moved to its current location in 1992.

As Cocco's reputation and business grew, Hollywood North came knocking and he soon became the local "go-to" guy for movie stars and film productions.

He recalls meeting the late Robin Williams while the comedian/actor was in town to film the 2004 science fiction thriller 'The Final Cut.'  

"I was asked to make a top coat and suit for Robin Williams," he recalls. "We met him at the Hotel Vancouver to do the fitting. I measured his waist - I said 'you're sucking in your waist,' and he replies: 'no, I'm not.'"

Williams then removed the clothes and went into the bedroom while Cocco worked on the fitting. To his surprise, Williams soon returned sans shirt, exposing his shaggy chest and midriff.

"He was just covered with hair like an ape," says Pat. "I took one look at him and asked: 'Where did you get all that hair? I want some for my head.'"

Cocco was pleased to get a laugh from the legendary comic.

Other celebrity clients include Ben Affleck, James Earl Jones, Wesley Snipes, Jet Li and "Game of Thrones" alumnus Sean Bean.

"I made this beautiful masquerade costume for Sean Bean in March 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic," says Cocco. "They picked up the suit and they were supposed to do the filming on the Snowpiercer series the next day."

"I phoned him to see how the suit fit and how filming went and he told me the production had been shut down because of Covid; he finally got to wear my design this March when they finally resumed production."

A highlight of Cocco's long career was being chosen to design and make the outfits worn by eight famous Canadians at the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

"I was chosen by the Olympic committee after they hired a costume designer well-known in the movie industry" says Cocco. "He selected me because there's nobody else who could make stuff overnight."

After the Olympics, Donald Sutherland ordered a suit from Seville Tailors and Cocco brought the clothes to the Hotel Vancouver for a fitting. The pants fit Sutherland perfectly and the actor was so pleased, he asked Pat to create an outfit for his wife, Francine Racette.

"I measured her up right there and later they came to my shop for a fitting," says Cocco. "While I was doing her fitting, Donald went for a walk around the street here with his dog. When he came back, we took a photo and he talked to my employees - he was very likeable and pleasant."

"After they left, a couple of neighbours rushed in here and said 'was that Donald Sutherland in here?'" says Cocco. The neighbours had seen Sutherland walking his dog up and down Curragh Avenue.

More recently, Cocco and his staff lent their skills to the pandemic battle in 2020.

Cocco has no plans to retire anytime soon. A North Burnaby resident since the 1970s, he describes himself as "the last of a dying breed" as the demand for custom tailoring declines due to competition from cheap imports and the lack of training available for custom tailors.

"I plan to work as long as God allows me," he says.

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