With a reputation reaching far beyond Calgary, Umberto Custom Tailors is a bespoke tailor as well as a purveyor of fine menswear.
It all started with a boy coming from a tiny village near Naples, Italy. It was the early ’70s. Umberto Migliaccio was 20 years old and he already had years of experience with some Italian expert tailors and one big dream: becoming an eminent tailor with his own business in Canada. Claudio, his youngest son who is now at the helm of the business with him, talks with pride about the initial struggle, the solid work ethic of his father Umberto and mother Maria, and the steps they had to take in an unknown country to fulfill their dream. A life-long lesson.
That dream came true. Umberto was able to establish his own business after years of hard work with the most prestigious menswear shops in town. Hidden in the back of the store doing alterations, encouraged by his own rare craftmanship, he slowly but relentlessly built his career and the trust of his clients. Umberto now represents the highest level of his craft and expertise in the finest fabrics.
But achieving success doesn’t come without costs: his young wife Maria, whom he met through family connections, decided to take a cleaning job at night. Their three children were left almost the whole week with Maria’s parents so that she could help her husband work on suits during the day. They saved every dollar they could. At one point they risked everything they had so that Umberto could be granted a loan to open his own shop in downtown Calgary.
The story behind the business contrasts with the classy shop downtown on Sixth Avenue S.W. But it’s a long tale of sacrifice and the drive for success and proficiency — and the courage to dare, when needed. “If I came to this country with a suitcase, I can also go home with a suitcase,” was Umberto’s motto and comfort. Today Umberto has clients all over Canada and the world: businesspeople, athletes, artists, and even fans of casual styles all refer to him when they need to renew their wardrobe, add a new piece, or attend a special occasion.
When Claudio expressed his desire to follow the family business, Umberto was not happy. He knew how difficult the work was, and he sent Claudio to study at the University of Calgary. But Claudio loved fashion, dressing up, and the work ethic he grew up with. “I really wanted to steal the art,” says Claudio. “I spent hours and hours at the shop learning, watching, trying, experimenting. It has been a long process. I learned from the best for sure. I often joke that I left the U of C for the much tougher U of U — University of Umberto.”
Claudio picked up his father’s rare skill and made sure the business kept its roots on the same, few principles: passion, a view for high quality, a strategy for growth, a balance between modernization and tradition, and the ability to stay true to who you are. Umberto and Claudio only choose top brand fabrics from Italy or England and are proud to offer a whole menswear experience that now includes shirts, ties, and even a shoe line that Claudio started himself three years ago (“you can’t wear a nice suit with poor shoes,” he says).
Umberto’s relationship with the Calgary Philharmonic started eight years ago thanks to Claudio’s trailblazer vision. Many of his clients were often asking for formal suits to attend specific Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra events. Claudio had the idea to dress up the conductors —if you ever wondered where Rune Bergmann or Karl Hirzer’s dashing outfits are coming from, now you know. When he envisioned his suits on the podium, looking at the conductors’ characters and energy, Claudio asked to do something different, outside the tradition. He could see in his mind our conductors wearing bold outfits. “Back tie is not a problem, of course, but I want to see something that stands apart!”
He sees his city the same way. “Calgary used to be very conservative, but it really started to pick up in the last five or six years. You can see more men comfortable with colours, more men who feel bolder. I’ve been at my store for 26 years now, longer than my dad has had the store on his own. Surely a dark suit with a white shirt and a simple tie, a nice haircut and clean shave, still speaks elegance to me. But you should always dress for the occasion you are attending, according to how you feel.”