Downtown Vancouver tailor outfits judges, cops and celebs

Blair Shapera lived 'tailor's dream' making suits for seven-foot Grizzlies

As someone in a profession who works with lawyers, judges, cops, celebrities and professional athletes, Blair Shapera has stories to tell.

He's even got a good one about a recently deceased gangster.

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Unfortunately, Shapera's best yarns — or should that be his best high-thread-count wools — are off the record.

Shapera, 54, is a tailor.

He's also an engaging storyteller who can get carried away with details about this customer or that customer before realizing he is talking to a reporter.

Still, he agreed to share a few.

First, his story: Winnipeg boy goes from working at the Bay at 15 to running a high-end clothing store in his hometown and owning Roots stores in Winnipeg and Edmonton. He moves to Vancouver in 1990, sets up a tailoring business out of his home and then, one day, meets the owner of the Vancouver Grizzlies basketball team and makes him a suit.

That was Arthur Griffiths, who introduced Shapera to Grizzlies general manager Stu Jackson, who introduced Shapera to the team and like an arcing three-point shot that finds the hoop, Shapera scored in a big way.

"It was just like a tailor's dream because you've got these seven-foot-tall Adonises who can't buy ready-to-wear [suits], love clothing, are peacocks and are making a ton of money," he recalled from his small store tucked in to an office building in the 800-block Hornby Street.

The added bonus in landing the gig was that Shapera happens to be a sports nut. The other bonus was that players got traded and they'd tell a teammate about their tailor.

Over the years, customers from NBA teams included Gerald and Dominique Wilkins, Antonio McDyess, Nick Van Exel and some guy named Steve Nash, who happened to win two MVP honours.

Shapera recalled Nash showing up at a press conference dressed in a jacket and shirt he made for him to discuss winning one of the awards. How did that make him feel?

"The fact that Nash went from wearing jeans and T-shirts to nicer clothing was a plus. Besides that, I'm a huge sports fan, so it's great. It's kind of cool."

Shapera's story gets better when he reveals that former hockey great Mark Messier became a customer when he came to play for the Vancouver Canucks in the late 1990s.

Again, he found himself in a dressing room full of professional athletes. But this time around, his presence wasn't as welcomed when Iron Mike Keenan was the coach.

As the story goes, Keenan had just ripped into his team in the locker room and went seething into the players' lounge. Shapera happened to be there with his material.

"He was already fully charged and saw me there and said, 'What is this, like a suit shop or something?' and hurled a couple of bagels around the room."

These days, Shapera spends more time with lawyers and judges than he does with athletes, although Canuck David Booth is a recent customer.

Five years ago, he bought the legendary Matz and Wozny clothing store on Hornby Street from tailor Tony Zeilinger. The store, which originated on Howe Street in 1955, is the main supplier for court apparel in the province.

Lawyers, judges and court clerks, many of whom work across the street at the courthouses, go to Shapera to get fitted for robes, shirts and jackets and skirts.

"If these walls could talk," he said, referring to the hundreds, if not thousands of customers, who have visited the store. He's always getting new customers, many of whom have just been called to the bar. "It's great to be working with people like that to mark that special occasion."

The court work accounts for about 50 per cent of Shapera's business and the other half is making suits, which range from $695 to $1,895.

"I love what I do," he said, noting he recently made a rose-coloured vinyl suit for someone to wear to the Grammy Awards.

Who was that?

Again, off the record.

But next time you see a photo or television footage of singer Michael Buble or former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, there's a good chance Shapera will be smiling at what he sees.

mhowell@vancourier.com

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