Don Cherry Buys His Suits

Don Cherry Buys His Suits

Don Cherry Buys His Suits. Frank Cosco, 84: Don Cherry's tailor. About 20 years ago the motor mouth sports commentator Don Cherry finally decided to check out a Mississauga store near his home. For several years, he'd been intrigued with the classy, white stucco two-storey building that had replaced a local, nondescript former bank. He was even somewhat impressed by the cursive script on the green awning over the doorway announcing Frank Cosco Merchant Tailor & Designer.

"He was already Don Cherry. He had already created the image of himself," said Mark Cosco, who was working with his father at that time. "He was looking to find someone to carry the image further."

The mad, plaid suits, the tall stiff Edwardian shirt collar, dandyish surgeon's cuffs extruding below the arm of the suit jacket – it might have been risible worn by anyone other than hockey's tough guy.

And made by anyone other than Frank Cosco.

"Sometimes I don't know whether (making Cherry's suits) helped him or not in his clothing business," Cherry said. "I was one of those guys whose suit had to be perfect. I always wanted a little tuck here, there. I probably drove him nuts."

"But this is what I want," Cosco would tell him. Cosco came up with the idea of roping, or doubling the seams of the shoulder to give it definition and height and the fitted suit the look of a T-square. Cosco's wife, Donna, would patiently fit and re-fit the shoulders and Cosco himself painstakingly hand sewed four working buttons on each sleeve.

"I have to look good. He understood that," said Cherry. "I sure thought the world of him."

Cosco used to scout fabric for Cherry. Together they pored over Cosco's book of tartans.

As a boy growing up in a large Italian family in Sioux Lookout, Cosco used to do needlework and rug hooking along with woodworking. At 16, he signed up for the Army where he knitted in his spare time. But, as he once told his daughter Shiela he had to hide his hobby from the other soldiers. He studied with a tailor in his hometown, and he was on delivery for a men's clothier in Toronto when he met Donna. She was 16 and a recent immigrant from Italy who spoke almost no English.

From 1956, Cosco was in charge of the bustling made-to-measure department at Simpson's flagship department store, then at Yonge and Queen Sts., where he had a reputation as a superb fitter. Then Leaf owner Conn Smythe insisted the team wear suits and ties to and from their games and to all public appearances.

Cosco made suits for Bob Pulford, Frank Mahovlich, George Armstrong, Davey Keon and, as was customary, had pictures taken of him fitting the star athletes that hung on the walls of the fitting rooms.

"I think there was pride that these people were well-known," said Mark, who now heads the made-to-measure department for Harry Rosen.

There was also what Mark calls the "wow factor" or the moment when the customer puts on the suit jacket, the silky fabric settling into the contours of his body as he steps back and looks at himself in it.

Often, his father would wait for them to discover the little extras he'd created for them – such as an inside pocket the exact size of a prized object they carried around.

Cosco was working for Harry Rosen when he decided to go out on his own. He opened a store in Westdale Mall in Mississauga. Donna lent him her nest egg, saved from her home sewing jobs, to help him with start-up costs. "It was his dream," she said.

His business thrived. Soon the gregarious Cosco was a member of a local golf club, president of Mississauga branch of the Rotary Club, a Knight of Columbus and fan and one of the founders of the Ontario Ball Hockey Association.

And he continued to knit and hook gifts for his extended family.

In 1999, he retired, although a few customers, such as Cherry, continued to come by the house for fittings until about 18 months ago.

Cosco died July 28 in hospital of congestive heart failure. He was 84.