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Vancouver tailor had the legal market all sewn up Add to ...

Tony Zeilinger faced more judges than even the most recalcitrant of scofflaws.

Pins between his teeth, a measuring tape draped regally around his neck, chalk and scissors at hand, the master tailor outfitted the cream of British Columbia's legal community.

His Matz-Wozny Custom Tailors, on the ground floor of a downtown Vancouver office block, was crowded with objects from his trade. Stacks of sample books teetered precariously. Bolts of cloth loomed over a snug fitting area.

At lunchtime, lawyers and judges from the law courts across Hornby Street shoehorned into the tiny shop to be fitted in the finest British woolens and the best Canadian polyesters.

The Austrian-born clothes maker, who died of heart failure on Feb. 3 in Vancouver, operated his shop with good humour, his wisecracks bringing a smile to the sternest jurist while putting at ease nervous customers only recently called to the bar.

He provided tabs, shirts, skirts and waistcoats, as well as robes, the cut and style of which seemed unchanged through the centuries.

The proprietor was aware many citizens did not share his opinion of his customers.

"I'm the only guy around," he once said, "who wants more lawyers."

The tailor considered his humble outpost part of a centuries-old tradition launched by such esteemed firms as Ede & Ravenscroft, founded in London in 1689, which created robes for the coronation of King William III and his wife Queen Mary II.

While a paragon of discretion, Mr. Zeilinger took pride in having outfitted the Speaker of the B.C. Legislature for more than four decades. Robes were also made for Supreme Court justices in Ottawa.

He could often admire his handiwork on the national news, as one of his deluxe robes was favoured by Vancouver South member of Parliament John Fraser, who served as Speaker of the House of Commons for eight years.

At the time, in early 1992, the tailor's robes cost from $415 for a modest wool blend to $1,600 for Ottoman ribbed silk. A Zeilinger innovation involved extending a judge's vent in the seat, eliminating those undignified moments on the bench when m'lord squirmed to be freed of a trap of his own unintentional construction.

He was born in Treubach, a village on the German frontier in Upper Austria. He grew up in the nearby hamlet of Maria Schmolln, which included a church built on the site where a man claimed the Virgin Mary saved his life. The faithful have made pilgrimages there for more than 200 years.

Mr. Zeilinger liked to note the hamlet has but one church, though it boasts six pubs to slake the thirst of visitors.

"I think the pilgrims preferred to drink than to pray," he said.

The son and grandson and great-grandson of tailors, he began his apprenticeship at the age of 13. Though his corner of Austria avoided many of the deprivations of the war, he remembered Allied fighter planes strafing his village.

He continued his education in the craft in Salzburg and Vienna before hopping a freighter in 1954 to see the world. He got off in Australia. In Melbourne, a young German immigrant named Ingeborg Tutlat, who had been working as a nanny and a waitress, brought her slacks to him for alterations. They married and started a family.

In 1967, eager to see the Rocky Mountains, the couple travelled across the Pacific by freighter. Mr. Zeilinger soon found work with the tailors and bushelmen at Matz-Wozny.

The shop had been founded in 1955 by master tailors Erich Matz, a postwar German immigrant, and Albert Wozny. (Mr. Matz died eight years ago at Salmon Arm, B.C., at the age of 95.) Mr. Zeilinger became a co-owner in 1972, eventually taking over the company and running it until his retirement two years ago.

A lucrative and happy trade involved the preparation of "silks" every year for those lawyers named Queen's Counsel. Tradition demanded these honoured lawyers replace their wool robes with elegant ones of hand-cut silk.

In 1994, Elizabeth Bennett earned the coveted QC designation, though she would be a rare Vancouver lawyer not to call on Mr. Zeilinger's services, she told the Vancouver Sun's Larry Still. She intended to use the silk inherited from her late father, a piece of clothing with which she was familiar, as he had allowed her to wear it as a child when she wished to canvass for candies on Halloween as Dracula.

Last year, Madam Justice Bennett was appointed to the B.C. Court of Appeal while presiding over the political corruption case involving the sale of B.C. Rail.

The shop also became a favourite for visiting actors and rock stars, many of whom stayed at nearby downtown hotels. Among the clients served by the tailor were Bob Hope, Tom Selleck, and Gene Simmons of the band Kiss.

After the founders retired, Mr. Zeilinger resisted the urge to rename the shop after himself. Some customers already thought he was the eponymous proprietor.

"Many people call me Matz when they come in," he said. "But Matz-Wozny is so well known all over the province, why give it a new name?"

Tony Zeilinger

Anton Zeilinger was born on June 28, 1930, in Treubach, Austria. He died of heart failure on Feb. 3, 2010, in Vancouver. He was 79. He leaves his wife Ingeborg, a daughter and two grandchildren.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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