Tailor Made

From Mexico to Minnesota, a local craftsman talks travel and custom tailoring.
Miguel “Michael” Aguilar in his lower level tailor’s workshop at J. Novachis.

Miguel “Michael” Aguilar found a way to mend his broken heart. As a boy, he worked as an apprentice tailor in a town two hours south of Guadalajara, Mexico. “The finer the clothes, the more I was interested,” he says. “You start with a thimble on your finger, and you keep going.” As a 17-year-old, Aguilar attended a religious retreat, where he met a young girl to whom he wanted to give his heart. She declined his overtures at the behest of her mother. “You are not rich,” Aguilar recalls the girl telling him. “My mom wants someone rich.”

Aguilar took those words, packed his belongings and moved to the United States in 1976 at the urging of his sister, who was living in California. After four years in New York City, Aguilar joined a friend in Minnesota and has lived here since 1980 with his wife, Irene, whom he met in New York, and their two children. “I love Minnesota,” he says. “It’s my No. 1 state,” calling out the state’s attributes such as its weather, outdoor venues and people. “It takes time for people to get to know you, but once they do, they’re friends forever,” he says.

The commitment to friendship led Aguilar to his current post as master tailor at menswear clothier J. Novachis in Edina, which is run by Anthony Novachis, son of the store’s late founder, John Novachis. At his skill level, Aguilar is able to construct a garment out of nothing more than a bolt of material. “He can do anything,” says Anthony Novachis, who learned to custom mark a suit by age 10. “There is nobody better. I grew up with tailors all my life. This is a man who has perfected something very difficult.”

Aguilar and John Novachis first worked together at another Edina menswear store and when the elder Novachis left to open J. Novachis in 2007, Aguilar pursued other career opportunities. But after John passed away in February 2015 from pancreatic cancer, Anthony took the helm and began to consider how he’d take on the challenge of maintaining his father’s legacy. “Michael was the very first piece of my strategy,” he says. Recalling the way his father and Aguilar interacted like the old comedy team of Martin and Lewis, “I couldn’t recreate [the banter], but I wanted to increase the store’s service level,” he says. In doing so, the store’s lower level was converted into a tailoring shop, and Aguilar was brought into the fold. “Michael essentially has come home,” Anthony says.

Some customers may view custom tailoring as a luxury. Not so, says Aguilar. “It’s a necessity,” he says. “It’s something you need to do,” referring to tailoring as an important part of wardrobe care and maintenance. In addition, Aguilar says a quality tailor can impact a man’s attitude. “Make him feel like a million bucks,” he says. “Make him feel like he can do anything when he leaves the house.”

While casual attire may be elbowing its way to the front of the fashion line, Aguilar stresses the value of owning a good suit or dress pants paired with a sport coat. “Why do you want to wait for someone to die to get dressed up?” he says. “It makes no sense.” He goes on to say, “If you wear something sloppy, people take you for what you are. People are more and more casual, but that doesn’t mean you have to be sloppy.”

In addition to offering drop-off/pick-up dry cleaning services and tailoring for in-store purchases, J. Novachis accepts outside clothing for tailoring. “We really do care about making people look good and feel good,” Anthony Novachis says.