Melbourne’s Nicholas Building is a beehive of businesses, with room after room of industrious people making and selling their wares. In a small space that’s full of charm, Igor Iskhakov alters clothes for generations of Melburnians.
“I like the history of this building and there are a lot of artisans here,” he said. “When I came here I fell in love with the look of the building. It reminds me of places I saw in New York.
“I like its position, it’s right in the centre of the city so when you come out for lunch or you go and have a coffee, you talk to people. That’s part of the whole experience. I love the city. For me the suburbs are not as exciting.”
His customers pass beneath the glorious lead-light ceiling of the building, designed in 1924 by architect Harry A. Norris. A lift takes them to level 3 and Lonsdale Clothing Alterations.
Igor was recently honoured with a Lord Mayor’s Small Business Award for a career that has stood the test of time. He opened his business in Lonsdale Street nearly 30 years ago.
When he moved to the Swanston Street corner four years ago, he kept the name to ensure regulars could find him.
Bobbins of thread in every colour line the walls of his workroom. History extends inside the building too, with sewing machines dating from 50 or 60 years ago. An old Lewis Union Special is a blind stitch machine Igor has trusted in throughout his career. “I tried lots of machines before but they don’t do the job. Every fabric has a difference thickness, that one can take anything.”
He says all the old brands and models he uses can handle leather, jeans and more. “Nothing is too thick for them”.
Arriving from Uzbekistan at 18, Igor had already learned sewing skills from an uncle. “In Australia I studied fashion design and then learned from other tailors to make suits by hand. I also did pattern-making and polished my skills.”
He’s witnessed huge changes in central Melbourne over three decades. “When I first came here the city was so quiet, there was nothing happening, no one lived in the city, it was only businesses. You could park anywhere you wanted, that was easier. But for me it was boring. In terms of fashion people were more informal, not like in Europe. Now it’s different, fashion is a big thing and people know what they want.
“Lots of things started to happen like the Grand Prix and it all changed. Many more events started and more people came to Melbourne and spent money here.”
He counts among his customers lawyers and rock stars. He says that over the years he’s altered and remodeled clothes for the band Kiss when on tour in Australia – also Rod Stewart, Shaquille O’Neal and Tina Arena. When fashion shows are filling city runways he’s often called upon to help with speedy alterations.
He’s also had regular local clients for 20 years or more. “My repeat customers are often families, parents who work in the city and their children come to me. When they’re getting married, I work on their suits and dresses. It’s like when you go to the dentist or mechanic, you have to trust this person, and it’s the same with me.
“People know and trust me, that’s the most important thing for me, my good reputation. This job is all about people – fashion and people.”
He said “it’s a great feeling to be recognised with a small business award. It’s nice because you work and work and it’s good to get a boost.”
He tells the story of a customer who brought in a suit for altering. “He said ‘next week I have a job interview’. Afterwards he came back and said ‘thank you very much, your suit made me more confident in the interview. I felt good about my knowledge but also about being dressed up’.
“People care. I wouldn’t last in business if it wasn’t about the people. I have been lucky because I have never changed my profession, I stick with it.”
About the Lord Mayor’s Small Business Awards
Melbourne is full of fantastic small business success stories.
The Lord Mayor’s Small Business Awards celebrate the people behind inner-city businesses that have stood the test of time.
Among the recipients are legends who have been in business in the city for 10+, 20+ and 40+ years. We also name a Small Business of the Year and Small Innovation Business of the Year.