On Tuesday night at Scotiabank Arena ahead of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final, Drake received a bespoke, diamond-encrusted sports jacket worth an estimated $769,000.
Each year for the past four years, MLSE has gifted the Toronto Raptors’ ambassador with a custom jacket, lined with a Raptors jersey. The stakes have been raised significantly for the 2019 version, after the association between the Raptors and the rapper deepened with the renaming of the club’s practice space as the OVO Athletic Centre this past March.
The team pulled out all the decadent stops, with 235 diamonds hand-embroidered into the shape of the OVO owl on the right side of the custom jacket, balanced out by a 1.2 carat diamond pin on the left peaked lapel.
The diamond Drake jacket has been a year and a half in the making. Michael Nguyen, owner of Toronto’s Garrison Bespoke, knew he wanted to source something special, and it took him nearly that long to persuade the family owners of the French mill Dormeuil to sell him a special piece of fabric from the archives, dating back to 1927. The fabric is a very rare example of original “jersey” cloth, and it is super-soft but structured. Nguyen has his own family connection to the mill, as his grandfather worked for them in Vietnam. “This is truly a 1 of 1 piece,” says Nguyen. “Both the jersey inside, which Drake himself helped design, and this very special piece of cloth. And the diamonds, of course.”
The Star was on hand to document the process of setting the diamonds onto the cloth last Friday. The diamonds are themselves special, having been flown in from Diamond Foundry, the world’s first and only certified carbon neutral producer. That means the diamonds have been grown in a lab (Diamond Foundry labs are based in California and Washington), so there is no human or environmental toll. They are grown in the rough and then cut and polished, and are chemically identical to the “real” thing. Indeed, gemologists are unable to tell them apart, even under a microscope. The man-made diamonds have been increasing in popularity rapidly with millennial consumers, who are concerned with provenance.
Each of the diamonds has to be hand-set in a couture setting to maximize clarity and light and a sense of movement. “We wanted to make the owl seem alive,” says Nguyen. And indeed, as soon as the owl’s eyes (1.2 carats each) were put in place, they did seem to bring the piece to life.
Tanya Theberge, a fashion designer with couture embroidery skills, spent the weekend hand-sewing the diamonds onto the OVO owl illustration. She estimated it would take about 20 hours. In her own work, Theberge focuses on sustainability and uses only recycled fabrics. “I’ve never experienced stones like these,” she says of the sustainable gems.
“I wouldn’t have believed how much energy they bring to the graphic,” says Theberge, who studied at the Chambre Syndicale in Paris and was mentored by a couture atelier seamstress from Dior.
The jacket design was approved by Drake’s NYC-based stylist, Mellany Sanchez, who has been crafting his image for the past year and a half. The real craft of this piece is beyond the sparklers, though, and lies in the careful construction technique.
Nguyen used three layers of horsehair to reinforce the lapels, and to create a smooth line under the armhole. “My clients all want that line to look good in pictures. This is traditional English styling, but with a softness to match with Drake’s preference for sportswear.”
A bespoke jacket at Garrison starts at $2,000; suits are from $2,500. The “signature” couture suits with diamond lapel pin (like Drake’s) run $25,000 and Nguyen sells approximately one per month to international buyers. His reputation has spread due to the fact he is also one of only two tailors worldwide who makes bulletproof suiting (the other is in Venezuela). There is a surprisingly brisk business in these functional garments.
Nguyen has also worked in diamonds before, on a custom commission for David Foster, and has made suits for Ryan Gosling, Robert Pattinson, Sir Ben Kingsley and LeBron James. He has outfitted individual athletes as well as fulfilled commissions for entire teams like the Blue Jays, Maple Leafs and Toronto FC. Most recently, he whipped up a swank silk jacquard tux for Milos Raonic to wear to the Camp-themed Met Gala.
Leanne Delap is a Toronto-based freelance contributor for the Star and The Kit. Reach her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org