Last year I wrote about legendary Toronto bootmaker Master John. Fashion journalist Nathalie Atkinson also wrote about him as part of her ‘Clearly Canadian’ series on Canadian fashion design for the Globe and Mail. We were both working on shoestrings of information gleaned from a few articles that appeared in the 1970s, but Atkinson’s tribute attracted the attention of Master John’s son, Minas, which Nathalie kindly shared with me. So, armed with more information, here again is a tribute to Toronto’s platform king Master John.
Born in Mytilini, Lesbos, Master John’s real name was Giannis Hatzigiannatzoglou. When he emigrated to Toronto from Athens with his wife Elli in 1970 he became better known by his professional, and more easily pronounceable name, John Masters. Their story was a classic rags to riches tale. Trained as shoemakers in Greece, Giannis and Eli briefly worked in a Toronto shoe factory before they began to make their own line of boots and shoes out of the garage behind their Bathurst street home, near the now demolished Honest Ed’s. Instead of traditional styles, they made platform shoes and boots, and “…got a couple of local guys to start selling them around pool halls,” Hatzigiannatzoglou says.
The first retail outlet was in the basement of a shoe repair shop on Gerrard Street before opening their own shop on Yonge street near Wellesley. At the height of their success, there were two shops on Yonge street, one at 613/611 and the other at 593. According to Hatzigiannatzoglou “Any local acts or big bands who came to town, they’d go to do an interview at Q107, then go to the House of Lords to get a haircut and then they’d go to Master John’s. AC/DC, Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, KISS, movie stars, TV stars — Leonard Nimoy was a client.”
At its peak in the mid 1970s, there were two Toronto factories making boots and shoes for their own stores, as well as a couple dozen other retailers across the province, and the department store Eatons. As the platform craze died down, one of the factories was sold in 1978 to settle bank debts. New designs were introduced, like ankle-high fringed elf boots, but ultimately it was cowboy boots that kept Master John in business. Hatzigiannatzoglou recalls clients like Saga, Anvil and Platinum Blonde buying snakeskin boots.
Giannis “Master John” Hatzigiannatzoglou suffered from Alzheimer’s and died in Toronto in 1996, at the age of 68. After his death Eli continued to operate the business from their final shoe shop and factory location on Danforth Avenue, until it closed in 2003. “The last pair of boots we ever shipped was to Chubby Checker. He was a longtime regular client of my parents, because he liked checkerboard footwear.“ said Hatzigiannatzoglou.