Stepdad of famous rapper opens Wardrobe Clinic

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Ron Wilch works his magic at the Wardrobe Clinic in Center City, a one-man shop that specializes in alterations for clients who purchase clothing online.

WHEN YOU'RE the stepfather of Eve, the rapper/actress from Philadelphia who costars in the new Barbershop flick that opens Friday, folks expect you to be fly.

And he is. At Eve's 2014 fairy-tale wedding on Ibiza to multimillionaire entrepreneur Maximillion Cooper, Ron Wilch stepped out in a white linen Moroccan-style outfit. But what impresses me most about Wilch is that he's all about making sure everyone else is dressed as sharply as he is.

He's a fashion designer by trade, and his latest venture is the 6-month-old Wardrobe Clinic. Located at 15th and Walnut, it's an upscale design studio, which he operates there, as well as an old-fashioned tailor shop.

Wilch, 55, takes ill-fitting garments, often purchased online, and transforms them into something befitting, say, his uber-famous stepdaughter. (That may be a stretch considering that her entrepreneur husband's net worth is estimated to be in the $80 million range, but you get where I'm going with this.)

"At the Wardrobe Clinic, we fix, we repair, we recycle fashion. That's our main focus," Wilch told me last month.

Many of his customers are hapless online shoppers who go to him to make their purchases fit their bodies as well as they do the clotheshanger-skinny models who wear them on the Internet.

While researching this column, I brought in an ugly maroon jumpsuit purchased online that looked and fit like a giant silk onesie. He not only brought it down two sizes, but he made it look like it was made for me - instead of bought off an online clearance rack.

"What they do now online is, they tell you a size but it's really a size bigger," Wilch said as he pinned the monstrosity. "You say, 'I'm a size 8,' so they send you a size 10."

He also caters to customers of BCBG Max Azria at 16th and Walnut streets and other Rittenhouse Square boutiques that value his low fees and quick turnaround times on alterations. (He's been known to spend nights in his shop to meet his deadlines.)

In a pinch, Wilch even will make a house call. "We always send our clients over to him any time that we need, like, a last-minute hemming or trimming or anything, we send them to him and they always come back and rave about Ron," said Mollica Ing, sales associate at BCBG.

As he explained the concept behind his clinic, Shari Williams, wife of State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (D., Phila.), stepped out of a dressing room in the rear of the shop. That day, she had brought in a couple of gowns in need of alterations, including one she planned to wear to the Red Ball, benefiting the American Red Cross. And while she was there, Wilch took the bagginess out of a black sheath she was wearing to a luncheon at Blue Cross-Blue Shield.

"You are the best. You just snatched me. 'Cause I was feeling like a bag lady. Now, I'm cool," she said, smiling. "I'm a longtime customer. I've done fashion shows with Ron ... I go from 8 to a 12. So, whatever size I am, he fixes it up."

Wilch began developing an eye for fashion as a teenager, when he would read his brother's copies of GQ magazine. He would admire his brother's wardrobe, and when he would ask to borrow an item, the response would be, "This is tailor-made for me."

While attending Thomas A. Edison High School in the 1970s, he had to select an area of study, and picked tailoring "because I wanted to make myself some pants like my brother. I started making clothes. My first fashion show was a women's fashion show.

"I was not the best, but I knew that if I had a sewing machine in my home, I could practice, I could kind of make my own stuff. I promised my mother, 'If you buy me an industrial sewing machine, you won't have to buy me any more clothes,' " he recalled. "So she bought the machine, and this was like in 1976. I still have that machine. I started working out of my basement ... I practiced and I practiced and I practiced, and I made a lot of mistakes."

After graduating from Edison, Wilch did piecework as a pocket setter for clothing manufacturers such as Botany "500," which used to make suits worn by the likes of the talk-show host Phil Donahue and the actor Danny Thomas. As that work dried up, he decided to go into business for himself, and in 1987 set up shop in a space with some other designers at Germantown Avenue and School House Lane.

Back then, the city was still hosting "Philadelphia Dresses the World," an annual event featuring local designers showing off their creations. His first year presenting, Wilch got an excellence award, which he credits with really helping establish him in the city's fashion scene.

In 1992, he moved to his own shop at 15th and Lombard streets, where he continued designing and selling his clothing, mainly menswear. A spread in the Philadelphia Tribune followed, as did an offer to do an outdoor fashion show at the Dell East. Along the way, he became known for producing shows, and even got his first big-time celebrity client - Eddie Murphy.

These days, in addition to making clothing and running the Wardrobe Clinic, he teaches visually impaired people the trade at BestWork Industries for the Blind. (The Wardrobe Clinic is open by appointment.)

Of course I had to ask about Eve, his famous stepdaughter. He demurred.

When I asked him why, he said, "People think you're rich."

You're not?

"Nah."

But with his tailoring skills, he dresses like he is - and does the same for others.

@JeniceArmstrong Blog: ph.ly/HeyJen

armstrj@phillynews.com