The 6 Tailors Who Have Shaped Italian Style
The men behind the world's best-dressed nation, from Kiton to Caruso.
BY TEO VAN DEN BROEKE | Jan 25, 2016 | Fashion
Boglioli excels in tailoring, specifically jackets. Defined by their soft shoulders, nipped waists and light weights, Boglioli’s garment-dyed clothes have an understated aesthetic, which feels particularly relevant now.
“Boglioli’s tailoring is ideal for men who want to remain unique, but with a conservative touch,” says Jason Broderick, fashion director of menswear at Harrods. “The fit of the jackets embrace the body but don’t strangle the wearer, giving freedom to move, resulting in a brilliantly styled silhouette.”
Boglioli dates from the early 1900s when the family opened a men’s tailors in Gambara, Lombardy. By the Seventies, their reputation for elegance found them in great demand producing garments for other houses. It repositioned as a standalone house again in the Nineties, producing suits, jackets and overcoats. Their defining moment came when Pierluigi Boglioli [above] took the structure out of their tailored jackets, resulting in what he called “dressed-down tailoring”.
“We are constantly researching the fit, asking how many millimetres to take in or let out,” says Pierluigi’s brother, company president Mario Boglioli. “There’s a constant dialogue between us and our customers.” Bought by Italian private equity fund Wise in 2000, the brand has consolidated its reputation as a connoisseur’s label of quality.
“Boglioli is the epitome of relaxed, stylish tailoring, typified by their ‘Dover’ jacket shape,” says Sam Kershaw, a senior buyer at mrporter.com. “It is a brand with universal appeal: easy for an older consumer with more ‘classic’ leanings, but it does bolder colours and fabric choices for more adventurous shoppers, too.”
Luca Rubinacci [above] is one of the great Neapolitan peacocks, the man at the helm of Rubinacci, founded by his grandfather Gennaro in Naples in 1932. “He was considered an arbiter elegantiarum,” Luca says, “and young men of good families would ask him to accompany them to tailors and advise them on the cut, fit and cloth of their wardrobes. One day, Gennaro came up with the idea of opening a gentlemen’s club where his friends could discuss cloth. Shortly after, he founded the ‘London House’, now known as Rubinacci.”
It is from this flagship London House—named because Neapolitans considered Gennaro’s style to be inspired by the English dandy—on Naples’ Via Filangieri that Rubinacci has sold its wares ever since.
With stores across the globe, its customer is every bit as international as Luca himself. Suits are cut from soft flannels, wools and silks in lively shades, while cuts are Neapolitan with a soft “mappina” shoulder (defined by a full sleeve and a high arm hole), a synched waist—achieved, Rubinacci says, by “a front seam extended below the pocket to the bottom of the jacket”—and minimal construction.
Rubinacci also boasts an extraordinary archive of vintage fabrics. “If you are a cloth aficionado we have an enviable reputation for vintage cloth, built on my father’s collection that I continued,” Luca says. “We have more than 60,000m of vintage fabric [defined as pre-Eighties], mostly in storage in Naples but with a good amount viewable to customers in London.”
If you’re not yet in the market for a bespoke Rubinacci suit (average price is SGD 6937*), the tailor is opening a new ready-to-wear store in Milan off Montenapoleone, in via del Gesù. “The new branch will have 400sq m of space where clients can talk about cloth and enjoy our ready-to-wear proposal. It’s also defined by our cut, lightness and use of vintage fabrics.”
“When our customers experience Isaia for the first time, they are often blown away by the thought behind each detail,” says Gianluca Isaia [above]. “It is this passion that keeps them coming back.”
Gianluca is the third generation of Isaias to helm the tailoring company, which is noted for mixing technology with tradition.
“The label was founded in Naples in the Twenties thanks to the intuition of my grandfather Enrico,” he explains. “He opened a fabric store for the most renowned tailors in town. Later, he set up a small workshop next to the store where skilled craftsmen created tailor-made clothing for the highest-end clients. In 1957, brothers Enrico, Rosario and Corrado Isaia moved the business to Casalnuovo, a village near Naples where half of the residents were professional tailors. Within the decade, Isaia began producing some of the most sought-after garments in Italy. After that, the business grew internationally.”
The key to Isaia’s success may be the brand’s modern take on traditional tailoring. Off-the-peg suits are cut slim and lapels are narrow, while the rest of the brand’s offering feels young and approachable. Unlike many more traditional Neapolitan houses, Isaia has a distinct innovative streak which has helped it break into the international market, being stocked as far afield as Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, Neiman Marcus (USA) and Harrods (UK). “Our Aqua series of fabrics—part of our ‘basics’ programme—is definitely not so ‘basic’,” Isaia says. “Combining the best in luxury fabrics with water-resistant technology, we have created the highest level of functionality and style.”
Innovation aside, what else draws people to Isaia? “Our customers come to us for a full tailoring experience. Together with fun in fabrics, fit and models, we have the expertise to help any man build his own personal style,” Gianluca says.
4. MP di Massimo Piombo
Founding his company in 1989, Massimo Piombo [above] quickly established himself as a favourite of Milan’s best-dressed men for his use of artisanal fabrics and bold colours. Trained in London, Scotland and France and based in Genoa, Piombo spent his formative years visiting factories across the globe sourcing the best cloths.
“Our collections are developed with exclusive fabrics,” says Carlo Alberto Piombo, sales manager for diffusion line MP di Massimo Piombo. “We use baby alpaca from Hungary, mohair from Austria, cashmere from Mongolia, linen from Ireland and silk from Lyon.”
Overcoats and jackets are unstructured and slouchy with armholes cut high and sleeves narrow. This affords each garment a lean shape without compromising on comfort.
“MP di Massimo Piombo represents an idea which combines graceful design and formality,” Carlo says. “Rich with masculine accents and poetic visions, for essential garments that are versatile yet always impeccable, emphasised by a classic soul but revisited in a modern style.”
Massimo Piombo speaks with equal clarity about the man he imagines wears his clothes. “[They are] envisaged and designed for beautiful people,” he explains. “MP Piombo is a ‘secret couture’ concept for a sophisticated, original, classy, independent image which exalts character, class and individuality.”
Produced in collaboration with Neapolitan tailors Kiton, everything in the collection is hand-made, with each button sewn by hand. And, though the price point is a notch higher than Piombo’s main line, you get what you pay for with this partnership between two of Italy’s most important tailoring powerhouses.
A Neapolitan suit can customarily be identified by a soft shoulder, synched waist, wide lapel and bold hue, but suits produced by Neapolitan tailors Kiton break this tradition.
For six decades, the label has taken pride in immaculate garments handmade in the city’s traditional way though minus what they deem Neapolitan flamboyance. “Ciro Paone, the founder, tried to create a handmade product ‘made in Napoli’, but looking as un-Neapolitan as possible,” says Kiton’s director, and Paone’s nephew, Antonio De Matteis [above]. “He tried to remove the excess, and make a Neapolitan jacket that didn’t draw attention to itself.”
Established by eighth-generation fabric merchant Paone and business manager Antonio Carola in 1956, the brand was originally Cipa before changing name to Kiton (after the Greek chiton, or tunic) eight years later. Today, the decades of experience are palpable in its clothing. Each of its suits takes 45 tailors a minimum 25 hours to create, with each part cut and sewn by hand. Pockets are hand cut and stitched, a rare practice since each one takes up to an hour to complete (a machine can stitch maybe 400 pockets in the same time). Jackets are pressed using vintage irons and local spring water: there is little about their factory, 20 minutes northeast of Naples, that speaks of 21st-century “progress”.
Suit fabrics are made by Kiton’s own mill, Lanificio Carlo Barbera, in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. Ciro Paone started the company with just 20 tailors and it has grown every year since. Now it has its own tailoring school, taking in up to 14 students annually. They spend two years in the classroom, then two years as apprentices working with tailors. The company’s motto is “ll meglio del meglio più uno” (“the best of the best, plus one”). “The suit is Kiton’s business card,” De Matteis says. “And Kiton is one of the few brands in the world that makes quality.”
"A Caruso suit is the highest quality, both in terms of our components and labour," says Umberto Angeloni [above], CEO of the acclaimed menswear label. “As an example, each button hole take 15 minutes to make. Caruso also develops special categories of cloth never before available in men’s clothing.”
Raffaele Caruso launched his tailoring business in Naples in 1958, making suits for wealthy farmers and landowners. Though he started small (his first employees were his wife and sister-in-law), by the Seventies he was a major supplier in the third-party manufacturing of menswear. Now Caruso produces 1,000 made-to-measure suits and jackets a month. Defining factors include a full canvas construction and hand-finished details.
“A Caruso suit has the most evolved tailored fit or look,” Angeloni says. “And nothing less can be expected of a company that invests five per cent of its human talent in research and development [32 full-time staff], creating up to 4,000 prototypes of jackets per year, to capture that evolution required to adapt the suit’s construction and silhouette to the changes in man’s lifestyle, shape and taste.”
Though suits remain its core, Caruso, has expanded into carefully crafted knitwear, outerwear and separates.
“In terms of pure style, Caruso designs and manufactures with only one customer in mind: the ‘good Italian’,” Angeloni says. “It’s a term used by Ernest Hemingway to define a person with a superior sense of eclectic and fastidious elegance, the ability to detect originality and value, acquired through many generations as part of his natural lifestyle. Italians are, in fact, Caruso’s best clients, and as long as we remain relevant to them, we can call ourselves authentically ‘Italian’ as a brand.”
First published in Esquire UK.