Friday, March 27, 2009

It is not by divine intervention that ITALIAN TAILORING reigns supreme in men's fashion. Or perhaps it is...

It is not entirely surprising that only in Italy is there a patron saint of tailors--St. Homobonus for the uninitiated—especially when considering the almost religious devotion to quality so many Italian companies bring to the clothing, furnishings, knitwear and shoes its craftsmen create, often painstakingly by hand. Indeed, the idea of working under the watchful eyes of a higher authority seems entirely appropriate.

Few would argue that credit is due Brioni, the 60-year-old Rome-based tailoring house, for largely elevating fine tailoring to a modern art form and establishing Italy's lofty place in the world of 20th Century international men’s fashion.

Of course, fashion, particularly as it applies to hand-tailoring, is rooted deep in the tradition of Italian art and culture, dating back two centuries. When British nobility began spending their summers visiting picturesque Italian country and seaside villages in Naples and Abruzzi, the Savile Row suits these gentrified Englishmen wore became an inspiration to local tailors and artisans. Yet, could an off-the rack suit costing upwards of $4,000 possibly be worth the price, when custom-made clothing, in certain quarters, can be had for even less princely a sum?

If you ask the principles of Italian fashion companies that make such high end clothing—Brioni, Kiton, Attolini, Saint Andrews, Belvest and Isaia to name a few--the answer is a resounding yes.

“There is little doubt that Italian designers have raised the men’s fashion aesthetic to new important heights of elegance and sophistication in the last decade or so,” says Robert E. Beauchamp, luxury market advisor to Departures Magazine and former Fashion Director of both Esquire and Gentleman’s Quarterly.

Italy has become the chief source of inspiration for men’s wear designers all over the world, including the U.S., mainly because their style-conscious customers are becoming increasingly aware of the level of quality in Italian hand-crafted clothing, sportswear and accessories. A designer name is no longer good enough; the workmanship and attention to detail has to be there and style savvy men recognize it.”

But while designers and manufacturers, even in Italy, have all strived to upgrade the quality and make in their mostly hand-tailored collections, Brioni, in a sense, has never had to take its clothing to greater heights of handcraftsmanship; it has been there since the venerable company opened its first atelier on Rome’s Via Barberini in 1945, when the likes of Clark Gable, John Wayne and Gary Cooper, among other notable men, ventured in for regular fittings.

Rome-based Brioni is still the standard bearer in off-the-rack hand tailored men's clothing

Todd Barrato, Vice President and Sales Director for Brioni USA says that handcraftsmanship is their heritage and that “first and foremost, we’re tailors, and that truly sets us apart. Our master tailors feel each individual garment’s shape and personality coming to life as they build a Brioni suit, sport coat or trouser."

Ultimately it is the consistency in make that places Brioni atop the hierarchy of suit makers in the minds of prestigious retailers around the world and wins such undying loyalty among its customers. Certainly the company can boast an impressive roster of Brioni aficionados, a list that includes Prince Andrew, Pierce Brosnan, Donald Trump, Nelson Mandela, Ming Tsai, Gay Talese and Robert Wagner, to name just a few.

While the average Brioni suit these days is about $4,000, it can get considerably higher, depending on the fabric, easily making Brioni the most expensive off-the-rack garment in the world. Says Barrato: “Anyone who thinks a Brioni suit is too expensive has never tried one on.” He is probably right.


Founded in Naples in 1953 by Ciro Paone, Kiton is considered by its somewhat obsessive and loyal devotees as the Holy Grail of Neapolitan tailoring. Not unlike the company’s soft and extremely lightweight hand-tailored suits, Kiton builds the same painstaking, hand-sewn comfort and finesse into their remarkable line of dress shirts.

In fact, the Kiton shirt pattern was designed by the same pattern maker who designed the Kiton jacket, which lends a consistent fit when paired with a suit jacket or sport coat. Because it has more hand made features than any other shirt in the market, every Kiton shirt takes over four hours to make.

The painstaking needle work in Kiton dress shirts provide a comfortable fit like no other

There is no fusing in the front plackets and a special “panama weave” cotton backing is sewn into the collar for reduced shrinkage. The front panel and armholes are smaller than other shirts, which allows for a clean fit under the jacket yet the shirt remains comfortable because of the generous back panel and sleeve.

Most of the fabrics Kiton uses, which start at 120’s two-ply and go as high as 200’s two-ply, are exclusive in design, coloration and quality, all carefully selected to assure consistency in taste and coloration with the clothing and tie collections.

Completely hand-sewn, Kiton’s dress shirts are built to coax the fabric into imitating the natural curves, contours and flex of a man’s physique. Though a Kiton dress shirt is not inexpensive—a single shirt can run from $575 to $750—the special needle work, done by hand, offers a special brand of shape and suppleness that, after a few wearings, becomes like a second skin.

Massimo Bizzocchi

A consummate gentleman with taste and flair, Massimo Bizzocchi is highly regarded in the international style arena not just for putting Kiton on the fashion map but more recently for his luxurious neckwear collections that go beyond the pale in innovative construction, quality fabrics and elegant styling.

Bizzocchi says he buys exclusive fabric in Como, London, Milan and Paris and makes every effort to “study the younger generation to understand how they think about style and what makes them feel good.”

He adds that their fashion influences can range from the flea market to their fathers’ closets and that his customers like knowing the story behind the name on a label. Apart from the gorgeous patterns, pure silk fabrics and rich colorations, Bizzocchi’s ties are unique in that they are hand sewn with what the designer calls a “spine stitching” system that virtually eliminates wrinkling by allowing the tie to “relax” once it is knotted.

The hand stitching along the spine of the tie closely resembles the human spine in the way it curls and stretches. By pulling a special string sewn into the spine, the fabric wrinkles, then relaxes the tension that causes the tie to wrinkle in the first place.

Hand sewn "spine stitching" allows Massimo Bizzocchi tes to "drape" perfectly when worn

In addition, Bizzocchi constructs all his neckwear with an integrated buttonhole that allows the tie to be secured to the shirt, thus eliminating what he calls "fly-around." Another first for Bizzocchi is that his neck wear is designed to have the skinny part on top show the design of the double face underneath.

Another part of the collection includes classic “seven fold” tie construction, the ultimate symbol of quality neckwear. Bizzocchi also designs matching handkerchiefs, bowties, ties that double as ascots and matching formal neckwear ties and matching accessories. All are superbly crafted and singly cut by hand on a 45 degree angle to avoid twists in the fabric and saddle stitched by hand with 36 beads of silk braid.

Avon Celli

Based in Longastrino, Italy (outside Bologna) Avon Celli, has been producing luxury knitwear since 1922. Much of Avon Celli knitwear is produced on old hosiery looms, and the luxurious knitwear items and one-of-a-kind, hand-knit cashmere sweaters qualifies Avon Celli as an elite status symbol among Hollywood’s movers and shakers and New York’s elite jet set. To be sure, the company continually strives to overachieve, searching out the finest quality yarns of the rarest and highest quality cashmere, testing new materials, and carefully maintaining the company’s venerable tradition of careful workmanship and attention to the finest details.

A case in point: Avon Celli’s classic cashmere knit blazer in lofty two-ply cashmere known as the “Cary Grant” model (it is also available in a two-ply merino wool “Pablo Picasso” model) that, not unlike the screen legend whose name it bears, is the epitome of ease and elegance. This knitted blazer has all the attributes of bespoke tailoring in that each garment is pattern-cut one jacket at a time and meticulously hand-sewn to provide subtle classic shaping with un-constructed softness and a contemporarily slim silhouette.

Truly luxurious, Avon Celli cashmere is at once refined and sophisticated

Designed with a one piece, seamless back, and side flap-and-besom pockets it is also has banded finished cuffs and comes with hand-sewn genuine horn buttons. For luxury knitwear in cashmere and other precious fibers, Avon Celli is virtually without peer. Every piece in the Italian company’s impressive collections consistently reflects an authentic expression of understated style—a perfect synthesis of tradition and innovation. Avon Celli is synonymous with refined taste and sophistication.

Although Cashmere is an important protagonist in the world of Avon Celli knitwear, used in a wide range weights, exclusive “pile effects” and blended with mohair, wool, Lurex and silk, the company also boasts a generous offering of sweaters in such rare and luxurious fibers as white baby camel, 16 micron Tasmania super 150's, extra-fine merino wool and the impossibly elegant combination of wool, silk, angora and cashmere--all hallmarks that have earned Avon Celli its worldwide reputation.

No one with any sense of sartorial style would argue that Italy enjoys a celebrated reputation for quality. It is a standard to which most other countries strive to meet. Fashion consumers all over the world have learned that a "Made in Italy" label is often an assurance that the garment is the best it can possibly be.

There is a certain trust people place in Italian tailoring and craftsmanship, a vote of confidence that underscores Italy's leadership position. Ultimately, Italian style is more than just a state of mind. It is a force to be reckoned with in the scope of world fashion.


Considered by fine footwear aficionados as the Rolls Royce of hand-cobbled shoes, Lattanzi was founded by Silvano Lattanzi as an artisan shoe company in 1971 in the small village of Casette d’Ete. Lattanzi first drew inspiration for his shoe designs, at least with regard to color, from the warm tones of French Impressionists paintings. Likewise, every Lattanzi shoe is truly a work of art. More than 300 steps go into each pair, from when the leather is chosen to the time when the shoes are placed in their box.

A Lattanzi shoe requires a standard 30 hours of hand craftsmanship. Incredibly, the work is sometimes repeated up to 10 times before it is deemed perfect. Once the shoe is finished, it is left on the form to give it time to mold itself into the proper shape.

For men who appreciate artisanal footwear, a pair of Lattanzi shoes is a must

Mr. Lattanzi has said that his shoes follow the rules of craftsmanship born more than 100 years ago and according to the silver-haired designer, “we live with them, we sleep near them. Today, we interpret the same timeless style but in a cosmopolitan way.”

Apart from such tireless dedication to their craft, what distinguishes Lattanzi shoes, beyond the often antique-like patina worked into the finished leather, is their signature welt--a strip of soft leather, carefully hand-worked then scored with small regular notches that perfectly correspond to the stitches.

Such meticulous detailing takes time, skill and nimble hands. Unlike many other shoemakers, Lattanzi preserves all of its precious leathers in a vault where the skins are continually tested for consistency and softness.

Small wonder why Lattanzi’s select worldwide clientele, which includes former President Bill Clinton, consider Lattanzi shoes as collectables. Today, there are Lattanzi shops in Rome, Milan, New York and Hangzhou, the exclusive resort of choice for cosmopolitan urbanites from Peking and Shanghai.

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