No one toes the line between “bold style” and “insane person” like Luca Rubinacci.
My Visit to Naples
I’ve been traveling a bit, but sometime at the end of last month, I was able to spend a week in Naples.
They say there’s a difference between awareness and understanding, and I believe that you can’t really understand Neapolitan tailoring without having visited Naples itself. The Neapolitan jacket is more than a collection of unique details - the barchetta pockets, puckered sleevehead, extended front seam, and light construction. Some years ago, I commissioned a “Neapolitan” jacket to be made by a Chinese tailor. The fit and construction were good, but there was something missing. It looked exactly like what it was: a simulacrum. Capturing all the details was simply not enough to make it Neapolitan.
Indeed, while I was in Naples, I had a chance to chat with Mariano Rubinacci, the current proprietor of the famous Rubinacci tailoring house. Rubinacci is one of the few houses in the world that has both built an international brand and kept an unwavering standard for its craft. In addition to its flagship in Naples, it has stores in Milan, Rome, and London, each of which offers bespoke tailoring services.
I asked Signore Rubinacci if he’s able to train someone in Milan, for example, to make a perfect Neapolitan jacket. After all, I had already lost some money trying to get a Chinese tailor to do the same. He admitted that his tailors outside of Naples would make something slightly different. “We can train them to make the same exact patterns, cut in the same exact ways, and stitch just as we do, but in the end, a Milanese jacket will be slightly ‘cleaner,’” he said. “Perhaps there’s something in the air here.”
After my visit, I can see how this is true. There is no other city in the world like Naples. It has an energetic, non-stop tempo that makes every corner feel like a theatre. The city isn’t just a background to the Neapolitan man’s suit; it’s the inspiration. The sun-baked cobble stone streets, the Neoclassical architecture, the peeling layers of paint on every wall, the breeze that blows over Mount Vesuvius, and the glistening Tyrrhenian Sea are all things that emotionally define the Neapolitan jacket.
Take, for example, the extraordinary level of visible hand detailing. Any well-constructed bespoke jacket will be fully handmade, but Neapolitans take the extra effort to make this handwork visible, perhaps most of all through the mappina sleeves. It’s one thing to appreciate this artistically or technically, but it’s another to understand how this speaks of the Neapolitan. Every Neapolitan man I met - tailors, taxi drivers, waiters, etc - had an extraordinary amount of pride for his city. Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t obnoxious, but rather charming. There’s no way to become quicker friends with a Neapolitan than to tell him (sincerely) how much you love Naples. Of course, out of humbleness, they may point out some of the town’s problems, but you could always sense they loved their city more than others care for theirs.
This pride, I think, plays itself out in the city’s tailoring. Neapolitans not only know they make some of the best handmade garments in the world, but they want to show you. Their tailoring is meant to elevate both the wearer and Naples itself. How else can one understand a pignata pocket with the decorative double stitching, or the soufflé-like sleeveheads?
In the following weeks, I have a few posts planned for Put This On about my experiences there. I’ll talk about some of the artisans I met and my thoughts on Naples’ changing tailoring culture. I hope you’ll enjoy the articles I have planned.
“Many people still associate Chinese-made product with inferior quality, just as Japanese electronics were once considered junk, but those of us who have actually visited facilities in China know that they are not far off from the potential of eclipsing Italy in terms of production of quality garments.”— Jeffery Diduch
Christian Kerber has some wonderful photographs of Naples, a southern city in Italy that is known for its bespoke tailoring.
Naples’ tailoring has always held a special place in the hearts of menswear enthusiasts. There are a few reasons, but one of them, I think, is that the city holds a lot of “Old World” charm. There is more to bespoke tailoring than just the garments you get - there is the experience. In Naples, you can get luxurious garments made in some of the oldest and most traditional handcrafting methods, but for prices that are far more affordable than what you’d find in London.
Kerber’s photographs capture the romance of that experience fairly well. Here we see Antonio Panico giving a suit fitting, Maurizio Marinella going over a custom tie order, and some of Anna Mattuozo’s custom shirt patterns. These people are, literally, some of the best in their respective trades.
Check out the rest of Kreber’s portfolio if you have a chance. The guy is a fantastic photographer.
Found at a thrift store (one of three) by StyleForum member cpmac7.
Now *that* is a thrift store find.
Photographer Tommy Ton is at Pitti Uomo, the menswear extravaganza in Florence, and is photographing some of the slickest men in the world for GQ. A lot of wonderful inspiration.
Q and Answer: What’s a Country of Origin Worth?
Greg writes to ask: I was wondering if you could help with county of origin labels. Notably, is there a way to tell quality from a ‘made in’ label? For example, I’ve seen labels that say “Assembled in America from Imported Materials” and “Made by American Craftsmen” and “Tailored in the USA.” Are there any people looking for a good deal should watch for? Avoid? “Made by tiny hands in a US protectorate,” for example?
Country of origin has been a hot topic the past couple of years in the clothing world. The “Made in the USA” label has become almost talismanic among a certain set, and buying clothing made anywhere else has started to seem almost treasonous.
There’s some sense in this. As American clothing manufacturing has declined over the past thirty years or so, we’ve been left with two types of domestic production. The first is artisinal - Alden or Oxxford or Filson make their clothes in the US because they can control every aspect of production that way. These are high-end manufacturers who want to use well-established, veteran workers. That means a price premium, but it’s worth it to these companies, which are looking for a way to distinguish themselves from the high-end herd. The other is companies who manufacture (or have manufactured) clothes for the military. These manufacturers, like Bates or American Optical, are required by law to manufacture in the US if they hope to get military contracts.
What does that mean, quality-wise? Most companies that still manufacture in the States and are selling to civilians are manufacturing high-quality goods. This isn’t so much because of an inherent superiority of the American worker - in fact we generally have a relatively poor reputation in that department, relative to other first-world countries. Instead, it’s a matter of market forces that pushed low-end production overseas, in search of cheaper labor.
So is “Made in the USA” an analog for quality? Not exactly. In a contemporary context, it does have about as much meaning as anything else on that tag, other than the brand name. There are only a handful of factories that make suits left in the States, and if your suit was made here, it’s likely of either good or great quality. However, I wouldn’t recommend anyone run out and buy corrected-grain Bates policeman shoes just because of where they were made.
This is especially true for older goods. Many more clothes were made in the United States in, say, the 60s and 70s. This included some high-quality clothes, but also many, many low-quality clothes. When I’m out thrifting, it’s rare that I don’t run into poor-quality clothes with a Made in the USA label. On older stuff, “Made in the USA” is even less evidence of quality than it is on contemporary clothes.
What about other countries?
Probably the best bet is “Made in England.” The English garment industry has had the same contraction problems as the American industry, but they also have a much broader (given the nation’s size) tradition of high-quality clothing. There is some variance in “Made in England” clothing, but it’s as close as you can get to a country of origin standing in for quality.
"Made in Italy" probably represents the broadest range of quality. Italy manufactures the highest-quality clothing in the world, but it also manufactures plenty of dreck. It’s a nation of highly skilled garment workers - and of low-cost, low-skill immigrant laborers from Eastern Europe and Asia. Luxury firms are also notorious for assembling goods in Italy that were manufactured elsewhere to earn a coveted "Made in Italy" label.
France is largely comparable to the United States - less manufacturing than ever, not a great tradition in the world of tailored clothes, but mostly artisinal makers still in business.
Europe is also home to some low-cost manufacturing centers, like Portugal and Romania. These are nations with almost no high-end manufacturing, but like other countries with large garment industries, their factories are capable of a wide range of quality levels. I have Incotex pants that are made in Romania and are as nice to my eye as those made in Italy. It’s not a hand-stitched suit, but it’s still a good product.
East Asia, and especially China, is a region on the make. Thirty years ago, the clothing factories of the region were only capable of making the lowest-end products. Now, there are facilities capable of making decent stuff. As an indicator, though, that “Made in China” label still means that the brand decided cost was the most important factor in their manufacturing process, which is never a good sign.
The upshot is that if you’re not choosing your clothes for moral or socio-political reasons, you’re much better off learning about what makes a quality garment than you are basing purchasing decisions on country of origin.
Oh - and “designed in XXX” means nothing, and “tailored (or assembled) in XXXX” means next to nothing.
Ambrosi pants via A Rugged Old Salt.
A button fly doesn’t really have much of a functional advantage. It’s a bit less dangerous, and a bit harder to accidentally leave open. It’s mostly a symbolic thing - it says that these pants are made the way pants used to be made, despite the extra work involved.
Those extra buttons on the side of the fly (or sometimes along the waistband) do have a purpose. They keep the top block and waist of the pants straight, which is not a given. Without them, the pressure of your gut could bow the front of your pants into a V, which is less than flattering.
Some details are symbolic, some functional. Of course, symbolism has its function, too.
The man that has a lot to answer for.. Thank you G. Agnelli
What’s sad about this picture is how rare it is to find a suit made of real, heavy flannel in stores these days. This is a man (Gianni Agnelli) wearing three solid colors, but his outfit is beautiful to look at. The reason is the rich texture of his flannel suit and grendine tie. And flannel hangs better, too.