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Naples’ tailoring traditions

The tailoring industry of Naples has an illustrious history – and its exquisite creations remain as desirable as ever, says Stephen Doig

Stephen Doig,

The catwalks from Milan to New York might abound with razor-sharp-cut suits, insect prints, sporty bomber jackets, sandals-with-suiting and the usual thrill and flash of bold new ideas, but these trends hold little authority in one of the historical strongholds of menswear. For centuries Naples has been a centre for impeccable tailoring and bespoke suiting traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation.

Location, location, location
What makes the tailoring from this city so specific and so covetable? Part of the appeal lies in the location. As a result of the warmer climate, tailors make suits in lighter fabrics with less – or even no – padding. This alters the silhouette of the suit, creating a more casual look that moulds more to the body. The aesthetic of the jacket with its softer curved lines even has a specific name – the Neapolitan.

Generation game
In a 2011 documentary on the craft and artistry of Neapolitan tailoring, bespoke behemoth Antonio Panico said, ‘I’m proud of having three generations of clients: the grandfather, the father and the son now. It’s a great satisfaction for a tailor.’ It’s a perfect example of the close relationship between the region’s tailors and their clients. Panico’s store Sartoria Panico is nothing short of a local legend. Italian tailoring leaped into the spotlight during the 1950s when Italian cinema was becoming a force to be reckoned with, and the spirit of Clarke Gable and Gregory Peck in their Italian-made suits seems to linger in the workrooms of Sartoria Panico. As Panico once said, ‘An elegant suit is a drum roll and the man who wears it is completely aware of this.’ It’s from his red-walled atelier that he and his army of specially trained tailors nip and tuck solid Duke of Windsor tweeds, houndstooth checks and cashmere into handsome three-piece suits or long car coats.

Fabric of a nation
One of the biggest and most renowned tailoring brands in the region is Kiton, which was founded in 1956 (at the height of the craze for Italian cinema and style) by fabric merchant Ciro Paone and is now stocked in some of the world’s most prestigious department stores. Despite global demand, it’s to Kiton’s credit that the company has never moved its workrooms abroad, preferring instead to focus on training the 300-strong team of tailors who work in its factory in Arzano. Machines hold no place in this enclave of masculine style; every stitch is done by hand, every cut by scissors.

Mark of excellence
It’s this focus on excellence and peerless quality that saw George Clooney wear Kiton in the Hollywood film Oceans Thirteen, and has seen the suits lauded as the most labour-intensive in the industry. The bespoke range is known as the K-50 line, referring to the number of hours it takes to make each suit. What unfolds upon a visit to the Kiton workshops is just how artisanal every step of the process is; there are sections devoted to each individual craft, such as fabric cutting, buttonhole cutting, buttonhole finishing, steaming and so on. It’s a far from being a production line as it’s possible to get.

While many Naples tailors rose to prominence during the 1950s, the jazz-age allure of the 1930s was the backdrop against which Gennaro Rubinacci launched his suiting business. These days Rubinacci is one of the elder statesmen of Naples menswear, maintaining a tradition for impeccable craftsmanship at its elegant atelier in the city’s chic Chiaia district. While classic Italian cinema might not have quite the influence on men’s clothing as in its glory days, more than a dash of its heroes’ timeless style is alive and well on the streets and in the tailoring workshops of Naples.



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