Italy’s top tailors are pushing the boundaries not only of style but also of technical innovation – and even tackling social and ethical issues.
Tailoring with a twist is the new wardrobe must-have for gentlemen, as the spring/summer 2019 collections play enticingly with innovative fabrics and cuts. ‘The suit continues to be a man’s “uniform” par excellence, but the new rules of elegance permit a new interpretation,’ says Corneliani’s style director Stefano Gaudioso Tramonte, who uses silk in myriad ways this season.
The brands experimenting with fabrics and fabric treatments include Boglioli, known for its garment-dyed jackets. ‘A special garment-dye process was developed to enhance the process that Boglioli is known for,’ explains Camille Hopp, assistant merchandiser. ‘This process creates a solaro effect.’ (Solaro fabrics have a subtly iridescent finish.)
Working within the elegant remit that defines Italian tailoring still permits plenty of room for experimentation. Gianluca Isaia, CEO of Isaia, explains the approach. ‘We take what inspires us from all over the world and incorporate certain cuts and silhouettes that are reflective of how the modern gentleman dresses, without abandoning our identity.’
This play with fabric and cut is enabled by the business model of many of Italy’s larger tailoring brands, including Brunello Cucinelli and Loro Piana. These are vertically integrated: in other words, they control every stage of the process, from production of the raw materials to the final details of the finished garment. For example, Ermenegildo Zegna started out as Lanificio Zegna, a wool mill located near Biella in Italy: over the years it gradually expanded to span everything from raw materials through to ready-to-wear and bespoke offerings. Having everything under one roof gives the company easy access to the finest materials as well as plenty of scope for research and development.
Demand is one of the key drivers of change. Tramonte highlights how the typical tailoring customer has evolved over time. ‘In the last 20 years, many things have changed in men’s fashion,’ he says. ‘Today there is no longer an age cluster you can refer to; it’s about social environment and about culture. Furthermore, the habits of men have changed, and everybody wants to be more casual on most occasions.’
Brands have had to come to terms with the fact that men today have a different relationship with their wardrobe to that of previous generations; as a result, travel, technology and modern lifestyle now enter into the equation when designing suits for men. In response, Isaia’s spring/summer collection features seersucker jackets that don’t need ironing. This style was born out of Gianluca Isaia’s own schedule, which mirrors that of many of his peers. ‘I essentially live on a plane, so what I travel with and wear has to be made to fit my jet-set lifestyle,’ he notes. ‘Seersucker is a fantastic fabric for this reason. For spring/summer 2019 we have a seersucker tuxedo which I also sometimes wear with a T-shirt, to give a more relaxed feel.’ The Aquaspider is another of the brand’s most popular travel fabrics. ‘These fabrics not only travel well, but are liquid resistant, so if someone spills a drink on you, the liquid beads off and does not get the garment wet,’ explains Gianluca Isaia.
Every aspect of contemporary daily life has to be taken into consideration and Canali has managed to incorporate many of these requirements into its Impeccabile 2.0 line of garments, which includes suits, coats and shirts, all made from breathable fabrics with a natural stretch that are resistant to creasing, water and stains.
As lifestyles have become increasingly linked to all things digital, brands are investigating new possibilities. For spring/summer Corneliani has unveiled the Connected Style capsule collection of two outerwear pieces and two bags that allow the wearer to wirelessly recharge a mobile phone in an internal pocket that features special inbuilt technology. Faced with a globetrotting customer who is well-informed and wealthy, designs such as Connected Style are a way to capture the attention of this worldly gentleman, as Tramonte explains. ‘Our mission is to try to talk to him with the right language and give him evidence of the evolution of our product. Quality and elegance are a given,’ he says. ‘We need to tell him a real story that can convince him to choose us. Today the requirement is to offer something that the customer does not have in his closet – in terms of style but mainly in terms of function.’
When it comes to innovation and change, sustainability also provides a framework in which to innovate. For example, Etro’s spring/summer 2019 collection for men centres heavily on sustainable fabrics, made locally from natural fibres such as nettle and jute, coloured with vegetable dyes. But the desire to do good doesn’t stop there and many tailoring companies are instigating change on a larger scale. For example, the Fondazione Zegna’s mission is four-fold: preserving environmental and cultural resources, fostering sustainable development in local communities, supporting scientific research and providing education for young people. This is complemented by Oasi Zegna, a public park covering 100 square kilometres in the Biella Alps, established by the brand as an environmental project in the region where the Zegna mill is still located. The Fondazione Canali Onlus engages in projects spanning medical research, healthcare, social assistance, employment and education.
While ethics have only recently become an important dimension to the fashion industry, tailoring brands were among the first to understand the importance of tackling societal and environmental issues: brands such as Ermenegildo Zegna and Brunello Cucinelli have been implementing ethical and sustainable structures for years, making them true pioneers of conscious fashion.
Despite being anchored in tradition, suiting has become a canvas for new ideas, thorough research and boundary-pushing technology. This innovation is part of a holistic approach: brands invest as much in cutting-edge ideas relating to fabrics and cut as they do in developing business models and large-scale social, ethical or sustainable projects. Keen to do good across the board, Italy’s tailoring companies have their eyes firmly trained on the future.