To quote the British writer Samuel Johnson, “It is in refinement and elegance that the civilized man differs from the savage.”
It would appear that the 19th-century Italian tailors who built the Neapolitan sartorial tradition took Johnson’s quote to heart. And more than 100 years later, men’s tailored clothing is still designed and manufactured in Italy by an army of skilled artisans, who balance the respect for tradition with stimuli coming from the contemporary world.
According to Sistema Moda Italia, in 2012 Italian men’s fashion business generated 8.6 billion euros, or $11.4 billion at current exchange, in revenues.
“In Naples, I went to the Isaia factory and the people working there surprised me for a few different reasons,” said Michael Williams, founder of the popular American men’s fashion blog A Continuous Lean. “First, because of the fact that so many generations of the same family have worked either for Isaia or in the tailoring trade in general. But, I was also stunned by the level of skills the craftsmen continue to possess and use to make such nice things. I have never been more moved in a factory — and I have been to factories all over the world — as I was at Isaia. It was very moving to see the appreciation for process and tradition there.”
Established in 1957 by Enrico Isaia and siblings Corrado and Rosario, Isaia is a key example of a small sartorial atelier that developed into an international business. The company, which is currently run by Enrico’s son Gianluca and counts a boutique in Milan along with four directly operated stores in Russia and Ukraine, generated revenues of 32.6 million euros, or $43 million at average exchange, last year. It aims to post revenues of 36 million euros, or $47.5 million, in 2013.
“Whatever product expansion we do, for us it’s extremely important to keep the production in Italy,” Gianluca Isaia said. “We have always had the goal to export the Italian sartorial tradition as well as the Neapolitan culture, because we strongly believe in the potential of our city — which is not just pizza and mandolins, but also counts a number of serious cultural and entrepreneurial projects.”
Isaia is located near Naples, in the small city of Casalnuovo, which is internationally known as the “tailors’ town.”
“When my father founded the company in 1957, 7,000 of Casalnuovo’s 14,000 citizens were tailors,” said Isaia, who acknowledged that even if it is a bit more complicated to find a skilled workforce today, “there are a lot of young people from our area who come to work with us and learn very quickly, because I think that they have this art in their DNA.”
Casalnuovo is also home to another storied tailoring company, Cesare Attolini.
Vincenzo Attolini, who started the business in 1930, forged the path of the Neapolitan tailoring style, breaking the rules of classic British tradition — at that time the only point of reference for men’s wear — inventing a new deconstructed jacket, for a look that was still extremely elegant yet fresh and more casual. Vincenzo Attolini’s grandsons Massimiliano and Giuseppe Attolini are currently at the helm of the company, where 150 tailors cut, sew and carve by hand 40 bespoke pieces every day.
Confirming the appeal of the brand on the international markets, Cesare Attolini, which owns a boutique in Naples, opened its first U.S. store on Madison Avenue in Manhattan last year. The U.S. is one of most important markets in terms of exports for Italian high-end tailoring companies.
“There’s a very direct quality association with ‘Made in Italy.’ In America, specifically, people hold the ‘Made in Italy’ label in high esteem because it represents something made by care using traditional methods,” Williams said. “American manufacturing has traditionally been more focused on durability and mass production, while Italy has concentrated more on quality materials and construction.”
According to Antonio De Matteis, chief executive officer of Kiton, the Naples-based tailored clothing company founded in 1956 by Ciro Paone, quality played a pivotal role in building the international success of the brand. “Products are definitely the best tools for the promotion of ‘Made In Italy,’” De Matteis said. “We have never compromised the quality of our products and we have always been loyal to our customers.”
Kiton, which registered a 20 percent increase in revenues in 2012, counts 700 employees and a big number of them are graduated from the tailoring school that the company founded in 2000.
Brioni, which was founded in Penne, Abruzzo, by master tailor Nazareno Fonticoli with the support of entrepreneur Gaetano Savini, is also among the tailoring men’s wear brands that a long time ago invested in education.
In 1985, the company founded Sartoria Nazareno Fonticoli, a four-year high school teaching students the basics of luxe Italian tailoring. Once graduated, the students intern at Brioni, where they practice and learn the company’s unique working method.
Brioni is expanding its business in a more fashion-oriented direction under men’s designer Brendan Mullane, the brand’s first creative director. The company was acquired in 2011 by French luxury conglomerate PPR — a deal that highlights the appeal of Italian high-end men’s wear labels for international groups.
“International luxury brands need to have a strong production support — which Italian manufactures can guarantee — to succeed, especially in emerging markets,” said Alessandro Narduzzi, ceo of Treviso-based Pier SpA, which produces the collection of several upscale men’s wear brands, including Dior Homme, Dries Van Noten, Kris Van Assche and Saint Laurent.
“To succeed in the men’s fashion business, it’s fundamental to find the perfect combination between wearability and high-quality fabrics,” said Narduzzi, who also highlighted the importance of keeping a constant eye on pricing. “The real ‘Made in Italy’ [merchandise], realized with the proper expertise, features accessible prices that are totally in line with the markets’ needs.”
And the bottom line is, after all, business. Since its first edition in 1972, Florence-based international trade show Pitti Uomo has boosted both the business and the international visibility of Italian tailored clothing companies.
“From the beginning, we have worked to support Italian companies focused on formal men’s wear,” said Raffaello Napoleone, ceo of Pitti Uomo parent Pitti Immagine, referring to firms such as Corneliani, Canali and Pal Zileri. “All the big global groups, which are our country’s driving forces, owe a lot to Pitti, because it has been an important place to train themselves and get prepared to face international markets.”
@tradesy is turning the concept of a showroom upside down with its new space in Santa Monica. Here, the company plans to hold events, art exhibits and a showcase rare fashion pieces like this Louis Vuitton boxing set. Get all the details on Tradesy’s first showroom on WWD.com. #wwdnews
Spotted last night at the @erdem x @hm launch event: Kate Bosworth, Rashida Jones, Kirsten Dunst and Selma Blair. The party, which took place in LA, also marked the opening of their pop-up shop. “I was interested in creating a collection that wasn’t in any way disposable. It was about pieces you’d create and keep forever, things that have a permanence to it,” designer Erdem Moralioglu said. #wwdeye (📷: Katie Jones)
Renee Zellweger in yellow in 2001 and again in 2017. Chosen as one of the 12 @pantone Leading Spring Colors (and dubbed “Meadowlark”), it only makes sense that the bright hue stands the test of time and is making a resurgence this season, seen already on stars like @blakelively and @gigihadid. (📷: Donato Sardello & @rexfeatures) #wwdfashion #tbt
Dior’s 70th anniversary celebration continues with a new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. “Christian Dior,” which is scheduled to run through March 18, takes a look at the founders tenure from 1947 to 1057 and feature 40 designs. Pictured here is an evening gown from the Ailée, fall 1948-49 haute couture collection. #wwdfashion (📷: Brian Boyle)
As one of the most recognizable models in the world, Christy Turlington Burns has an insider’s view of the fashion industry and the allegations of sexual harassment swirling around it. “I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry. The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experiences at some point in our careers,” Turlington told WWD, along with her suggestions for how the modeling world should protect younger women and men. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: Tony Palmieri) #wwdnews
@asics America has tapped a new brand ambassador: famed DJ/record producer @steveaoki. This initiative is intended to set the tone for the new brand identity and philosophy and will include partnerships with influencers and in-store and off-line activations that will continue into next year. This is Asics’ most significant marketing effort in two decades, and is expected to attract younger consumers to the brand. #wwdfashion
24-year-old Jean Prounis is redefining the rules of jewelry. Formerly a studio assistant to Jemima Kirke and a design apprentice at Ghuran, she focuses on handcrafted subtleties and ancient goldsmithing techniques. “There was a really sterile feel in the environment and I wanted to have jewelry with character that shapes how you wear it everyday,” Prounis said. Each piece is hand made in New York, either by Prounis or three other jewelers in the district. #wwdfashion
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews