By  on December 30, 2005

TREVISO, Italy - Stefano Zanella and Gianluca Scattolin live up to many a designer stereotype: They love to gossip about their top clients' prima donna tendencies, work in a loft-style studio and gush like proud parents over their five-month-old golden retriever, Otho.

But this sartorial pair isn't preparing for fashion week. Instead, they are gearing up for their next audience with the Holy See.

Zanella, 49, and Scattolin, 39, made 64 garments for the late Pope John Paul II, including liturgical robes, ornate stoles and the white gold-trimmed miter in which he was buried. Other top clients are New York Archbishop Edward Cardinal Egan and Baltimore Archbishop William Cardinal Keeler.

Now Zanella and Scattolin are trying to win over a reluctant Pope Benedict XVI, whom the pair believe lacks the style sense of his predecessor. The pontiff has worn just a few of the designers' pieces, including a miter studded with rock crystal crosses and a liturgical robe, or chasuble, in violet and gold. Zanella is still smarting that Vatican officials gave him incorrect measurements and the robe came out about three inches too short - a detail that didn't stop the pope from wearing it at an Advent mass.

"It was ridiculous," Zanella scoffs.

But fit isn't the only problem. The designers are even more frustrated by the new pope's tendency toward flimsy fabrics and dated motifs.

"He wears things made by those nuns and so ugly," Zanella shudders. "With Pope Benedict XVI, we are definitely seeing a return to the past in terms of style."

Devout Catholics, the designers still manage to have a sense of humor about men of the cloth. They are quick to dish about a cardinal's propensity toward sloppy hems or budgetless shopping sprees. (Just for the record, Turin's Archbishop Severino Cardinal Poletto is a real fashion victim, with more than a dozen miters.)

They also have plenty of business tips. When filling an order, avoid a diocese's rival soccer team's colors. (The Modena diocese sent back a red and blue cape because it reminded them of Bologna's uniforms.) And it's best to keep a prospective buyer's entourage out of the fitting area. Just as women like to shop with a friend for a second opinion, clergymen like having nuns around. Zanella and Scattolin don't share the sentiment and there's a no-go zone in their studio. Don't think they are particularly genteel about it, either. "We made a nun cry once," Zanella beams.

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