ARZANO, Italy – Much has been said and written about the Neapolitan sartorial tradition but the experience of walking through the Kiton manufacturing plant, less than five miles outside Naples, fully reflects the value of this heritage.
Using a hammer on a thin blade to create a slit which will become a buttonhole on a precious cashmere jacket requires mathematical precision or the entire swatch of fabric has to be discarded. The same can be said of stitching a breast pocket or shaping the curve of a lapel — all done by hand by skilled artisans.
Kiton has stayed true to its own strategies, steadily growing even through the pandemic, which has driven the company to expand its product range with more relaxed leisure wear garments. Now, however, the family-owned Kiton is smoothly responding to a renewed desire for more occasion wear.
“Men are becoming more similar to women — they want to change their clothes depending on the use and the occasion,” contended chief executive officer Antonio De Matteis, known as Totò, during a visit to the company’s headquarters, brimming with art pieces. These and the territory are “a daily source of inspiration” for the family, he remarked.
“My uncle [founder Ciro Paone] taught me almost everything and believed profits should be reinvested in art, which should be visible to everyone. It’s a patrimony of the company; we keep it here, not at home. These artworks show what beauty means and everyone can enjoy them.”
Similarly, art is displayed throughout Kiton’s headquarters in Milan, previously home to Gianfranco Ferré’s studio and showroom, where the brand presents its new collections during the city’s fashion weeks.
“We’ve discovered during and after the pandemic that people want to meet for events, cocktails and weddings, and there is a renewed pleasure going into stores, although we see a strong business online, too,” continued De Matteis. “Men are increasingly carving out some time for themselves, at the barber, for a massage, that half hour of freedom we all need because we all realized that life can change from one minute to the next, which leads to wanting to enjoy life — and a higher spend,” which, incidentally, is not a concern for the average Kiton customer.
Revenues are expected to increase 25 percent to 160 million euros in 2022, said De Matteis. In two years, sales climbed 60 percent.
The company is self-funded and De Matteis waved away the option of bringing in a financial investor. However, he revealed an initial public offering could be in the cards “in the long-term, when the size of Kiton could be interesting for the Bourse.”
A fifth-generation member of a family of Italian fabric merchants, Paone, who died in October last year, established a small production of tailored pieces in 1956 under the CiPa label, which combined his initials. The company was eventually rebranded Kiton in 1968, taking inspiration from the name of the tunic worn in ancient Greece, the chiton. His daughter Maria Giovanna Paone is president of the company and creative director of the women’s division.
“We are five cousins from the second generation with roles in the company, but there is a third generation comping up, 10 family members aged 12 to 30, of whom six already work here. There are already family pacts in place,” said De Matteis, although he admitted the goal is to further structure the organization of the company.
Conversely to some of its menswear competitors, Kiton has never hired an established, big-name creative director. “A brand like ours does not need one because we must not overturn the essence of the company. But we do have designers that provide feedback on the collections. It’s very important to have continuity and consistency, while always modernizing the designs,” observed De Matteis.
Maria Giovanna Paone has been instrumental in developing Kiton’s womenswear collections, and the company has been upping its investments in that segment, creating a dedicated production organization. Womenswear has grown in five years to represent 20 percent of revenues, up from 5 percent. “We are aiming for womenswear to account for 50 percent of sales in five years,” said De Matteis.
“We have built a dedicated team and we are more committed to womenswear now, commercially and design-wise,” said Paone. “It’s fundamental to believe in this segment, and we do, we are convinced it can bring good results. Women have acquired this sensibility for long-lasting, timeless quality, which goes hand-in-hand with the strong focus on sustainability now.”
Paone said that, previously, “there were some designs that men’s tailors were just not used to working on — raglan sleeves or kimono coats, for example — and we now interact with different suppliers of fabrics who provide macramé silk or feminine embroideries that allow us to be more imaginative and diversify the collections. The risk was that, knowing we couldn’t produce something, we wouldn’t even think about it — but now we can expand our range,” she said, smiling.
As is customary for Kiton’s menswear, all the women’s fabrics are exclusive, and Paone said researching textiles is fundamental. “Women get easily tired of their outfits. So we always try to give them the opportunity to mix and match the looks, so they can express their own personality,” said Paone, whose collections always have a fil rouge.
Kiton’s accessories have been growing, too, now accounting for 30 percent of sales, and the company is increasing its retail network, affording more visibility to the brand’s womenswear in the new or relocated stores.
“In Milan, the category jumped to represent 35 percent of sales from 5 percent and in Rome it accounts for 51 percent of revenues,” said De Matteis.
Last summer Kiton opened a two-level, 1,700-square-foot shop at 692 Madison Avenue in Manhattan, complementing the company’s six-story town house on 54th Street. The new unit is dedicated to womenswear, which takes up the entire first floor. Menswear is carried on the second level.
The London boutique on Clifford Street was renovated and expanded to carry womenswear, and opened at the end of November. Located in a 3,240-square-foot space in the heart of Mayfair, the store spans over two floors.
A store in London’s Sloane Street will be unveiled at the end of February. “We are expanding in the U.K.,” noted De Matteis, citing Kiton’s arrival at Harrods. “All big cities are buzzing again,” he said.
A store in Seoul carries both categories and opened at the end of October.
A unit in Frankfurt will open in March, followed by one in Zurich in June and one in Wuhan, China, in September. The expanded boutique in Miami, at Bal Harbour, will be unveiled in November next year with an opening event in December during Miami Art Basel. In December next year, a store will also open in Paris.
In addition to eyeing more resort towns, since Kiton is already present in Capri, St. Moritz, Courchevel and Palm Beach, De Matteis pointed to the opening of two stores in the U.S. next year, but was mum on the locations for the time being — with a dose of pure Neapolitan superstition, he said with a laugh.
Last year, exports represented 87.7 percent of sales. There are 60 existing Kiton stores and 300 wholesale accounts that carry the brand globally.
The U.S. market represents around 30 percent of sales, and revenues in the region rose 50 percent in 2022 compared with 2021.
Sales in Europe increased 70 percent and represent 30 percent of revenues.
Revenues in China are up 10 percent and the Middle East is also growing, offsetting the waning business in Russia and Ukraine, which were “very important markets,” said De Matteis. However, based on strong fall orders, he was “very positive” about 2023.
Kiton, which counts 850 employees, has five production plants. In addition to Arzano, sportswear looks are made in nearby Caserta; outerwear in Parma; knitwear in Fidenza, and textiles in Biella.
In 2010, Kiton purchased the Carlo Barbera textile mill, which has been operating for 60 years.
Kiton’s quest for excellence is also represented by the “Pure Vicuña Yarn Project,” an exclusive system for producing lighter fabrics than those traditionally used for coats and jackets, and the 2012 debut of the “Vicuña 97+3” suit, where 97 percent is woven with this precious yarn, while the remaining 3 percent is silk with vicuña fibers.
The custom-made garments are created from pure vicuña yarns, cashmere, wools and silk. Personalization comes not only through color tones or fabrics, but also through different buttons, lining, pockets, shoulders, classic cuts or slim, or shaped at the waist. There is also the possibility of transferring personal photos to the lining of the jackets.
In 2000, the company founded the Kiton Tailoring School, a three-year course taught by in-house teachers. The first two years are dedicated to learning the complete production cycle of jackets, while during the third year the students are required to choose a specialization in a specific phase of production. In the end, 80 percent of these students join Kiton or third-party companies.