Neapolitan spirit

Luca Rubinacci

The menswear collections may have just ended in northern Italy but elsewhere in the country the show continues. In this decade, there’s been an explosion of interest in the tailoring traditions located south of Rome, with luxury’s two biggest conglomerates – LVMH and PPR – investing hundreds of millions of euros in their “haute couture” menswear labels Berluti and Brioni, both of which source heavily from the region.

Notable for its trim silhouette – created by trimming sleeve widths, tightening and raising the arm socket, adding a pointy lapel to the jacket, and narrowing and shortening trouser and jacket lengths – this south Italian style is increasingly seen on the street, whether via trend reporting sites such as Tommy Ton’s Street Style or, where the hottest collector’s item is a vintage Zegna style called the “Napoli”: a suit that sports a strict English silhouette refined by slimmer sleeves and the soft Neapolitan shoulder.

The search for the origins of this style begins at Brioni’s main manufacturing plant in Penne, in the central Abruzzo region, which is home to 1,000 staff including cutters, seamstresses, buttonhole makers and stiratori – the local name for shoulder-pressers, a métier treated there with the reverence normally reserved for high priests or brain surgeons.

Under posters of GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough (Brioni dressed 007 for three decades) stand racks of fine fashion in creamy fabrics. Nearby is the Brioni tailoring school, where veterans patiently instruct a score of apprentices. In the classroom the large plaque reads: “The tailor is your doctor. He cures your physical defects with his skill. He presents you in society as a more harmonious figure.”

Or to be specific, the plant’s master tailor Angelo Petrucci does, jetting around for private fittings with clients such as Vladimir Putin, Nelson Mandela, Jack Nicholson, José Mourinho, and Gerhard Schröder.

Meanwhile, says Berluti’s creative director Alessandro Sartori: “I absolutely see a different spirit in menswear. After the era of the constructed shoulder and the bolder and larger collar, lapels and details, a new look is taking over, made using the Neapolitan unconstructed shoulder as the main ‘key detail’ for the silhouette of a modern gentleman.”

Sartori has adopted this shoulder as the Berluti silhouette, though tweaking the Neapolitan tradition by narrowing the sleeve in the upper half. “It makes the style that bit sharper,” he says. Additionally, he cuts his jackets pretty short – just 73cm – uses a high ticket pocket, and finishes the look with tight five-button waistcoats and narrow pants, all anchored by buckled ankle boots.

Then there is family-run Rubinacci, which has opened its own custom-made boutique hotel in Naples for clients keen on truly classical attention. Visitors can now enjoy the sights of Pompeii and Herculaneum after a fitting for one of the label’s suits, noted for their silk-threaded buttonholes and dandy gangster splay lapels. Again, the web played a key role in the label’s renaissance, boosted by ubiquitous fashion blog, The Sartorialist, whose photo journalist Scott Schuman has been shooting Luca Rubinacci’s own stylish sense of dress for years.

Another brand benefiting from the southern style renaissance is Kiton. Founded in Naples in 1968 by Ciro Paone, its name comes from chiton, the tunic worn by ancient Greeks praying on Mount Olympus, and its prices are equally lofty. Its made-to-measure top line is called the K-50, since that’s how many hours it takes a tailor to make a suit, and its final price often reaches above £15,000.

Think of it this way: as Oxfordshire and Berkshire are to Formula One racecar making, so the southern Italian suitmakers of the Abruzzi and Napoli are becoming to modern men’s tailoring.

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