The value of fine Italian menswear is intrinsically linked to its top design firms
From the Print Edition:
Susan Lucci, Sep/Oct 99
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Superior fabric has always been hard to find. Mill space (looms available to weave new cloth) in the famous wool mills of northern England and the domestic wool mills of Italy is always tight. To further complicate matters, Italian mills close shop for the month of August. Castangia's vice president, Dr. Alberto Grilletti, and his ancestors before him have seen many mills come and go. Grilletti still chooses fabrics "from the best suppliers in Italy and England." English mills tend to produce a comparatively matte-finished cloth, while the cloth made by Italian mills generally has a little more sheen.
Despite the annual holiday exodus in August, Canali elects to have the vast majority of its fabric loomed exclusively in the Biella region. Canali sales representatives describe the evolution of their fabric as "avant-garde fibers joining natural ones in a mix conceived with an eye on the future and respect for the past." Having exquisite fabric is paramount and many designer labels invest heavily in the creation of new material. "The degree to which Vestimenta gets involved with developing fabrics is unusual in the menswear business," says Symkens. Vestimenta tries to anticipate its customers' desires by fostering close ties with its retailers.
Another critical factor to consider is the internal construction of the jacket. "The engine, the 12-cylinder, is in the shoulder, collar and chest," Bizzocchi says. This design will affect the way the suit "molds" itself to your body and will determine the life of the garment. Putting on a jacket should feel a little like throwing on a light cashmere sweater, according to Bizzocchi. "Buy with the brain, not with the eyes," he advises.
One should also know whether the suit jacket is fused or constructed with canvas. In a fused jacket, heat is used to glue the interlining to the inside of the garment. In a canvas jacket, fine hand-sewing secures the interlining. A jacket constructed with canvas is lighter, better reinforced, more resilient, and molds to the shape of the body more closely. Not surprisingly, it is also more expensive. Some clothiers fuse the front of the jacket and use canvas in the chest area. Finally, be aware of the attention to detail lavished on the final touches. Hand-sewn lapels, "working button holes" on the cuffs, horn buttons and other fine points lend personality and character to the garment.
As history has shown, the world's great design houses do not survive by resting on their laurels or living off last season's success. Following in the footsteps of the Italian entrepreneurs of the early twentieth century, who learned from the bespoke tailors of London and added flourishes that were uniquely theirs, today's Italian tailors have continued this tradition. Taking the best from America's preppy look of the 1950s, Italy is reinventing modern style. Modern style should reflect a "global look," one that acknowledges a contemporary touch without looking like a high-fashion statement. The styling should also be suitable to and appropriate for business on either side of the Atlantic. An American-Italian hybrid is emerging, featuring a higher button stance and a softer shoulder with a pinch more room in the chest for today's man. This new image and design are so appropriate for the American market that Corneliani was recently awarded a manufacturing licensee agreement for Ralph Lauren for the upcoming fall/winter season.
With dress-down Fridays and casual-dress mandates increasingly becoming the mode, the next sartorial advances remain a mystery. "The future of menswear will be characterized by a great attention, not to the trademark, but mostly to the quality of the product," predicts Castangia's Grilletti. "This is determined by the fabric, the technique of the manufacture and by the style, which have to follow the new trend." According to Canali, that means many jackets are now being constructed with a more defined waist and trousers are becoming more straight-legged and slim.
Brioni's worldwide chairman, Umberto Angeloni, has been described as the ambassador of Italian fashion. Brioni won the contract to dress the James Bond character for Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies. Angeloni regards actor Pierce Brosnan as an excellent example of modern fashion. "He will be the new Gary Cooper," he predicts. Brioni's new suits feature plain and fancy weaves, herringbones and covert wools in banker's stripes and antique checks. The firm sees the three-button single-breasted models with a slightly higher button stance as the dominant style in today's clothing collections. Giorgio Armani's spring/summer 1999 collection is described by the company as "the expression of a desire for correctness, a good fit and ease; of the memory of a certain traditional style and sophistication; of a move towards new frontiers."
For Atelier Attolini, it's not a move forward, but rather a firm foothold in the past. The firm builds on its tailoring heritage, creating, as the Attolini family puts it, "a perfect marriage: a style for today's man based on yesterday's elegance....The jackets will always have boat pockets and the buttons on the cuff will still be close together." The company's motto, borrowed from the nineteenth century French writer Alexandre Dumas, is "all for one and one for all."
Another view focuses on the "mind style" of tomorrow's man. "Attention to the customer's lifestyle evolution is of the utmost importance for us, so that we are able to offer our customers products that answer their needs even before they have fully defined them," Anna Zegna says. "This is why we prefer to talk about 'mind style,' a way of life that has not yet been translated into action but belongs more to the realm of dreams and desires."
The Italian entrepreneurial spirit never wavers. Assessing today's market, Corneliani says, "Now that stylists work on an industrial level and the consumer is no longer prepared to accept something just because it carries a designer label, the winning card appears to be the entrepreneur-stylist, [who is] capable of guaranteeing taste and creativity but first and foremost the quality of the product." Jack Ferrari, Corneliani's former executive vice president, says, "The future requires a commitment to service. Specials to save the sale. [Corneliani is] currently developing technology with an aim to turn around a made-to-measure suit in three weeks."
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